The geography, climate, and history have varied the people, their culture, and their lifestyle. It has also influenced the way various foods and dishes are prepared. For example, the Berbers (the indigenous people of Morocco) prepared tajines in earthenware pots, a slow-cooked stew prepared at low temperatures allowing flavors to fully develop. The nomadic people in the desert have, for centuries, prepared simple couscous dishes over a campfire. The caravan traders have brought and left their mark on Moroccan cuisine and ingredients from abroad. The Moors created pastries and desserts from dried fruits and almonds, influenced by the sugar trade from the East. The Jews from Spain have a slow-cooked Sabbath stew called a tagine. The Arabs brought with them the concept of food for sustenance, dried fruits and meat, and kebabs. The royal kitchens of Fez, Meknes, and Marrakech are over 600 years old and are the apex of Moroccan cuisine. Here, food is taken very seriously and prepared to perfection. Given the social nature of Moroccans, meals are always prepared for large numbers of guests, and the host takes pride in the meal. This pride is reflected in the meal laid upon a circular table in the middle of which is a low-lying round table where the diners are positioned. Often, the foods are eaten communally using the hands. A “gossip” of food is prepared, that is, you can eat from any plate on the table. A communal salad followed by a tagine, for example, is followed by the main meal and a round of couscous dishes on Friday. Tea is prepared and consumed with a ceremonious air, and especially when prepared by a hostess, is a matter of prestige. The meal ends with desserts and fruits and sometimes sweet pastries. Rich meals are often completed with a digestive such as a thuya or a tiny glass of sweet mint tea. Finally, the best meal is always the one which is cooked for guests. Note that Moroccans take their time in preparing and eating their meals, and food is never prepared hastily. The concept of this was quite strange to me, having grown up in a rushed urban lifestyle. I recall my first year living in Morocco and my host sister in Casablanca watching in awe and disbelief as I scoffed down my meal and left the table reaching for the TV, finding the time for this and them to be quite peculiar.

2. Traditional Moroccan dishes

Couscous is Morocco’s principal traditional dish. It is a fine wheat pasta that is meticulously hand-rolled and then steamed and cooked in a number of ways. The most popular way to cook couscous, which is now widespread throughout North Africa and beyond, is in a steamer above a stew. It is often cooked with chicken, lamb, vegetables, and garbanzo beans. Nearly every single Moroccan household eats couscous on Friday. This meal is thought to bring families together and is intended to supply both body and spirit for the highlight of the Islamic week. This meal is typically followed by a lamb or beef mechoui (whole roast), rice, and a steamed wheat called seven whole. And of course, dates and milk are given to well-wishers upon the return home.

Morocco is a land of a large variety of cultural influences, and each culture has its own unique taste. As well as preserving a culture, it is a symbolic occasion and, at times, a religious duty. Moroccan cooking is deemed to be one of the most diversified in the world. This is a result of the centuries-old interaction of Morocco with the outside world. The cuisine of Morocco is mainly Berber-Moorish and European influences. Morocco is a self-sufficient country, and this quality is replicated in Moroccan cooking. Morocco’s geographical location, the array of Moroccan spices, produce, and ingredients may be a contributing factor. Most of these dishes are crafted in a Tagine – a conical clay dish.

2.1. Couscous

Couscous is a Maghrebi dish of small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya, and the Western Sahara. In different areas, couscous is prepared differently and the resulting dishes also differ. In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, couscous is generally served with vegetables (carrots, potatoes, and turnips) and some combination of harissa, a spicy chili sauce, chickpeas, and various meats (pork, mutton, lamb, or chicken). In Algeria and Tunisia, it is also served, in some families, at the end of a meal in a deep dish and the meal is on a separate plate used with the hand. Diabetics in North Africa consume it with sour buttermilk. It is a tradition in France and Spain to consume couscous with sour buttermilk. In Senegal, it is very common to see people eating their couscous from a calabash. It is also common to eat it from a communal bowl, each person taking their own little bowl, rolling it into balls, and then eating it.

2.2. Tagine

A tagine is a special North African dish as well as the conical shaped pot in which it is cooked. The classic tagine pot is formed entirely of heavy clay, which is sometimes painted or glazed. The top of the tagine pot is a cone or dome-shaped lid that rests inside the base during cooking and is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving. As the food cooks, it is moistened and the deep, heavy base of the tagine diffuses and retains heat. The design of the traditional tagine pot is thought to be the forerunner of the slow cooker. The conical shape of the lid is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving. Tagines are used to cook dishes with the same name and are ideal for making rich, flavorful stews. Because the conical shape of the lid permits steam to circulate, the ingredients are simultaneously braised. Onions are used to prepare the tagine base, a variety of meat, usually chicken, lamb, or beef, and fish stews. Because the best tagines are made with seasonal vegetables or fruits, they are available all year round. A variety of fruits, dried or fresh, are also used when preparing tagine. This exquisite mix of rich and complex flavors is what truly defines the essence of Moroccan cuisine.

