It’s impossible to come to Morocco and not leave a piece of your heart with the colorful variety of dishes. The food of Morocco ranks high on lists of the world’s best cuisines, and gastronomical destinations. Seductive with its incredible variety, flavorful seasoning, and innovative ingredient combinations.
Food and cuisine represent an essential part in the Moroccan cultural puzzle. Influenced by Morocco’s interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine is usually a mix of Amazigh, Andalusian, and Mediterranean cuisines, with slight European and sub-Saharan influences.
Morocco is an interesting mixture of people, languages, and traditions. The ethnic groups that settled over centuries, play an important role in forming the Moroccan culture of today, especially the cuisine.
The Influence of Ethnic Groups on the Moroccan Cuisine
The Moroccan food menu began with the first inhabitant, the Amazigh (berbers), descendants of pre- Arab inhabitants. They were once the dominant ethnic group in Saharan Africa, particularly Morocco. The Berbers influenced the Moroccan cuisine in a remarkable simplicity, with some dishes estimated to be more than a thousand years old.
The Berbers brought new spices, nuts and dried fruits, and the sweet and sour combinations that we see in dishes like tagine with lamb and prunes. The tajine pot is made out of clay and is usually painted with designs, used for cooking and for serving as well. So when the tajine is ready and served, it’s still bubbling of heat for minutes. Probably the Berbers used it to keep their food warm until it finished, and it is still useful today.
Berber food is cooked traditionally in a handmade oven with mud and cow manure. It is warmed with branches of trees found in the area, and sometimes with charcoal.
By the end of the 7th century, the Berbers were not alone anymore, and accompanied by other groups of people. Traders and conquerors from surrounding areas, including the Romans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and mostly the Arabs. Shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs spread all across the Middle East and North Africa to expand the teachings of Islam. They converted some Berbers into Islam, and fought together in the war of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Arabs brought not only the teaching of Islam, but also introduced new recipes and ingredients to the Moroccan cuisine. They introduced a new food choice with new types of bread and other grain-based foods. The Arabs were not parsimonious to share with the indigenous people the cuisine knowledge they picked from the Persians. Including new spices such as cinnamon, ginger, paprika, turmeric, cumin and caraway.
The Jews have left a sophisticated touch in the Moroccan cuisine. They started to migrate to North Africa during the 7th and 8th centuries. Despite the wave of Islamization at that time, Jews were granted safe residence and favorable economic conditions by Isdris II.
Half a century ago, an estimate of a quarter million Jews lived in Morocco. However, in the 1940s, with the founding of the state of Israel, religious tensions escalated, resulting in mass emigration. Today only few remain, residing in Mellah of Fez, Marrakech, and Casablanca. But their cultural traditions and cuisine influence, inevitably, still exist. The Jews are a main reason behind the fame of the Moroccan city Chefchaouen, by bringing different shades of blue paint. The striking shades of blue in Chefchaouen is attracting tourists from all over the world today.
The Jews influenced the Moroccan culture, by teaching pickling and preservation techniques for fruits and vegetables, including olives, citrus, and carrots.
The Moors of Spain were Muslim inhabitants mainly based in the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. They left their impress on the Moroccan cuisine, by increasing the production and use of olives and olive oil. The Moors also brought Pastila, which is a very popular pie in Morocco today.
Like most imperializing countries, France wanted to colonize Morocco in order to achieve more power. France colonized Morocco from 1912 until 1956, and brought with them a culture of cafés, ice cream, patisserries, even wine.
Apparently, the geographical position of Morocco attracted different ethnic groups. That all participated in the creation of the Moroccan culture of today, prominently in cuisine. Of course, the history associated with Moroccan cuisine has also shaped the way its people eat their meals and alongside with what. The following are some traditional dishes of Moroccan cuisine inspired by the cultures of the ethnic groups.
Image source: Kosher Cowboy
Couscous is originally a Berber dish and, for this reason, it’s a staple dish in many North African countries. In Morocco there is an authentic tradition of eating Couscous every Friday after the midday prayers. An inherited culture from the indigenous people, the Berbers.
There are different types of Couscous in Morocco. The most common is Couscous with seven vegetables ( onions, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, turnips, cabbage, and chickpeas) and beef meat. Another type of Couscous, named Tfaya in Morocco, is presented with sweet and spicy caramelized onions and raisins. The mixture is used as a garnish, alongside with rice, poultry, or meat. People in Morocco traditionally eat Couscous with their hands, but with time this tradition is gradually fading away. Today most people eat it with spoons.
Couscous is also one of those perfectly balanced and flavoursome dishes in Moroccan cuisine. Couscous with seven vegetables recipe is pretty easy, and doesn’t have to include all the seven vegetables if not available. You can try it right at your kitchen at anytime. It might take some time to cook, but its preparation is very quick, and you will not be disappointed with the taste.
Another inherited dish from the indigenous people of Morocco, the Berbers. This specialty is named after the clay plate on which the dish is cooked, and served as well. Tajine is traditionally prepared on top of a portable clay majmar under which people put hot coals.
Tajine can be made with many different ingredients. Practically anything can be turned into a tajine. Some typical tagine dishes include: Tajine with lamb and plums, Tajine with chicken and preserved lemon, Tajine with fish, and Tajine with meatballs with tomatoes and eggs. They are well arranged , and left undisturbed to cook until soft, making a delicious, beautiful presentation.
