Like other North African countries, Moroccan cuisine is influenced by the country’s interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine is typically a mix of Berber, Arab, Andalusi, and Mediterranean cuisines, with slight European and sub-Saharan influences.
Spices are used extensively. Some of them were imported through the Arabs for thousands of years and others are homegrown. Twenty-seven spices are combined for the famous Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout.
Tagine (also called maraq or marqa) is the most popular dish in Morocco. It is a Maghreb dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked.
Essentially, it’s a slow cooked chicken, beef or lamb with vegetables and a mix of spices.
The traditional tajine pottery, sometimes painted or glazed, consists of two parts: a circular base unit that is flat with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to return all condensation to the bottom.
Tajine is traditionally cooked over hot charcoal leaving an adequate space between the coals and the pot to avoid having the temperature rise too quickly. Large bricks of charcoal are used, specifically for their ability to stay hot for hours. A slow cooker can be used in order to cook it at home without the pottery.
If you go to Marrakech, a remarkable restaurant serving one of the best Tajine in the country is called Al Baraka and it is next to a petrol station of the same name. It’s a 20-minute drive on the old road from Marrakech to Fez.
Probably you all have heard about Couscous or have already tried it at least once. It is a Maghrebi dish of small (about 3mm diameter) steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina, usually served with a stew spooned on top [Wikipedia].
There are endless different ways to prepare it, and it can vary in different areas of the country. It is normally served in a deep plate with a piece of meat or fish and some vegetables on top. Preferred meats include lamb or chicken, and fish can vary between red snapper, grouper, sea bass and swordfish. Favoured vegetables include peppers, carrots, pumpkin and potatoes.
Locals seem to agree that Couscous is originally from Morocco. However; its origin is uncertain, and it is considered traditional throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya.
One recommended restaurant in the capital to have Couscous is Naima.
Spiced roast lamb
Slow-roast lamb is another Moroccan signature dish. Lamb is cooked everywhere in the World, but the way to prepare it, and in this case, the combination of spices, can clearly make a difference.
Ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, black and cayenne pepper and mint are some of the species normally used. The picture above shows a delicious shoulder with almonds and caramelised onions.
Al Fassia, a restaurant out of the city centre and run by two sisters is our top recommendation for this dish. They also offer several high-quality traditional dishes with a special homemade flavour. You can check their full menu here.
“Chermoula is a thick marinade for fish, and the foundation of many Moroccan and North African fish dishes, such as fried sardines stuffed with chermoula and a fish tagine called mqualli made of layered potatoes, tomatoes, fish, and peppers. Although each country has its version of chermoula, and there are several variations, the taste is always very similar.” [thespruceeats.com]
It can also be used to marinate chicken or shellfish. Meats can be left to rest in it for up to a day, to then be grilled or baked. And it can also be added it to baked potatoes or veggies, in combination with olives or to mix it into couscous or rice.
Depending on the species mix, the predominant flavours are of onion, coriander, chilli peppers, or saffron.
Harira is traditional thick lentil soup, normally served as a starter during Ramadan to break the fast at sunset.
It usually contains tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, lamb (beer or chicken as well), lemon juice and chopped coriander, and it is served with bread or a sticky sweet pretzel called chebakkiya.
The soap is thickened with either eggs or a tedouira of flour and water, and it is sometimes left to ferment for a day or two. Its name is derived from the Arabic word for silk, in reference to the texture.
Zaalouk or Zalouk is a fresh salad of cooked aubergine and tomatoes. The eggplant is first grilled and then mixed with the tomatoes and the mix is seasoned with garlic and spices.
It is sometimes prepared with zucchini, carrot or pumpkin. It can be served with flatbread as a salad, starter or dip.
Bastilla or Pastilla
Pastilla is a traditional sweet and savoury dish in the form of meat pie or spicy seafood pie with werqa (ورقة), leaves of dough similar to phyllo. It is said to be of Andalusi, so its name comes from the Spanish word pastilla, meaning in modern Spanish either “pill” or “small pastry” after the transformation of the phoneme “p” into “b” that is specific to the Arabic language.
Poultry pastilla was traditionally made of squab (fledgeling pigeons), but shredded chicken is more often used today. It combines sweet and salty flavours; crisp layers of the crepe-like werqa dough, savoury meat slow-cooked in broth and spices and then shredded, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar
Bakoula is a traditional Moroccan salad usually served as a side dish next to Tajines or grilled meats, and also a dip with bread.
It is made with chopped and steamed mallow (Malva sylvestris) leaves, hence its name as Bakoula means mallow in Moroccan Arabic. It is combined with greens, spices and finally olives preserved in a lemon garnish. It is fresh and healthy.
Because mallow leaves are not easy to find, people outside Morocco use kale or spinach.
Rfissa is another popular dish which consists of a roasted chicken with onion and lentil dish served on a bed of shredded trid pastry.
It is traditionally served with chicken and lentils and fenugreek seeds (tifiḍas in Amazigh, helba in Arabic), msemmen, meloui or day-old bread, and the blend of ras el hanout.
It is served during various traditional celebrations. For instance, to a woman who has just given birth (on the third specifically), as fenugreek is supposed to be beneficial for women that are recovering from childbirth.
Rfissa is derived from tharid (ثريد), a traditional Arab dish said to have been the Prophet Muhammad’s favourite dish.
In you are interested in learning to cook some of the dishes in this post, I recommend Khadija’a Kuzina, a cooking school in Essaouira.
Makouda are little deep-fried potato cakes, usually present in all streets markets and restaurants.
They are normally round in shape, and crispy and spicy in taste. They are made of mashed potatoes mixed with herbs and spices, dipped in whipped eggs and then fried. It can be served as a snack or a side dish.
Tangia is an urn-shaped terra cotta cooking vessel, and also the name of the stew cooked in the pot. It is a slow-cooked meat (beef or lamb) stew with lemon, ginger, saffron and several species. Some recipes use fresh oranges as well.
The most traditional preparation would be to slow cook the stew with the pot under hot ashes. The management of the ashes is not an easy task at all and requires some skills, as they are routinely changed to assure even cooking.
Because the dish popular among men, particularly unmarried workers, it’s sometimes referred to as “bachelor’s stew.”
To try this dish in Marrakesh I recommend Chez Lamine.
Khubz, alternatively spelled khoubz, khobez, khubez, or khubooz, is the generic word in Arabic for “bread,” although often used in reference to a round leavened Middle Eastern flatbread, that forms a staple of the local diet from the Arabian Peninsula to Morocco.
It is often homemade and typically prepared with white flour mixed with whole wheat or semolina flour. It is sometimes flavoured with anise seeds. A thinner version, Khobz al-tajin, is cooked in an earthenware pan. An oven-cooked version, about an inch thick, was traditionally prepared at home and then taken to a communal oven to be baked; some bakeries still offer this service.
It originated in the Middle East and it is used widely used in many Mediterranean, Balkan, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Kaab el Ghzal
Kaab el Ghzal (Gazelle ankles) also known in French as cornes de gazelle, “gazelle horns”) are a traditional dessert in the form of crescent-shaped cookies made of flour-based dough filled with almond paste aromatized with orange blossom water.
If you are in Marrakesh and would like to try this, or any other sweets, I strongly recommend visiting Corne de Gazelle, just next to Djemaa el-Fna, the main market in the city.
Mint tea is the national drink in Morocco (it is nicknamed “Moroccan whisky”). It is normally heavily sweetened with sugar chipped off a sugar cone or sugar cubes. It is served in traditional teapots which usually contains a few sprigs of spearmint. It is poured into a tea glass from a height to create a froth called the crown.