2.3. Pastilla

Bake the pastilla at around 180°C for 30-50 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. Allow the pie to sit for 10-15 minutes before draining any excess butter from the sides, sprinkling the top lightly with icing sugar and a little extra cinnamon. Serve the pastilla hot, with the sugar and spice contrasting with the salty, savory chicken filling in a most delightful way.

Now you can spread the chicken filling evenly over the dough and form a slight well in the center. Mix ½ a cup of caster sugar into 1 cup of melted butter and pour this mixture over the filling. At this stage, you will add an extra unique touch to your pastilla by adding a few sprigs of saffron milk-soaked saffron threads. Fold the overhanging dough up and over the filling to completely encase the pie. A few more layers of buttered dough and finally a brushing of beaten egg will give the pastilla a lovely golden glaze.

The next step is to prepare the warqa or phyllo dough. To make warqa the traditional way, spread the dough over the backs of two large fine handkerchiefs. Allow to dry slowly in the shade for a few hours. When you are ready to assemble the pastilla, stack 8 layers of dough, brushing each layer with melted butter. Trim away any rough edges and place this stack into a greased 12-14 inch round baking dish, allowing any extra to hang over the edge. If using phyllo dough, stack 6 layers and proceed in the same way.

Step one to making a pastilla is to prepare the filling. This will require: 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, 2 large onions (finely chopped), 1 bunch of fresh coriander, 8 large eggs, 1 cup of caster sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, 2 cups of water, salt and pepper to taste. In a large heavy-based frying pan, brown the chicken pieces in a little oil. Once browned, add the onions, herbs, spices, salt and pepper, and water. Cover and cook over a moderate heat until the chicken is tender and most of the water has evaporated. It is important to remember there should be very little sauce left in the chicken mixture as excess could make the pastry layers too damp. Remove the chicken from the pan, allow to cool, and then remove the meat from the bones. Reduce the remaining juices until they form a very thick sauce which should be poured over the meat later. Hard boil the eggs, allow them to cool, peel and dice them. Mix the eggs and chicken together and you now have your pastilla filling.

Pastilla is most commonly made with squab or chicken, but a vegetarian version using spinach and feta cheese is also quite delicious. Although the idea of a sweet and savory pie may not appeal to everyone, the complexity and depth of flavors present in a well-prepared pastilla are sure to delight the adventurous eater.

Pastilla, often pronounced “bastilla”, is a dish that most Moroccans save for special occasions. An authentic Moroccan pastilla uses warqa, an almost tissue-like dough made of very thin layers, to encase the meat filling. Commercially prepared warqa is available at most Moroccan markets. However, it may be replaced by a thinner version of phyllo dough. The process of assembling a pastilla can be tricky and time-consuming, but the result is well worth the effort.

2.4. Harira soup

Harira soup is a hearty combination of lentils, chickpeas, and vermicelli, flavored with coriander and parsley. It is a famous Moroccan soup that is served especially during Ramadan. It is sometimes called the “soup of the poor” because it is a meal in itself. Harira is also popular as a starter which is often served accompanied by dates. This soup is served throughout the year in Morocco. Traditional Moroccan harira soup is rich and aromatic without being too heavy. It includes a variety of herbs, which are the backbone of any good Moroccan soup. Harira should always be spicy, but this does not mean it should be peppery. The heat of ginger and smokiness from paprika are the principal flavors of any Moroccan soup. 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika and a half-teaspoon each of ground ginger, cayenne pepper, and black pepper are ideal for 4 to 6 servings. And the healthiest Moroccan soups have only a small amount of fat. Always make harira with good quality, extra virgin olive oil. Harira is a traditional food that differs from one area to another. For example, in the north of Morocco, Harira soup is sweeter and cooked with plain flour, whereas the south prefers spicing it up and eating it with fried fish.

3. Spices and flavors in Moroccan cuisine

Cumin is used to flavor a large number of dishes. This is probably the most commonly used spice after salt and pepper. It is often used in conjunction with cilantro and is considered to be a fundamental flavor in the North African kitchen. Ground cumin is used in spice mixtures, like the aforementioned ras el hanout, but whole seeds are also used in various dishes. Cumin seeds are often added to hot oil and allowed to sizzle, infusing the oil with a deep, earthy aroma. This flavored oil is now used to season entire tagine. Ground cumin is often used to flavor soups and stews. A very popular and uniquely Moroccan soup called Harira uses an entire tablespoon of ground cumin. Cumin is a crucial flavor in chickpea and lentil dishes, which are often simmered in cumin-flavored oil and sprinkled with extra cumin powder just before serving. A simple yet popular and quite addicting snack involves toasting large quantities of cumin seeds and then coating them with powdered sugar.

Ras el hanout is a spice mixture commonly used in Morocco. Translated as “head of the shop,” it contains the seller’s best spices. Each company has their own blend and the mixture usually consists of over 30 different spices. Traditionally, a Moroccan housewife would grind her own mixture. The ingredients are toasted, ground together, and then added to a small amount of oil. The resulting paste is used in tagines. Although some prepared mixtures are available in Morocco, the best is made at home. The mixture is often used to flavor meat, but the powder can be used as a rub or to flavor rice.

