Morocco is one of the most fascinating countries I have visited in recent times. Situated in Northern Africa, less than 10 miles away from Spain, the meld of cultures and influences seen here are just marvelous. Berber, European, Arab and African traditions heavily influence the Moroccan way of life.
Aside from the culture, the landscape is equally enthralling. In a matter of hours one can drive all the way from snow capped high Atlas Mountains to the golden dunes of the Western Sahara, seeing everything from lakes, badlands and oasis in between.
Moroccan cuisine, like its culture is an amalgamation of all its influences. It has also been refined over time in the royal kitchens in Fes, Meknes, Marrakech, Rabat and Tetouan. Moroccan cooking uses spices such as cumin, paprika, saffron, turmeric, ginger and so on. It also has a special spice blend known as ras el hanout which combines several spices and is used to flavor certain dishes.
Breakfast in Morocco is heavily influenced by European/ French fare. The spread usually consists of several breads, pastries, croissants and a variety of traditional Moroccan breads such as khübz, msemmen and baghrir which resemble flatbreads, pancakes and crepes. They are usually eaten with fresh fruit jams, nut butters such as amlou – made from almond paste, honey, and argan oil.
Salads play a huge role in Moroccan cuisine. Each meal is served with several small plates of delectable salads many of which are cooked. The vegetables served range from carrots, zucchini, broad beans, tomato and much more. – My favorite was the eggplant Zaalouk salad which is extremely popular.
Everyday Moroccan food offers a wonderful variety of dishes which include several versions of Tagine – where meat, vegetables or seafood are cooked in a cone-shaped earthenware vessel with a variety of spices.
Of course there is Couscous which is usually eaten every Friday at midday, where the entire family gathers (generally in the grandparents home) to share this meal together.
There is also an abundance of superb seafood (depending on which area you are in) and many kinds of meat – ranging from camel meat to lamb, which is served skewered (brochette), minced (Kefta) or cooked in a large earthenware vessel with spices (Tanjia). Soups also are very popular too with Harira – a stock made with chickpea and tomato, being a favorite.
One rather unusual yet popular dish that I tried in my travels was Pastilla or Bastilla which is basically a meat pie wrapped in a phyllo type dough called (werqa) and is filled with chicken, pigeon, seafood or vegetables. It is really delicious – the combination of savory, sweet, soft and crisp works beautifully.
Bread is eaten with every meal and is a staple. It can be found just about everywhere in the market. There are several kinds of bread such as a flat bread called Khubz Maghrebi and Harcha, which is a pan-fried flatbread made from semolina.
One cannot escape trying a cup of freshly brewed Mint tea, which is had with every meal all over the country. The Moroccan mint tea is fantastic and is prepared and poured with much ceremony.
Snacks abound in every nook and corner in Moroccan souks and markets. One can find everything from dried fruits, brochettes (meat on skewers), babouche (boiled snails) and much more.
Dessert in Morocco almost always is served alongside their wonderfully sweet tangerines. There are many varieties of pastries (French influenced). There are several Patisseries everywhere, which serve amazing almond/ marzipan based cookies.