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Moroccan gastronomy is considered to be one of
the best in the world. The Art of Moroccan cuisine and local delicacies is
sought after for its remarkable diversity of international influences. Moroccan
cuisine can be traced back to the country's long history of its European
occupiers and emigration of Spaniards and Jews. The result is a cornucopia of
dishes that vary from region to region.
The Berbers, the first inhabitants of Morocco, invented the conical cooking tagine and barley-based couscous. The Arab invasion brought nuts, dried fruits, exotic spices, along with sweet and sour combinations such as pairing apricots with lamb or beef. The Jewish Moors introduced the preserving techniques of lemons and pickles. The French protectorate brought café culture, sweet pastries, and wine.
Bread is an essential and sacred part of Moroccan cuisine. There are various types of bread, including khobz, msemen, harcha, and baghrir. It is forbidden to throw away bread. If a piece of bread falls on the ground, tradition says to pick it up and kiss it. Families keep their leftover bread aside to cook it with herbs and chicken broth or to give it to people, who use it to feed their animals.
One of the popular Moroccan dishes is the tagine, a historically Berber dish. A tagine is a type of stew cooked in a clay pot. Its shape was inspired by mountain peaks. The tagine's shape allows steam to rise from the top, cooking the ingredients fully. Beef, lamb, goat, chicken, fish, or vegetables are used to line this conical-shaped, pot that simmers on the stove for an hour before being eaten. Some typical tagine dishes in Morocco pair lamb with prunes and almonds or eggs. Others such as Kefta, use a combination of (beef) meatballs paired with tomatoes and eggs. Another popular tagine dish is Chicken & Lemon tagine, which combines chicken with preserved lemons and olives.
Couscous is another traditional Berber dish. It is made of fine semolina and topped with meat and seven vegetables or made with kale and beans. The traditional way of making couscous is time-consuming. Couscous steamed three separate times. Berber women in some villages still roll couscous from scratch however most families buy it packaged. The tradition throughout Morocco is to have couscous each Friday, the daily prayer, and rest which is holy to Muslims.
Pastilla (Bastilla) was brought to Morocco by the Jews and Moors. This particular traditional Moroccan dish has been perfected in Fez. Since Pastilla is made in layers and requires significant time to make, Moroccans typically eat this dish at weddings and other special occasions. Pastilla is made chicken or pigeon by stuffing wrapped in a very thin filo (phyllo) dough in layers, then sprinkled with cinnamon, blanched almonds, and powdered sugar. Seafood pastilla has become popular in the coastal areas and vegetarian pastilla with travelers.
Harira is the main soup or Morocco and served to break the Ramadan fast and also eaten during winter months. In the Imperial Cities Harira is a tomato-based soup cooked with chickpeas, mini pasta, cilantro, parsley, and spices. In the countryside, it is white and made of barley. Harira is traditionally served with dates and pastries like chebakia and briouats or a Moroccan bread called Msemen.
Bissara is another popular soup made of dried and peeled fava-broad beans. This soup is healthy, full of protein, and considered comfort food. It is usually served for breakfast, especially in the winter.
There are two types of Moroccan salads, cooked and raw. Cooked salads are made of a combination of vegetables, such as eggplants, cauliflower, green pepper, and tomatoes. Raw salads are made of chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onions, vegetable oil, salt, and black pepper.
Moroccans usually eat fresh fruit for dessert after the main meal yet they are also known to be very fond of sweets. Dry and sweet-filled pastries play an important role in Moroccan cuisine as they are an essential accompaniment when drinking mint tea. Almond paste filling is used in many pastries such as briouats and cornes de gazelle. Coconuts and peanuts are also used a lot in pastries.
Moroccan Mint Tea
Moroccan mint tea often referred to as “Berber whiskey,” is a cultural norm offered to
family, friends, and visitors as a display of traditional hospitality. It is a welcome drink used in homes, hotels, weddings, and ceremonies. Mint tea is made using green Chinese tea, boiled water, sugar, and mint or other herbs. Moroccans drink tea at any time of the day. The first thing that you will be offered as a visitor is hot, fresh mint tea served in small glasses. Tea shops in the Medina will often it in tall glasses with mint inside. Moroccans pour the tea from high above the glasses to create a little foam in each glass. This foam makes the tea very attractive to the eye.
Spices play an important role in the flavors of Moroccan cuisine. Dried ginger, black pepper, and turmeric are used in tagines and pastilla. Cumin, paprika, and chili are used to spice up tomato-based cooked salads and dishes, vegetable or fish tagines, and charmoula (marinade). Cinnamon is used in all savory dishes and fruit salads. The pure saffron pistils from Taliouine are used in food, tea, and herbal medicine. Cardamom and anise star are used in cream desserts and pastries. There are also some secret mixtures that you can get from an herbalist such as Ras El Hanout, which can consist of up to 45 spices and herbs blended together.
Parsley and cilantro (coriander) are the most essential herbs in Moroccan cuisine and are used in almost every dish. The second most important herb is mint since it is the main component of Moroccan mint tea. Verbena, sage, rosemary, and Marjolaine are also used in tea and are valued for their healing properties. Although absinthe is illegal in some countries due to its stimulative drug properties, it is popular in Morocco as an additive to tea in the winter.
Dates & Fragrant Water
Dates are an essential part of Moroccan life and cuisine. Dates are grown in the south of Morocco within the regions of Erfoud, Zagora, and the Draa Valley. Dried prunes, figs, and apricots are the most used fruits in Moroccan cuisine. Almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are the most used nuts.
Orange blossom water and Rosewater are important ingredients that can be found in Moroccan desserts and some drinks, like milkshakes.