3.1. Ras el hanout

Ras el hanout translates to “top of the shop,” meaning the best that a spice merchant has to offer. This is a mixture of the premium spices available at the time of mixing and is highly variable depending on the maker. It can contain as many as 100 ingredients, including ground chili peppers, cinnamon, cantharides, cloves, coriander, allspice, cardamom, dry ginger, turmeric, and peppercorns. Some recipes include over 30 ingredients, many of which are unusual and rarely used in the Western world. This makes Ras el hanout something of a mystery, much like garam masala of India. Having its own unique blend of flavors and essential for the best Moroccan cuisine, it is a must-try for all who enjoy cooking with interesting spices and flavors. An easy dish to try with Ras el hanout is any good Tagine recipe, with a lot of dates and dried fruits for a perfect sweet spiced flavor. With the increasing popularity of Moroccan cuisine, this spice will become much more readily available in Western countries, with more clear-cut recipes and a more accessible ingredient list. Its many flavors provide a stimulating and healthy alternative to modern fatty and unhealthy meals.

3.2. Cumin

A rather small seed that has had a big history. Cumin is one of the key ingredients in this cuisine. A seed that is actually a dried fruit has been a part of Moroccan culture and cuisine since the times of the ancient Egyptians. Cumin is used as a key ingredient in chickpea dishes and various soups. The Moroccans add it to spiced couscous and rice dishes, giving them a richer taste. They also use it in their marinades for meat and poultry. Moroccan spice mixture, not to be confused with the aforementioned ras el hanout, also includes cumin in many of its mixture recipes. One of the most well-known and enjoyed Moroccan dishes is the Tagine. This savory stew cooked in a clay cooking pot holds many ingredients, yet the one they have in common is a heaped teaspoon of cumin. When staying in Marrakesh, you witness the preparation of lamb and vegetable tagine in individual serving dishes. Meat and vegetables are cooked quickly in oil, at some places the lamb would actually be the only meat with the vegetables to fortify the flavor. Other Tagines are baked at a low heat, with a fire burning at the hole in the top of the earthen vessel. Any meat can be used for Tagine and there is a large variety in the selection of vegetables. All Tagines should have cumin in them. In conclusion, cumin is an important ingredient in Moroccan cuisine. One could safely say that a tagine or couscous dish with no cumin is not a tagine or couscous dish.

3.3. Saffron

Saffron, which is known as the most expensive and rare spice in the world, is a staple in all kitchens across Morocco from the simple village tagine to the food prepared in a palace. It is often referred to as “red gold” for obvious reasons. Saffron comes from the flower of the saffron crocus, and it is actually the dried stigmas of the flower. It is a physically laborious and delicate task that must be done precisely at the right time; this would explain the price of the weight of saffron. It is regarded as a key spice and is used against cancerous cells as well as taking the inflammation out of a cut when used in water. It exhibits in a subtle way, pushing its way to the back of most dishes to simply enhance the flavor. It works well with to enrich and add color to rice dishes, and is a key ingredient in traditional Harira and other Moroccan soups. Saffron is an often overlooked, yet imperative spice in Morocco which is taken for granted in other countries.

3.4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a much-used spice in Moroccan savory dishes. That’s right, not just a sweet spice, the Moroccans use cinnamon to spice up meats, vegetables, and rice. It is mainly used in Moroccan tagines (a type of dish named after the earthenware pot it is cooked in), a little going a long way in slow-cooked stews giving an aromatic sweetness. It is also said that cinnamon has a warming effect on the body, and it is for this reason that it is considered a ‘male’ spice in Morocco. Warming Moroccan cinnamon is often used as a substitute for many dishes using the much more expensive substance, saffron. So next time you bake an apple pie and the recipe calls for you to serve it with cream, consider this. Instead serve it with Greek yogurt, mixed with a little honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. Now you’re eating in true Moroccan style.

4. Moroccan street food

Whether you are eating around the Jemma el Fna (main square in the Medina of Marrakech, always busy both day and night), in a medina backstreet or on the beach in one of the coastal towns, there is plenty of street food available around Morocco. A lot of it is fast food, but unlike the western equivalents, not only does it taste delicious but is probably a lot healthier too. There are no hot dogs or burgers here. Anywhere there are large groups of people, you may find a barbecue stand with sardines or other fish. Sardines are plentiful in Morocco and freshly grilled sardines are a resourceful and tasty dish. They are often served straight off the grill with just bread and perhaps some cumin or spicy red pepper on the side. If you’re not trying to eat on the go, you may be offered a plate of fish and bread. Personally, I find the fish better when eaten in this way, the thin sauce in the dish has a hint of cumin and other herbs, usually not spicy but tasty. An assortment of seafood can also be easy to find on the streets of coastal towns, usually consisting of smaller fish or other seafood in a tomato and herb sauce cooked and served in a clay or metal tagine, eaten with bread. Fish and chips Moroccan style doesn’t have quite the same appeal as in the UK, but is still a very tasty meal. Often it will consist of some form of breaded fried fish, with calamari and bread, a far cry from the saturated fat of the UK. This can also make a nice change from the tanginess of the Moroccan street foods for any picky children in a foreign holiday.

