Safe, vibrant and well connected to Europe and beyond, Morocco is widely regarded as one of the most accessible North African countries to visit. With both Arabic and French as its national languages, and English widely understood in tourist areas, it’s possible to truly immerse yourself in the local culture and experience the famed Arabic and Berber hospitality. I’m a firm believer that one of the best ways to get to grips with a new culture is through its food, and with Arabic, French and Berber influences coming together with incredible fresh produce, Morocco is a joy to visit. Here are 10 classic Moroccan dishes you shouldn’t miss…
Possibly the most famous of Moroccan dishes, the name ‘Tagine’ actually refers to the unique clay cooking dishes used commonly in this part of the world. A wide, clay base and tall conical lid work together to ensure its contents are cooked slowly and evenly, whilst the shape of the lid acts to preserve moisture and keep the contents juicy. This humble dish gives birth to a myriad of different dishes, although Chicken, Lamb and Beef are staples along with an assortment of vegetables, olives and traditional Moroccan preserved lemons. Tagines can be found practically everywhere in Morocco, and are almost always served with freshly baked bread. Delicious!
Bright red in colour, these fresh sausages can be found grilling over hot coals on practically every street corner. Traditionally made of either minced Lamb or Beef, these little delights are heavily spiced with Cumin, Sumac, Fennel and Harissa – a spicy blend of roasted peppers, chillies and garlic which gives the sausages their red colour. Traditionally eaten as a sandwich or with French fries, Merguez sausages can also be found dried as an ingredient in Tagines. Head to Marrakech’s famous Djemaa el Fna square to try one hot off the grill!
Morocco’s famous slow roast lamb, usually prepared by roasting whole lambs on a spit in clay ovens. Before roasting the lamb is smeared in traditional Smen, or fermented butter, and then coated in a blend of cumin, coriander and chilli powder for that signature north African flavour. Whilst the idea of fermented butter may sound unpleasant, when roasted it helps to keep the meat tender and juicy, whilst enhancing the natural meaty flavour. Once cooked, the succulent meat is pulled apart by hand, shredded and eaten with salt and freshly ground cumin – and the ubiquitous flatbread!
A traditional North African soup, Harira is often eaten as a starter or by itself as a light snack, although it is particularly popular during the holy month of Ramadan when it is eaten to break the fast at sunset. Rich hearty and satisfying, the main broth is made from Chicken, Chickpeas, Lentils and Tomatoes, with hints of ginger and saffron. Just before serving, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice is often added for sharpness, along with a pinch of salt and turmeric. Traditionally served with hard boiled eggs, dates and sweet bread, it’s a triumph of sweet and savoury!
Popular and trendy across the world, Couscous is a classic Moroccan dish and can be eaten both as a savoury main course, or sweetened and eaten as a desert. In its savoury form, couscous is eaten in a similar way to how other cultures would eat rice or pasta – as an accompaniment to a stew with lots of vegetables and sauce. A classic example of this would be the famous “7 Vegetable Couscous”, where squashes, cabbages and root vegetables are slow cooked in an intense broth and served on a mound of fluffy couscous. In its desert form (known as Stouff), the couscous is traditionally steamed several times until incredibly light and fluffy, before being topped with sugar, almonds and cinnamon and served with milk that has been perfumed with orange flower water.
A nod to Morocco’s French influences, freshly baked bread lies at the heart of Moroccan culture. A perfect accompaniment to the rich stews, hearty soups and succulent meats that make up the Moroccan diet, bread is both cheap, filling and delicious in its own right. It’s perfectly common for every household to prepare their own fresh bread every morning, which is then taken to the communal bread ovens that can be found in every neighbourhood, where it is expertly baked in the hot ovens before being collected again in time for lunch.
The lesser-known brother to the Tagine, ‘Tangia’ refers to the clay cooking pot that is traditional to Moroccan Berber culture. It is common for single men to take their Tangia to the local market in the morning, and have it filled with a mixture of olives, preserved lemons and meat – usually beef or lamb. A blend of spices and seasoning is added, along with a little water and olive oil, before the pot is tightly sealed. The pot is then often taken to a bakery or even the fires beneath a steam bath where, for a small fee, the pot will be nestled amongst the embers of the fire and left to slowly cook for several hours. The result is a rich and nutritious stew with succulent meat – the ultimate one-pot cooking!
As with many Arabic cultures, dates have been popular in Morocco for thousands of years and are in ready supply thanks to the vast number of date palms that grow in the region. Often eaten ceremoniously to break the fast during Ramadan, dates are still a popular ingredient to this day and can be eaten alone as a sweet snack, or used in recipes such as the famous Tagine. Whilst over 100 varieties of date grow in Morocco alone, the most famous is the Medjool Date which is celebrated for its meaty flesh and honey-like flavour – perfect with a cup of fresh mint tea!
Moroccan Mint Tea
Drinking mint tea is a national past time in Morocco and is considered a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Whilst the preparation of food is still often considered to be a woman’s role, the preparation of the tea – a process known as atai – is usually left to the man or head of the household. Brewed using green tea, fresh mint and sugar, the tea is then poured from the pot from a height of at least 30cm into a small glass, causing a foam to form on top. This foam is known as the ‘crown’ and is an essential sign that the tea is good to drink!
Whilst a huge assortment of sweet pastries known as Baklava are available across the country, one dessert that is particularly renowned in Morocco is the M’Hanncha, or Serpent. A sweet mixture of almonds, butter, sugar and rosewater is wrapped in long sheets of thin pastry, similar to Filo. This long tube is then rolled up and baked, with its shape resembling a coiled snake – hence its name! Sweet, with a crisp pastry crust and oozing centre and wonderful perfume of rosewater, this is a quintessential Moroccan experience and is best enjoyed with a fresh glass of mint tea!