What is impressive about this dish is that it can be an everyday dish. Instead of spoons or forks, tajine is eaten with bread. The idea is to use the bread to soak up in the broth while also scooping up some of the vegetables and meat. Of course, there are more varieties that exist than this. Every part of the country has its own regional tagine dish and different ways of preparing it.
Image source: Cooking the Globe
As mentioned above, this dish was initially introduced by the Moors from Spain in the late 15th century. Pastilla today is a very popular dish in Morocco, and considered as the emblem of Moroccan parties and celebrations. Many Moroccans proudly claim that it was perfected Fez.
The recipe is traditionally prepared with layers of a paper-thin pastry, stuffed with a blend of pigeon or chicken meat, almonds and eggs. Spiced with saffron, cinnamon and fresh coriander, then sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon.
Image source: Pulses
In Morocco you find a variety of soups being served, but harira soup is the most outstanding and loved one. This soup is traditionally a main dish of the holy month Ramadan in Muslim culture. It is served daily after the breaking of the fast in Ramadan, alongside with dates and small pastries chebakia. This tradition is so inherited that many Moroccans consider a meal during Ramadan incomplete if harira isn’t on the table.
Every region in Morocco has its own recipe of harira with a slight variation. Typically, harira is a fragrant tomato-based soup with onions, chickpeas, and lentils. Seasoned with ginger, pepper, turmeric and basically celery, which gives it the distinctive taste of other soups. It is very rich and nutritious, allowing you to recharge your batteries after the fasting day.
Although harira is famously associated with Ramadan, you can still find it served throughout the year in Moroccan homes and restaurants, even sold as street food.
Image source: Depositphotos
The Turk ethnic groups brought the barbeque culture initially to Morocco. Barbecuing is referred to as Mechoui, and occupies a central position in Morocco’s culinary life. Being practiced in public squares and crowded markets, even on the sidewalks of restaurants.
The barbeque culture in Morocco is outstanding. Usually it’s a roasted whole leg of lamb, cooked in an earthen oven or in deep pits. Presented as the main course at weddings or in ceremonies honoring an important guest, prominently in Berber villages. People gather around the pit and play drums, sing, dance and talk.
The Mechoui is an authentic tradition on the first day of the Islamic holiday Eid Aladhaa ‘Feast of sacrifice’. Muslims worldwide slaughter a sheep, or a goat, sometimes even a cow or a camel, for a particular religious reason. While the sky during the first day of this holiday is usually cloudy due to the rising smoke of grilling from every house.
Sardines and Seafood
Image source: Taste of Maroc
The geographical position of Morocco makes it the only African country with coastal exposure to both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea. Morocco is known for having the richest fish territory in the Atlantic Ocean, and the largest fish market in Africa. Therefore providing it with an abundant supply of fish, especially sardines, fresh and with on a very affordable budget.
Sardines are the poor man’s food as much as they are for the rich. They’re an important component of the Moroccan diet, especially in coastal cities. In non-coastal areas you can still find them, but perhaps only on limited days.
The most popular Moroccan recipe to prepare sardines is fried fillets stuffed with flavoured marinade called charmoula. It’s a treat not to miss, usually served as part of starters or alongside with fresh salads, harissa, and bread to make a complete meal. Another way to make sardines, which is very common in coastal cities, is simply grilling all the sardines and all with some salt and cumin when it’s ready.
Facts about Morocco’s Eating Habits and Traditions
So the food and popular dishes are followed by eating and its distinctive habits from one country to another. The following are interesting traditions and eating habits in the Moroccan culture.
- Family is one of the most important elements of everyday life in Morocco. The Moroccan family spends a lot of time together, especially around good meals cooked by the mother of the house.
- A typical Moroccan family eats together from one main plate, and not in individual dishes. Before starting to eat, they say Besmellah, which means “In the name of God”. Usually it’s said on any occasion or when about to do something, it could be getting up from bed, going to work, but mainly while starting a meal.
- Eating with your hands is a time-honoured tradition in Morocco. Only with the right hand using the thumb and first two fingers to scoop the food with a piece of bread directly from the plate.
- Bread, referred to as khobz, is a round flatbread and served with almost every meal, except couscous.
- Drinking tea is a much loved authentic tradition in Morocco. It is nicknamed “Berber whisky” as a joke, and it is the national beverage, signifies hospitality and friendship. The most typical type of tea served in Morocco is green tea, specifically Chinese gunpowder tea. It’s brewed with fresh mint and plenty of sugar. Mint tea is surprisingly served more than five times per day. It could be even more sometimes. If someone pops in for a visit, the host will immediately brew a pot of tea. As there is a Moroccan ritual of pouring the tea from a height, in order to mix the ingredients well, and to cool down the tea. Making moroccan tea is not only boiling water and adding the ingredients. But an art that is learned over time.
Significance in Anthropology and Culture
Morocco’s culinary heritage embraces the deep-rooted traditions and cultural variety of the country. Due to the historical interactions and exchanges with other cultures and ethnic groups. Morocco has built an undisputed gastronomical reputation worldwide. It is also important to point out that even something simple as food combinations can show remnants of cultural exchange and influence and give anthropologists more clues to the past.