4.1. Moroccan pancakes (Msemen)

There are plenty of fillings you can go for, but the most typical would be honey and semolina, although plenty of Moroccans love eating msemen with jam or chocolate spread. Honey and semolina is achieved by spreading and mixing some uncooked semolina with olive oil over the top of the pancake, then adding the honey, folding it over, and repeating the process.

Msemen are Moroccan pancakes and can be found all over Morocco, being prepared in a number of different ways. However, the two most common methods are frying the dough in oil and going for the healthier, more grilled option. Essentially, msemen is pancake batter taken to the extreme, as layers of dough are folded over each other multiple times to create anything from a 3-10 layered pancake. Not only does this method look cool, but it also adds a nice texture to the pancake and makes it easier to separate the layers and stuff the msemen with something fulfilling.

4.2. Grilled sardines (Sardines a la Plancha)

If you venture to the coast, you’ll encounter perhaps the most common of Moroccan street foods: Grilled sardines (Sardines a la Plancha). The sardines are first marinated in a blend of cumin, paprika, fresh chopped coriander and garlic before being flame grilled. They are commonly served with a Moroccan salad on a plate or in a baguette as a sandwich. This is without a doubt the most succulent and tasty way to enjoy sardines. This dish is available in most of the fishing towns along the Atlantic coast. The main grilling spot in Essaouira is on the side of the main street that faces the ocean. You will see many locals eating there and the fish couldn’t be fresher. Heading south, Agadir offers many great spots to taste the fish, often in the form of a picnic at the beach. Taghazout’s restaurants also offer some tasty sardines to eat in a more laid back and local atmosphere. Sardines in Agadir and further south are often more easily found in cafes and restaurants, but may be BBQ’d at the beach in true Moroccan style. A visit to the charming, white washed town of Tafraoute will also provide you with the chance to taste some of the finest sardines, freshly caught in nearby Tiznit. This eating experience is not one to be missed!

4.3. Fried fish (Fish and Chips Moroccan style)

Fish is also a popular snack in Morocco due to its long coast. Fish are caught in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and the people of the coastal cities have added their own recipes to those made in other countries. When buying fresh fish in the market, always ask for it to be cleaned. In Morocco, this means removing the intestines, but the head and scales are left on. Fish are often seasoned and coated in flour, then fried. This is a very easy way to cook fish, and the Moroccans do it very well. Fried sardines are often served in the home. They are eaten plain with bread and perhaps a hot sauce and a simple salad. This is a tasty and inexpensive meal. Sardines are large in Morocco as they are caught in the Atlantic. They make a great BBQ, and for a street food snack, they can be grilled and put in a bread roll like a hot dog. The best location for this is at a sardine BBQing stall on the beach.

5. Moroccan desserts and sweets

Moroccan desserts and sweets are, like many other cultural foods, exceedingly sweet and often eaten with mint tea. Moroccan mint tea is as much a part of the culture as it is a drink. Green tea is taken with mint and sugar, and it is traditional to pour the tea from a height of one foot into the glass to swirl the ingredients and improve flavor. It is then drunk in slurps to accent the flavor. Tea is a favorite drink in Morocco, and it is traditional to offer it to guests. It is impolite to refuse it. Twinings Tea Company has actually produced a special gunpowder green tea for the Moroccan Ambassador to London. This is very much a high-grade tea which is often served at festive occasions or to special guests. Moroccans are well known for their pastries. Pastilla is a filo pastry filled with pigeon, chicken, and sweetened almonds, and dusted with sugar. Although this is a dish often served as a main course, it is sweet, so it is included with other pastries. Gazelle horns are crescent-shaped biscuit-like pastries filled with almond mix and dusted in icing sugar. Chebakia is a sesame cookie which is deep-fried to give it a crisp texture. It is then coated in a syrup made from honey and rose water, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is a popular pastry to make and share with family and friends during Ramadan. M’hanncha is a cinnamon and almond pastry which gets its name from the way it is rolled up to resemble a coiled snake.

5.1. Moroccan mint tea

Moroccan mint tea is a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar, traditional to the Greater Maghreb region in Morocco. It is served not only at mealtimes but all through the day, and it is especially a drink of hospitality, commonly served whenever there are guests. Unlike Moroccan food, cooked by women, this tea is traditionally a man’s affair: prepared by the head of the family. The sugar is a vital component, and the tea will taste too bitter if drunk unsweetened. Usually, three successful pourings are made, each one sweeter than the last. The Moroccans commonly use Chinese gunpowder tea, but other green teas may be used. Traditionally, the tea is poured into glasses from height and consumed in three sips. The higher the tea is poured from, the more the host values his guest. This tea is often served with biscuits or pastries.

