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A foodie exploration of Morocco

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A trip to Morocco is a treat for the tastebuds. The distinctive aromas and punchy flavours of Moroccan food reflect the riot of colour you will see everywhere in this enthralling country, and sampling local specialities can often be a great way to interact with the Moroccan people.

Jamaa el Fna market square, Marrakesh, Morocco

The cuisine shows some influences from France but its roots are firmly of Arabic and Berber origin, evidenced by the generous use of spices. The fine array of spices that give many Moroccan dishes their unique flavour are very visible in souks and shops up and down the country, often flamboyantly displayed to make the most of their impressive colours, and these same spices form the back notes of many classic Moroccan dishes.

Spice stall in Marrakesh market

From street stalls selling just one simple dish to the finest restaurants, you can indulge in a variety of dining experiences in Morocco, and if you’d like to take some of those flavours home with you, our local experts can arrange cookery classes, farm visits and gastronomic tours of the souks. Dining with a local family is another memorable way to access the food culture of Morocco, and this is another option which our specialists are more than happy to arrange.

Family meal Morocco - credit: Annie Spratt

So what are the best foods to try in Morocco? Here’s our introduction to Moroccan cuisine, the major flavours and dishes you are likely to come across, along with some specialities you might look out for.

Important ingredients

Harissa paste is used as an ingredient or as an accompaniment. Its a mixture of chillies, preserved lemon, garlic, coriander, cumin and oil blended together to create a fantastic kick of flavour served alongside many savoury meals. Chermoula is an important element in many tagine recipes, and is commonly a chicken or fish marinade made with a combination of garlic, ginger, preserved lemon, onion, chilli, paprika, cumin, saffron, salt and herbs. Its blended with olive oil to make a loose paste which is perfect for coating the meat and flavouring the vegetables.

Fish tagine cooked with Chermoula spice

The classic Moroccan spice mix known as ras el hanout is the basis for many savoury dishes, and is a combination of ground coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, cinnamon, paprika, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. Many Moroccan recipes have a dollop or two of smen, a type of fermented butter which adds a slightly cheesy hint to couscous and tagines, as well as other dishes.

Spice stall in Marrakesh

Moroccan street food

The street food scene in Morocco is eye-catching and enticing. From steaming vats of harira (the classic Moroccan bean soup) in the morning, to the curls of spiced smoke drifting from a street-side charcoal grill stacked with skewered meats at dusk, there are so many flavours to discover.

Kebabs ready for cooking in Marrakech

Snails in broth are a popular snack on the go, available from carts in many towns and cities, served with a pick to winkle them from their shells. The broth is spiced and seasoned, and each vendor’s recipe is different.

snail street food Morocco

Msammen flatbread is another staple along the lines of an Indian paratha, delicious when bought fresh off the griddle at one of the many street hatches or carts. There are usually a couple of options, either savoury with a layer of onion and chilli oil baked in, or plain with honey. However you have yours, these flaky, buttery breads are a great snack when you are out and about.

Honey Msammen in Morocco

Merguez sausages are commonly sold freshly flame-grilled from street kitchens in many towns, too. These are spicy lamb sausages which have a  delicious flavour of chilli and paprika, oozing bright orange oils when you bite into them. Choose a busy stall with a fast turnover to be sure of freshness, and ensure they are piping hot when you buy them. In season you can also find carts heaving with glossy clementines throughout the country, which you can buy by the half kilo for a few pence to munch on as you stroll.

Oranges in Fez, Morocco

Tagines

If there is one dish that springs to mind when you think of Morocco, it’s the tagine. The word ‘tagine’ actually refers to the clay cooking pot with the distinctive conical, witches hat shape which is used to gently cook various stews and slow-cooked meats.

Moroccan tagine street food stall

The classic method to prepare a tagine is to first marinade meat (or occasionally fish) in spices or a chermoula mix as described above. Chopped vegetables such as onion, tomato and garlic are added to the base of the tagine and the marinated meat arranged on top. Then pieces of potato, courgette and carrot are propped around the sides and a spiced stock - often containing valuable saffron - is poured over.

Traditional Moroccan tagine

The tagine is then placed over hot coals or a flame (avoiding direct contact between the tagine and the heat source) and left to cook until everything is tender and infused together. These tasty stews are widely available from restaurants throughout Morocco, and there are plenty of delicious variations to try such as chicken with lemon and olives, lamb with apricots, or even mouth-watering vegetarian options.

Vegetable tagine in Marrakesh

Couscous

A classic celebration dish, Moroccan couscous is often cooked at home on Fridays for family gatherings. Couscous is one of the main staples of Moroccan cooking and everybody has their own best recipe. The traditional method which many cooks swear by is to steam the couscous grains 3 times, stirring through with oil, smen and water between each steaming. Couscous is usually served as a communal dish with a pile of spiced braised meat and vegetables on top, and everybody helps themselves to the section of the dish nearest to them. Cooking Moroccan couscous is a bit of an art handed down through the generations, and each family will have their own favourite combination of accompaniments, though most recipes feature beef slow cooked in spices with a combination of six or seven vegetables to augment the flavour.

Couscous sharing dish Morocco

Mechoui Lamb

As with many dishes in Morocco, what makes this one stand out is the use of spices. Breast or leg of lamb is flavoured with garlic, ginger, saffron, turmeric, paprika and salt, and first boiled with onion then roasted with smen. The traditional way to cook this dish would be a far more theatrical event whereby several whole lambs would be coated in the spice rub and minced garlic before being spit roasted inside a vast underground oven heated with hot coals. The result is very tender, juicy meat with that delicious Moroccan spice undertone, usually served with bread or rice and a selection of dry spices and harissa for sprinkling over.

Mechoui lamb in Morocco

Mint tea

Hospitality is king in Morocco, and one of the unwritten rules of hosting is to offer mint tea to guests. You will find this tradition is repeated in all sorts of situations, from perusing carpet shops to buying a handful of nuts. Mint tea is known as ‘The Whisky of Morocco,’ and it is made and served with some ceremony.

Moroccan mint tea

First a tablespoon of gunpowder green tea from China is brewed with hot water in an elegant metal teapot. This is poured into a cup and kept to one side. The pot is then refilled with fresh hot water, swirled and poured into another cup but again isn't drunk. This second cup is to be discarded as its purpose is to clean the loose leaf tea. Next, a handful of fresh mint springs and a good few lumps of sugar are stuffed into the teapot and the first cup of tea is added back into the pot. Extra boiling water is poured in and the teapot heated to bring the tea to the boil, melt the sugar and infuse the mint. Before serving, the tea is poured back and forth between cup and pot at least twice to mix it thoroughly. When the tea is poured to serve, it's poured from a height to allow the classic Moroccan mint tea foam to appear on the surface. Delicious.

Traditional Moroccan mint tea

Make it happen

Morocco has a uniquely exotic appeal particularly due to its cultural wealth and incredible landscapes. Combine the best of Morocco with an insight into its cuisine with a bespoke itinerary created to meet your own particular preferences. Our local specialists have created a sample itinerary with a focus on food, and can tailor this or anything else to your needs and wishes. Simply send them a few details to get started. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.

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