This North West corner of Africa has diverse, vibrant and colourful Moroccan food. Combinations of flavour, aromatic spices and exotic ingredients make even the basic local food amazing. In Morocco, eating is not only a necessity, but is also a social ritual. The chefs of the four royal cities (Fez, Meknes, Rabat, Marrakech), helped modify what we know today as Moroccan cuisine.
Origin and history
Over two thousand years ago, nomads called Berbers were the first inhabitants of Morocco. They inculcated local ingredients, such as olives, figs, and dates, to prepare lamb and poultry stews. As time passed by, traders and conquering nations introduced new food customs. Among them were the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. However, the strongest influence on native cooking was during the Arab invasion in the seventh century A.D. due to large Arab population found in Fez and Marrakech.
Moroccan cuisines often have Spanish, African Arab, and Middle-Eastern influences.
The Arabs also got with them new breads and other foods made from grains. They introduced spices like cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, and caraway. They also introduced cooking method like sweet-and-sour cooking, which they had learned from the Persians. Another influence on Moroccan cooking was from Moors from Andalusia in southern Spain in a way that pastilla, or bisteeya, a popular pigeon pie in Morocco, was originally a Moorish dish. In modern times, the French and the British also made contributions to Moroccan cuisine. Moroccan cuisine originated from North-Western Africa. The foods and dishes of Moroccan culture inculcate the natural resources of the region.
The authentic Moroccan spices
This country is naturally rich in ancient spice and these have cozied their way into local kitchens for centuries. The few essential spices which Moroccans always have in their pantry are cumin, saffron, turmeric, ground ginger, cardamom, paprika, hot red pepper, cardamom, white or black pepper and cinnamon.
The special Moroccan ingredients
To make finger-licious traditional Moroccan food, a blend of spices along with few standout ingredients actually helps the dish standout and enhances the profile of the food. Few of them are garlic, parsley, preserved lemons, olives, meat (chicken and lamb are most prevalent), sesame seeds, cilantro, onions, almonds, honey, orange flower water, dried fruits like apricots, dates, raisins and figs and others like Harissa and Couscous.
Here are few popular foods which you can’t miss while on a vacation or business trip to this culturally rich place:
- Couscous is originally from Morocco and typically served with meat or vegetable stew. You can find it at most restaurants and cafes but traditionally it’s prepared on the Muslim holy day (Friday) and for special occasions.
- Harira, tomato-based soup is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, often filled with meat (lamb), vegetables, lentils and chickpeas. Harira is often enjoyed to break the day’s fasting during the month of Ramadan because of its nutrition-packed profile. During the fasting days of holy month of Ramadan, the fast is broken at sunset each day with a steaming bowl of harira soup. It is garnished with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped coriander, and served with a sticky sweet pretzel called chebakkiya.
- Tagine is actually a clay cooking pot with a conical top. Its unique shape and the slow-cooking method make the ingredients ( lamb, chicken, veggies, etc.) tender and luscious. Tagine is Morocco’s defining national dish and can be your one of the favourite Moroccan dishes.
- Fish chermoula is a combination of herbs and spices used as a marinade before grilling over coals, and as a dipping sauce. Long Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts around this place allow Morocco to boast a rich array of fish dishes.
- Chicken Bastilla is Morocco’s famous rendition of a savory pie, and it simply doesn’t get better than this. Though traditionally pigeons were the birds of choice, but here chicken is cooked with saffron, ginger, pepper and cinnamon, then layered within crispy warqa pastry with an herb-laden omelet and fried almonds scented with orange flower water. An utterly amazing fusion of flavors and textures.
- Makouda is Moroccan’s legendary street food is and the best place to sample the wide variety is Djemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech. Here beside the kebabs, calamari and grilled sardines, can also be found, more unusual sweet cheek meat of sheep’s heads, snails cooked in a spicy broth that wards off colds, and skewers of lamb’s liver with caul fat. Makouda are little deep-fried potato balls, delicious dipped into spicy harissa sauce.
If you plan a trip to Morocco, make sure you don’t leave it before trying all these wonderful masterpieces!