5.2. Gazelle horns (Kaab el ghzal)

Gazelle horns is a very common Moroccan sweet which can be bought in practically every Moroccan bakery. The name stems from its shape as it is rolled and twisted to look like the curved horns of a gazelle. This delicious, flaky almond tasting pastry combines the sweet and salty flavors of almonds and sugar with a hint of orange flower water. Traditionally savored with mint tea, gazelle horns are usually made in large batches during special religious days such as Ramadan and the two Eid holidays to be served to guests or eaten with family. This is because gazelle horns can be quite time-consuming to make and take a great deal of effort and precision in making them. A batch can be made up to 70 pastries and can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to make. As a result, it has become to symbolize family and togetherness in sharing and enjoying the many labor-intensive treats that Moroccan cuisine has to offer.

5.3. Chebakia

Chebakia, alternatively spelled shebakia, is a traditional Moroccan sweet treat which is essentially cookies brushed with honey syrup and spiced with anise and sesame. A favorite during the holy month of Ramadan, each region in Morocco has its own shape for chebakia, but they are usually in the form of a rose. The cookie is one of the most time-consuming Moroccan sweets to make, with batches taking up to three hours to prepare. The dough is made from white flour, unsalted butter, liquid smen (a type of butter), saffron, anise, and a little water. The ingredients are mixed together; the dough is kneaded and then left to sit for a few hours. Afterward, small portions of it are taken and rolled until very thin. It is then cut into strips, shaped differently according to the region and each strip is fried, unusually in oil, until it is golden in color. A fun fact is that usually a family will consider a batch a fail if they did not burn at least one of the chebakia strips, as it is thought to give a distinct flavor. Once all the chebakia is finished it is then dipped in a syrup made of honey, rose water and orange water, then sprinkled with a mixture of ground, fried sesame and anise. This process both gives it its rose-like intricate appearance and its sweet pungent taste.

5.4. M’hanncha

M’hanncha is made from a dough which has been rolled into the shape of a rope and then coiled into a round, spiral shape like a snake. M’hanncha means “snake” in Arabic, due to its physical similarity to a coiled snake or serpent. The dough is typically filled with a mixture of ground almonds, sugar, and cinnamon, and then finally glazed with a sweet syrup flavored with orange flower water or rose water. Fillings containing ground peanuts or shredded coconut can also be tried. The m’hanncha is then baked until golden brown. It is allowed to cool for a short time before being served and enjoyed at room temperature. M’hanncha can be served either as a dessert or sweet snack. Sometimes it is even served as breakfast with Moroccan mint tea. M’hanncha is often made for special occasions such as Ramadan, Mawlid, weddings, or other parties. It can be made in various sizes, ranging from very small to very large. Traditionally, it’s made to be about 30 cm or 12 inches in diameter. It is quite rich, however, so it’s perhaps best served in small slices. Leftover m’hanncha can be served with an accompaniment of vanilla-flavored ice cream.

6. Moroccan food culture and traditions

Moroccan food is often described as being rich and flavourful, using a variety of ingredients and spices to achieve unique tastes, and colours as well creating an amazing smell. Tagines, a type of dish named after the pot they are cooked in, are very popular in Morocco. They are stews slow-cooked at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Tagines are flavourful and the meat is very tender. Moroccan couscous, a dish of semolina pasta steamed over a stew of meat and vegetables, is also a staple dish. Sweet pastries are very popular in Morocco and are often prepared and served during Ramadan and for special occasions. These pastries are a French influence and are very delicate and sweet.

Moroccan food is a colourful, varied tapestry of flavours and cultures. Arab, Roman, Berber, and French influences are all reflected in modern Moroccan food. Spices feature very prominently in Moroccan food and the number of spices used in Moroccan cooking is quite large. Some popular spices in Moroccan food include cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, paprika, and coriander. Each of these spices is known to have health benefits and the use of each helps to create the distinct flavours of Moroccan cuisine. Often times these spices are used to marinate and/or rub meats. The result of this is usually a wonderful aroma and taste.

6.1. The importance of hospitality

For a guest in your home, you should always make sure that they are comfortable, whether it be with a glass of tea or something to eat. It is important to show hospitality. A visitor in Morocco may be considered rude if they do not accept a meal, as it may seem that the host is inadequately providing or the guest is not comfortable with the situation. Often, Moroccans feel that their country has been poorly portrayed in the media and that foreigners have many stereotypes. One way to clear up the stereotype is to invite them to a home for a meal and emphasize that not all Moroccans are the same, which is often thought by travelers.

Large elaborate meals are traditionally a symbol of hospitality in Morocco. “Food and eat” translated into Arabic are considered to also mean “Welcome”. The expectations on Moroccan hosts are to be prepared with large quantities of food so that if guests drop by unannounced, their presence can be readily accommodated. The comparison between Moroccan and Western culture is quite interesting. In the West, an unexpected guest is often an inconvenience and meals are a very simple affair. To be invited to a Moroccan home for a meal is to be offered the best that they have and eat as much as you can. To refuse a second helping of a dish that you didn’t like is to be offered it again, as they might think you didn’t understand the question!

