Morocco is known for many things. It is famous for the bustling souks of Marrakesh, the blue-washed streets of Chefchaouen and the snow-covered slopes of Oukaïmeden. It is also known around the world for the diversity and quality of its cuisine. Spices like saffron and cinnamon are locally sourced and liberally employed to lend unique flavors to stews and soups. Coastal towns like Essaouira and Asilah overflow with fresh-caught seafood, while the bazaars of the country’s imperial cites are havens for street-food enthusiasts. In this article, we take a look at five must-try dishes, all of which can be washed down with the country’s signature beverage - mint tea.
Tagine is the most iconic of all Moroccan dishes, so much so that it would be difficult not to try it. From sidewalk food vendors to upmarket restaurants, it features on menus all over the country. Tagine is essentially a stew that originates with the Berber people of North Africa. It is named after the special painted clay pot in which it is cooked, the tajine. The tajine has two halves - a wide, circular base and a cone-shaped lid that traps steam and returns moisture to the stew. This unique cooking method means that tagine requires very little water - a major advantage in arid Morocco.
Most tagine recipes include meat and vegetables cooked slowly over a low heat to achieve maximum tenderness and flavor. Spices are a key element of the cooking process, with cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, and saffron being the most popular. Some recipes also call for dried fruit or nuts. There are many different varieties of tagine. Perhaps the most common are chicken and vegetable, or kefta tagine. The latter involves meatballs cooked with spices and topped with fried egg. For a truly decadent meal, try lamb tagine made with almonds, prunes, plums or figs. Many restaurants also offer vegetarian versions.
Couscous is a North African staple that has earned its status due to its convenience and versatility. It is cheap, easily stored and non-perishable. It is nutritional and highly adaptable depending upon how it is prepared. These tiny balls of steamed semolina are named after the Berber word Keskes. Some historians believe that the Berber people have been making couscous for thousands of years. It is traditionally cooked in a steamer placed above a large metal pot, in which an accompanying stew is prepared.
This allows the steam from the stew to rise up and flavor the couscous as it softens. In Morocco (and many other North African countries including Algeria and Tunisia), couscous is served as a main meal alongside a meat and/ or vegetable stew. It can also be served as a dessert known as seffa. In this instance, the couscous is flavored with almonds, sugar, and cinnamon and often served with a special milk infused with orange flower essence. Both varieties of the dish are delicious.
Bastilla is a savory pie of mixed Arabic and Andalusian origin. Its name is an Arabic translation of the Spanish word pastilla, which roughly translates as “small pastry.” Although this specific dish is no longer found in Spain, it is likely that Bastilla is a relic of a time when Spain and Morocco were both ruled by the Moors. At this time, culture and tradition flowed freely between the two countries. Bastilla is made from carefully layered sheets of werqa dough, a paper-thin variety similar to phyllo pastry.
The filling placed between the werqa layers is made from meat, onions, parsley, and spices bound together by beaten egg. After baking, the top layer of pastry is dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon, and often, ground almonds. Traditionally, Bastilla was made with the meat of fledgling pigeons, or squabs. Due to the expense of squab meat, the dish was reserved for special celebrations. Today, Bastilla made from cheaper chicken (and sometimes beef, fish or even offal) are more common.
Eggplant is a key ingredient in many traditional Moroccan dishes. Popular side dish zaalouk is no exception, using cooked eggplant and tomatoes as its main elements. Other ingredients include garlic, olive oil , and chopped coriander, while paprika and cumin give the mixture its unique smoky flavor. It is often served as a savory dip or salad, or as an accompaniment to kebabs and tagines. It is particularly delicious when spread on traditional Moroccan flatbread. Although the precise recipe differs from region to region, zaalouk remains a staple of Moroccan cuisine.
This Berber soup takes its name from the Arabic word harir, meaning “silky.” It is popular throughout the Maghreb region of North Africa and is traditionally served at dusk to break the fast during Ramadan. Modern travelers will also find it in many Moroccan restaurants, served as a starter or light snack. Recipes vary according to region but the basic ingredients include tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas and spices in addition to a small portion of meat. Lemon juice and turmeric are used as a garnish, while a thickening agent called tadouira gives the soup its texture.