A beautiful country in North Africa, Morocco is home to lovely beaches and rugged stretches of coastline, arid deserts, soaring mountain ranges, historical cities, and traditional villages. As well as being a feast for the eyes, Morocco is also a fantastic destination for foodies, with numerous tasty dishes to sink your teeth into.
Moroccan cuisine is especially known for its aromatic spices and olives, and several influences have played a part in the development of the local gastronomy. With food that are popular throughout the country, to regional specialities that many a Moroccan looks forward to when visiting certain areas, you’ll find plenty to satiate your appetite all around the country. Here’s an overview of the local food scene, along with some top foods and drinks to try when travelling in Morocco:
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Main influences on Moroccan cuisine
The climate and terrain has played a major part in the evolution of Morocco’s cuisine, with dishes revolving around items that can easily be grown in the country, like, for example, olives, figs, dates, wheat, and tomatoes, animals that can be reared for consumption, such as sheep, goats, cows, and chickens, and the various fish and edible marine creatures that are abundant in coastal areas.
Morocco’s population comprises Arabs and Berbers, with both groups having brought traditional dishes and ways of cooking to the country. A former French colony with pockets of land that have come under Spanish and Portuguese rule in the past, there are noticeable European influences in some dishes. Elements from other African nations have also crept into Morocco’s food scene.
Religions have also played a part in the development of the country’s cuisine. With a huge Muslim majority, it’s no surprise that Moroccan cooking follows halal principles, with animals slaughtered in a particular manner, no products from pig found on any menus, and no alcoholic ingredients listed on recipes. What may come as a surprise, however, is the Jewish influence amongst Moroccan cuisine. Whilst the Jewish population is now negligible in Morocco, there were huge Jewish communities around the country in times gone by, communities that have left behind cuisine-related legacies.
Tagine is perhaps the most famous dish associated with Morocco. But did you know that tagine doesn’t actually refer to any particular meal? Tagine is the name of a certain type of round stone pot, complete with a domed cover. The ingredients are placed in the pot and covered, before traditionally being cooked over hot coals. Today, however, it is common for tagine to also be cooked on a gas or electric hob.
The dish is commonly served in the stone base, retaining all of the juices and flavour. It’s typical for several people to share one large tagine, eating from the portion closest to them; it’s considered impolite to dig around for the best bits! Tagine is generally eaten with bread.
Olive oil, salt, cumin, saffron, turmeric, and black pepper are normally used in all tagines. Whilst any meat or vegetable can, in theory, be tossed into a tagine, common varieties include chicken with salted lemon, lamb or beef with assorted vegetables, lamb with almonds and prunes, and fish. Vegetarian options are often available in tourist restaurants, containing veggies like potatoes, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, small onions, green beans, and olives, though it can be difficult to find a vegetarian meal in a regular restaurant.
I enjoyed this tagine in a restaurant called Chez Rachid in Fes. Located next to the famous Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate), you can dine on the terrace overlooking a busy square and the beautiful gate.
Couscous is another of Morocco’s well-known meals. Consisting of small steamed balls of semolina, it is a staple food around the country. It’s usually served with various meats and / or vegetables cooked with spices on top. I was quite surprised to find that couscous is also sometimes enjoyed sweet, with dried fruit and ground sugar adding the flavours.
This image of a veggie-friendly couscous dish was taken at Restaurant Paloma in Chefchaouen. The couscous is topped with potato, carrot, aubergine, and courgette.
Rather like tagine, tangia takes its name from the pot that it is cooked in. A tangia is a tall earthen urn-shaped pot. Cooked over coals or on a hob, the ingredients are placed inside the pot before the top is covered with a strong cloth and held in place with string. Tangia ingredients can include various meats, fish, or vegetables, combined with Moroccan spices. Tangia is a Marrakshi speciality and is usually eaten with bread.
This tangia was home-cooked by a Moroccan family I visited. It contains beef, salted lemon, olive oil, cumin, garlic, and saffron.
A fairly basic dish, Moroccan salad, known locally as simply ‘salad’, is made using finely chopped tomato, onion, and pepper. The main ingredients are tossed with olive oil and cumin, and the salad is often served with crisp lettuce leaves and olives. A refreshing dish, it can be eaten alone as a light bite, with bread if you want something a bit more substantial, or as a starter or accompaniment to a larger meal.
This picture was taken at a small eatery along Fatima Zahra Boulevard in Marrakech, close to the famous Koutoubia Mosque. Unfortunately, the restaurant’s sign was only in Arabic. In common with most of these dishes, this can be found in many restaurants.
Zaalouk is another type of Moroccan salad, combining cooked aubergine and raw tomato. Other ingredients include olive oil, garlic, and spices. Chilli is sometimes added for a little extra kick. Although it can be enjoyed with bread as a meal in itself, zaalouk is often served alongside other dishes.
This delicious side order of zaalouk was photographed at Grand Café Lixus in Larache, a rather off-the-beaten-track destination in Morocco.
Bread is another staple food in Morocco, eaten with almost every meal. The regular type of bread is called khobz. It’s round and fairly thick, ripped apart to scoop up food and soak up sauces. Hacha is a delicious spongy type of bread, made from semolina, milk, and butter. It goes well with honey or jam. Msemen is similar to a French crepe, but thicker. A square-shaped delight, it can be torn and used to scoop up soft cheese or jam, or dipped in honey. You can also buy msemen already filled and rolled. A combination of cheese and honey might sound strange, but it tastes great! Soft and light, baghrir is like a cross between a fluffy pancake and an English crumpet. Filled with air, baghrir is commonly eaten at breakfast time.
This picture shows msemen and baghrir, two types of bread I enjoyed for breakfast at Riad Mahjouba in Marrakech.
Pastries, cakes, and sweets
You can find many delicious sweet treats to enjoy in Morocco, with French-style patisseries in abundance. Those with a sweet tooth can relish mille-feuille vanilla slices, fruit tarts, chocolate cake, and more. Almond is a common ingredient in several Moroccan sweets; try briwat or kaab el ghazal (gazelle horns) for some almond-y goodness.
This yummy cake was snapped in the art-filled Patisserie Driss in Essaouira.
A favourite drink in Morocco, mint tea is available in almost any establishment that sells food and drink. Watch how Moroccans prepare their tea; it’s quite fascinating! Fresh sprigs of mint are added to a pot of hot tea, along with copious amounts of sugar. The pot is swirled before the tea is poured into a glass from height. But it’s not ready to drink yet. The tea is then poured back into the pot, and the process repeated. This is to ensure that the ingredients have been thoroughly mixed. True tea perfectionists may take small sips between mixing to ensure they get it just right.
Other top foods to try in Morocco
When it comes to soup, Morocco has several hearty and warming options; harira’s main ingredient is lentils, whilst the thick b’ssara is filled with beans. Snail soup is also on the menu if you’re up for something different! Meat-lovers may enjoy the meat skewers of brochettes, and spicy sardines are popular in coastal areas. Sheep’s head is especially common following Eid al-Adha. Filled baguettes, paninis, and pizzas are widely available if you’re not feeling too adventurous.
Treat all of your senses and eat your way around Morocco!