6.2. Ramadan traditions

Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of fasting from sunrise until sunset. The fast is broken with dates and milk, and then it is time for the evening prayer. After the prayer, a large feast known as Ftour is prepared. There are many variations of dishes for Ftour from one Moroccan family to another. Special soups are made, among these are Harira (a soup which has at its base chickpeas and lentils), Bessara (made from dried broad beans with liberal amounts of olive oil and cumin), and R’zat el Tabbouli (a Tunisian soup made from chickpeas and pasta with a lot of garlic and caraway). These soups are in tradition of the Prophet who would break fast with either a few dates or a few sips of milk to take the edge off hunger, then he would perform the evening prayer and come to the table for a light soup. More dishes follow the soup, these may be Tagines of meat or poultry, turkey Bastilla and other Pastillas, couscous with seven vegetables and more. The feast may go on well into the night or the early hours of the morning. A meal before the fast begins is called S’hour, this is eaten before morning prayer and can be quite varied throughout Morocco. S’hour may be highly spiced and very flavorful. In a typical day of Ramadan, there are up to two meals, before the fast and after the fast, between these it is said that one can truly feel the pangs of hunger. After Ftour, there may be outings to cafes and restaurants that stay open all night specifically for Ramadan, where Moroccans may wish to indulge in more savory or sweet delicacies. Prior to the fast approaching, the people who sell food would display their edible wares to attract the more immediate custom. A common yet straightforward and often quiet meal for Ramadan is bread with milk. This is eaten by many Moroccans to save time and restrain hunger. Although Ramadan is a time of fasting not just physically but mentally and spiritually, it is in many ways above all a time of increased devotion, in kindness, generosity, and the remembrance of others less fortunate, a humble and modest time, filled with good deeds and unity.

6.3. Moroccan food festivals

Every city and province in Morocco has some type of food festival bringing together the entire community to celebrate a common dish or ingredient. Sefrou, a little over 28km from Fez, has an annual Cherry festival which gathers over half the province’s population and visitors from all over the country. Beni Mellal, situated in the Atlas Mountains, celebrates a similar festival but with Berber tribes and families, and has a fantasia (a traditional Moroccan exhibition of horsemanship) and an appearance by the current king of Morocco. There is also an International Couscous festival which is held in Marrakech and is attended by various countries. The festival includes a number of activities and contests aside from food tasting, such as cooking and couscous sculpture contests. As with Berber weddings and other life passages, if a specific food is to be celebrated, mass is cooked in vast amounts and eaten by the entire community. This was also the case with a camel meat festival held by the Draa valley town of Zagora, where, as suggested in the title, camel meat was the guest of honor and was cooked and eaten by all who attended. This festival, however, is in contrast to the Marrakech Artichoke festival which is subsidized by the Moroccan royal family and has sultans serving up a feast of artichoke-based dishes to the festival’s attendees. Despite what’s being celebrated, all these festivals aim to bring the community together through the preparation and consumption of food, and are also held as a means to draw tourists and drive the economy.

7. Fusion cuisine in Morocco

Italian cuisine is not as significant to Moroccans as French cuisine, but there are traces of influence from both modern and ancient Italy. Italy was an ally to the Axis in WWII and as a result had an ambassador in occupied Casablanca and also protected Jews, however Italy never attacked Morocco and had no territorial claims. The main area where Italian cuisine has fused with Moroccan is in the desserts. Gnocchi di semolino is a Moroccan gnocchi made from semolina, flour, and egg, it is often flavored with nutmeg and served with butter or a sauce. Eggplant or aubergine is stewed with garlic, onion, tomato, and spices in the Sicilian tradition and is often served as a side dish. Tagine di melanzane is an eggplant tagine and an attempt to convert an Italian recipe into a Moroccan one. The result of the Italian attempt to influence Moroccan cuisine is various desserts such as the pie or tart and the most famous being the Moroccan invention called Zaalouk – a salad of crushed cooked aubergine. Although I’m not sure if this really constitutes as fusion cuisine, but it’s an interesting result so I thought I’d include it.

The geographic location of the country and long history of colonization has greatly influenced Moroccan cuisine, especially French food. Moroccan-French fusion is the most well-known type of fusion cuisine in Morocco outside of Morocco. Morocco achieved independence from France in 1955, with French colonizers still having a presence in Morocco. Moroccan-French cuisine is the result of a combination of the two countries’ food and cooking techniques. “Méchoui” is a dish where a whole lamb or sheep is roasted on a spit. This method of cooking meat is thought to be a result of French “rotisserie” style cooking. Tagine dishes are often made in a fire and are a common comfort food that French people like to eat. The “escargot tagine” is a dish that combines the two countries’ culinary culture with Morocco’s staple way of cooking and presentable French dish. The adoption of coq au vin has been altered to “Tangia” and is a common fixture on Christmas and New Year’s day. Tangia is a Marrakesh specialty – slow cooked lamb spiced with cumin, saffron, coriander, and harissa in an urn (made of the same name) overnight and eaten with bread. French wine and imported liquor are consumed by Morocco’s French elite and are also used in stews and various desserts. Moroccan pastries are also a result of the French influence, evident in the name with the most popular one being “Palmiers” said to be the Moroccan king’s favorite cookie.

