Real Moroccan cuisine is a culinary adventure. Meals are a central part of family life, and much socialising revolves around lunch and dinner.
There are differences not only in the spices and cooking methods of real Moroccan food, but also in it's eating. For example, if you are invited into a Moroccan villa to eat, you will find meals served in one central bowl or plate, from which everyone eats. Etiquette demands you eat only from the food directly in front of you. It is also common to eat with the right hand, rather than with cutlery, even for food such as couscous, which you will see Moroccans shape into expertly formed spheres, before popping them in their mouth. (Most hosts will not expect you to follow suit and offer a spoon to western guests for eating couscous.)
In the evening, you may be served coffee and Moroccan cakes - usually made from nuts, marzipan and other very sweet ingredients - before the main meal, so make sure to leave some room, as there may be three or four more courses on their way!
Briouats may follow as a starter - a selection of small pastries (not unlike samosas), filled with meat, vegetables or cheese. Or you may find a selection of small salads of local vegetables, each served in it's own bowl. Or perhaps merguez - a spicy lamb sausage.
On Fridays in particular, lunch is often couscous - but not from a packet as we know. Instead, this is made by mixing coarse grain flour with oil and water that is separated into tiny grains. This is then steamed in a couscousiere and frequently removed from the heat, tossed and separated with the hands, before adding a little oil or smen - fermented butter - and returned to the heat. Under this in the steamer, meat and vegetables are cooked. The whole ensemble is put together with the couscous at the bottom, with the vegetables piled in the middle, hiding the meat buried within. Couscous is served with a spicy stock-style gravy to moisten the grains. It's 'real Morocco' through and through!
Bread is a mainstay of Moroccan eating, and this is normally hand made, and sent to the local hamman (Turkish-style baths) to be cooked in the oven. The majority of Moroccans do not have an oven in the home, so most cooking is over a gas bottle or charcoal, with the rest sent to bake in the communal oven.
Tagines are also a regular feature on the Moroccan menu. These are thick, spicy stews of meat or fish and sometimes vegetables. These are eaten with bread - not with couscous as is somtimes served in less-than-authentic restaurants. Common flavours are chicken with lemon and olive, beef with prunes and sesame or lamb with chickpeas.
Moroccan cookery's most distinguising feature is, of course, the spices. As well as cumin, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, fresh coriander and black pepper, are some spices more unique to the cuisine.
Preserved lemons are used liberally across many tagines. These are made by storing cut lemons in salt and water and the skin is used to give an intense citrus flavour to dishes. Harissa is a spicy chilli paste used in cooking, or as an accompaniment to meals. Saffron is also frequently used, and is a key ingredient in Tangia, a beef or lamb dish, slow-cooked in the communal oven in a clay jug.
Perhaps the most famous real Moroccan spice is Ras-Al-Hanout, which, literally translated means 'head of the shop'. This is a blend of spices created from the spices that each merchant sells - as a result, different shop's blends are all unique.
In sweet dishes, Moroccans make liberal use of rosewater and orangewater, to give a sweet, fragrant taste to their baking. Honey often replaces sugar in dishes.
Moroccans love to celebrate and this is reflected in their food. Some of the celebratory dishes you may find include:
Pastilla - usually made from wood pidgeon, or, for our more western tastes, chicken, this is a filo-type parcel of poultry and nuts, baked until crisp and dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar. It sounds unusual, but it's truly delicious!
Mechoui: Slow-roasted lamb with a fragrant, cinnamon infused spice rub.
Dates and milk: These are often served to break the Ramadan fast, and also served to newlyweds, as the Prophet stated these are the two ingredients that people can survive on, so are considered sacred to Muslims.
Harira: Again, often the first meal to break the Ramadan fast, this is a spicy lamb or beef soup, with red lentils.
Expect either more coffee, or Moroccan mint tea - made with green gunpowder tea, a liberal handful of fresh mint and a lot of sugar. Mint tea is reputed to be a good digestif, so be sure to accept if offered.
This is just a selection of some of the delights of real Moroccan cuisine - happy eating!
Other articles on Morocco you may find interesting:
- About Moroccan Tagine
- 5 Things to See In Marrakech
- Can You Buy Alcohol In Morocco?
- Essaouira, Morocco
- Facts About Morocco
- Marrakech, Morocco
- Moroccan Cakes
- Moroccan Chicken Recipe
- Moroccan Culture
- Moroccan Decor
- Moroccan Family
- Moroccan Mint Tea
- Moroccan Riads
- Moroccan Spices - Ras al Hanout
- Morocco Language - What Language Do Moroccans Speak?
- Weather In Morocco