7.1. Moroccan-French fusion

Another French import into Moroccan cuisine was the introduction of a variety of different cooking techniques and ingredients. While in Morocco, I had the pleasure of meeting a French-trained Moroccan chef who emphasized the importance of French occupation on Moroccan cuisine. ‘The techniques we Moroccans use today for cooking tagines and couscous were taught to us by the French,’ he said, ‘and we have adapted them to create a different variety of the same dish.’ Due to colonization, there is now a French and Moroccan version of the national dish, couscous. The French-influenced version is often eaten in the home and is a much richer version of the dish using butter, seasonal vegetables, and a meat such as lamb or chicken. The Moroccans have adopted this method of eating couscous but have it reserved for special occasions. The North African nation’s love of wine was also encouraged by the French, and they began to introduce a variety of French-style dishes to be accompanied with wine. The most popular being a tagine made with olives and preserved lemons.”

The most noticeable change to Moroccan food can be seen through the vast array of pastries and desserts. The French brought with them the know-how of baking breads, pastries, and desserts, and the Moroccans, known for their sweet tooth, embraced it. It wasn’t long before they decided to add their own twist to the French recipes using local ingredients and flavors. The result is a delicious array of pastries often made with almonds, cinnamon, and sugar, giving rise to many well-known treats such as Pain Au Chocolat, Beignet, and Puit D’amour.

“In the words of Wafaa Yassine, ‘Moroccan Fusion cuisine is not a new concept. The Moroccan kitchen has always been reinventing itself.’ Most notable is the abundance of French-inspired dishes and cooking techniques which can be found in every corner of the country. The French, who occupied Morocco for 44 years, have had a profound impact on Moroccan cuisine.

7.2. Moroccan-Italian fusion

Moroccan-Italian fusion is a fairly recent development in Moroccan cuisine and is largely confined to the more cosmopolitan cities such as Casablanca and Rabat. Due to food globalization and the increased availability of a wider range of foodstuffs in Morocco, there has been an increasing interest in Italian food, especially with the growth in popularity of Italian restaurants in the city. This has led many Italian-Moroccans to experiment with Italian/Moroccan dishes at home. Italians have long been present in Moroccan history and culture, despite only relatively recently ceasing to be a colonial power in the country. There have been significant settlements of Italians in Morocco dating back to the Roman era and a wave of immigration during the 20th century. Despite this, the influence that Italian cuisine has had on Moroccan food is relatively insubstantial compared to its influence on Moroccan cuisine.

7.3. Moroccan-Asian fusion

Morocco and Asia are almost opposite ends of the earth, but as the country has always been open to influence, so in recent years new ideas have emerged to merge Asian and Moroccan cooking styles. Hunan in Marrakesh is probably the best example of this and was set up in 2006 by a group of Malaysian restaurateurs. The menu takes inspiration from Southeast Asia and the Far East but with Moroccan ingredients. Chef Bahar Udin Said from Indonesia makes Chicken with honey and almonds in a wok, a typical Moroccan stew tagine but cooked to an oriental recipe. Malaysia makes an appearance in Nasi Goreng with prawns and beef rendang, while the French dish of frog’s legs is now cooked in a Chinese style and at a much cheaper price! Lemon Chicken is marinated with Moroccan preserved lemons while chili con carne and a green Thai chicken curry have completed the Morro-Asian blend.

8. Health benefits of Moroccan cuisine

The importance of bread is symbolized in the Moroccan style. Round loaves and long sticks of French-style bread are common. Tajine, a cookware unique to the Maghreb, is a circular shallow dish used both for cooking and serving. Traditional tajines are made of unglazed earthenware. Step one is to prepare the ingredients. They are placed inside the tajine, covered, and slow-cooked at low temperatures. This method of cooking is designed to trap steam inside the tajine and continuously circulate it, there being minimal loss of moisture.

Typical to Morocco, a variety of meats are used, a mixture of seven vegetables, and it is topped with a stew made of squab/pigeon meat. Morocco is known for being one of the best places to enjoy couscous. Vegetables are used depending on season and location. It is also traditional to eat with the index and middle fingers of the right hand. Fruit is eaten in a variety of ways, mixed with orange flower water and honey, a typical snack; mixed with a variety of dried fruits, or as a refreshing dessert following a meal.

Concerning the use of fresh ingredients, Morocco, due to its temperate climate and lengthy coastline, has many regions where both fish and various seafood are abundant. The country produces a large variety of fruits and vegetables and even produces its own oil pressed from olives. While the country is able to produce a wide array of agricultural products, much of its diet is based around bread and cereals. The most common meat is lamb, beef is found less frequently, with goat and mutton used to a lesser degree. Chicken is also very common. The most famous Moroccan meal is couscous. This is a dish shared throughout the Arab world.

8.1. Use of fresh ingredients

The Moroccan diet consists mainly of salads, appetizers, couscous, tagines, and desserts. Tagines, some of the most well-known Moroccan dishes, are spiced Moroccan stews, often made with a base of meat, poultry, or fish, and topping of vegetables or fruit. Tagines are traditionally prepared in a conical pot, which has a unique top that helps to steam the ingredients, while the shape of the pot allows for the food to be tender and moist. The ingredients used to flavor tagines are many, but often simple, and result in rich and sweet flavors. Tagines can be anything from very savory to very sweet. Because tagines are prepared slowly, there is little evaporation of the liquid (which results in a sauce), and the meat and vegetables are moist and very flavorful. Tagines are the perfect example of tender meat and plenty of flavorful sauce, which results in a savory and often sweet dish. Owing to the abundance of flavor and sauces used in Moroccan cuisine, it is often mistakenly thought that Moroccan food must be very spicy, however this is not the case. Moroccan food is spiced, not spicy!

The cuisine of Morocco is a mix of Berber, Spanish, Corsican, Portuguese, Moorish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and African cuisines. The cuisine consists of a mix of meat and vegetables, which are often slow-cooked in a flavorful sauce. The dishes prepared are full of color and flavor because they incorporate fresh and dried fruits, and an assortment of vegetables and meat. Because of the use of so many fruits and vegetables, Moroccan cuisine results in healthy, flavorful dishes.

Moroccan cuisine is known for its diverse and fresh ingredients used to create tantalizing and aromatic dishes. These fresh ingredients are the key to healthy and flavorful meals. By studying the ingredients used in Moroccan cooking, one can gain an understanding of how fresh food can be used to produce healthy and delicious meals.

8.2. Nutritional value of Moroccan spices

Moroccan spices and their nutritional value have shown to be extremely positive in promoting good health, along with disease prevention and even treatment. Spices in general are extremely high in antioxidants. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals in the body which can cause disease and illness, along with helping slow the aging process. The Journal of Medicinal Foods reported a study finding that Morocco spice mix “Ras El Hanout” contains over 40 different antioxidant compounds. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that cloves rank as the number one spice and second overall in antioxidants, only behind sumac. Cloves are primarily grown in Zanzibar but are also imported from Asian countries. Along with antioxidants, many spices have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. This is of significant value since many health ailments and diseases are a result of chronic inflammation within the body. A study from Michigan State University found certain compounds such as curcumin from the spice turmeric to be effective in combating and preventing diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and allergies. Turmeric also contains high levels of antioxidants and is widely used in Morocco.

8.3. Mediterranean diet influence

The spices that Moroccans use also have a lot of health benefits. The use of spices is based on ancient traditions and passed-down knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants. A lot of Moroccan recipes call for a mix of several different spices, and the combination of those spices provides a great aroma to the meal. Ginger, cumin, and turmeric, which are common spices in Moroccan cuisine, are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Spices like saffron and ginger also help in digestion and are also good for the stomach. Cumin seeds also help in digestion and are effective for diarrhea. It is also a great source of iron. The increased absorption of iron is also supported by the high content of vitamin C from the abundant citrus fruit widely present in the Moroccan diet. The mint tea, which is traditionally the national drink of Morocco, contains various health-promoting properties. Known to serve it hot, Moroccan mint tea is rich in antioxidants and has been proven to lower cholesterol. On the other hand, Moroccan tea has a high sugar content, so it may not be as healthy, especially for those who have diabetes. Further research should be conducted to better understand the health effects of Moroccan cuisine and perhaps better promote activities to prevent and reduce the incidence of diet-and-obesity-related diseases in Morocco.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and nuts, which is considered to be high in monounsaturated fatty acids. These are heart-healthy foods, as had been proven by a lot of studies. This kind of diet can also protect a person from diseases associated with stroke, like thrombotic type of stroke and other types of vascular brain disease. This protection is possibly associated with the relatively low intake of saturated fats. The diet also involves moderate wine consumption, usually during meals; this is also shared by Moroccans. Moroccan cuisine is rich in olive oil, which is considered to be very healthy for the heart. Olive oil contains antioxidants with strong anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps to reduce the bad levels of cholesterol in the blood, which was also proven by research conducted at the University of Oxford. Olive oil is a staple ingredient in tagine and couscous and is frequently used in traditional Moroccan bread. The preference for poultry and fish instead of red meat is also present in Moroccan cuisine. For this reason, Moroccan food is very healthy. The National Institute of Public Health and the Environment conducted research in the Dutch cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) and found that the preferential consumption of fish has been associated with a reduced rate of colorectal cancer. It is also said that the Moroccan consumption of fruits and vegetables is higher than that of other Mediterranean countries. The diet has a reduced risk for arthritis, wheeze, and other allergic symptoms for those having a high adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern. This is because fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in repairing and preventing damage to cells caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are involved in heart disease and cancer, and the role they play in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.