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Moroccan cuisine is influenced by Morocco's interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine has been subject to Berber and Mediterranean influences. The cooks in the royal kitchens of Fes, Meknes, Marrakech, Rabat and Tetouan created the basis for what is known as Moroccan cuisine today.
Morocco produces a large range of Mediterranean fruits and vegetables and even some tropical ones. Common meats include beef, mutton and lamb, chicken, camel, rabbit and seafood, which serve as a base for the cuisine. Characteristic flavorings include lemon pickle, cold-pressed, unrefined olive oil and dried fruits. It is also known for being far more heavily spiced than Middle Eastern cuisine.
Spices and other flavorings
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan food. Although spices have been imported to Morocco for thousands of years, many ingredients — like saffron from Tiliouine, mint and olives from Meknes, and oranges and lemons from Fez — are home-grown. Common spices include:
- qarfa (cinnamon)
- kamoun (cumin)
- kharqoum (turmeric)
- skinjbir (ginger)
- libzar (pepper)
- tahmira/felfla hemra (paprika)
- sesame seeds
- qesbour (coriander)
- zaafran beldi (saffron)
- massia (mace)
- qronfel (cloves)
- basbas (fennel)
- Nnafaâ (anise)
- elgouza (nutmeg)
- zaâter (oregano)
- felfla soudania (cayenne pepper)
- Ourka sidna moussa (bay Laurel)
Common herbs include:
Structure of meals
The midday meal is the main meal, except during the holy month of Ramadan. A typical meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tagine. Bread is eaten with every meal. Often, for a formal meal, a lamb or chicken dish is next, followed by couscous topped with meat and vegetables. A cup of sweet mint tea usually ends the meal. Moroccans often eat with their hands and use bread as a utensil. The consumption of pork and alcohol are considered Haraam, and are prohibited per Muslim dietary restrictions.
The main Moroccan dish most people are familiar with is couscous, the old national delicacy. Beef is the most commonly eaten red meat in Morocco,usually eaten in a Tagine with vegetables or legumes. Chicken is also very commonly used in Tagines, knowing that one of the most famous tagine is the Tagine of Chicken, potatoes and olives. Lamb is also consumed, but as North African sheep breeds store most of their fat in their tails, Moroccan lamb does not have the pungent flavour that Western lamb and mutton have. Poultry is also very common, and the use of seafood is increasing in Moroccan food. Among the most famous Moroccan dishes are Couscous, Pastilla (also spelled Bsteeya or Bestilla), Tajine, Tanjia and Harira. Although the latter is a soup, it is considered as a dish in itself and is served as such or with dates especially during the month of Ramadan. Pork consumption is forbidden in accordance with Sharia, religious laws of Islam. A big part of the daily meal is bread. Bread in Morocco is principally from durum wheat semolina known as khobz. Bakeries are very common throughout Morocco and fresh bread is a staple in every city, town and village. The most common is whole grain coarse ground or white flour bread. There are also a number of flat breads and pulled unleavened pan-fried breads. In addition, there are dried salted meats and salted preserved meats such as kliia/khlia and "g'did" which are used to flavor tagines or used in "el ghraif" a folded savory Moroccan pancake"
Salads include both raw and cooked ingredients, served either hot or cold. Cold salads include zaalouk, an aubergine and tomato mixture, and taktouka (a mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, garlic and spices) characteristic of the cities of Taza and Fes, in the Atlas.
Usually, seasonal fruits rather than cooked desserts are served at the close of a meal. A common dessert is kaab el ghzal ("gazelle's horns"), a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar. Another is "Halwa chebakia", pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried, soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Halwa Shebakia are cookies eaten during the month of Ramadan. Coconut fudge cakes, 'Zucre Coco', are popular also.
The most popular drink is green tea with mint. Traditionally, making good mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form and the drinking of it with friends and family is often a daily tradition. The pouring technique is as crucial as the quality of the tea itself. Moroccan tea pots have long, curved pouring spouts and this allows the tea to be poured evenly into tiny glasses from a height. For the best taste, glasses are filled in two stages. The Moroccans traditionally like tea with bubbles, so while pouring they hold the teapot high above the glasses. Finally, the tea is accompanied with hard sugar cones or lumps.
Snacks and fast food
Selling fast food in the street has long been a tradition, and the best example is Djemaa el Fna square in Marrakech. Starting in the 1980s, new snack restaurants started serving "Bocadillo" (a Spanish word for a sandwich, widely used in Morocco). Though the composition of a bocadillo varies by region, it is usually a baguette filled with salad and a choice of meats, fish (usually tuna), or omelette.
Dairy product shops (Mahlaba in Arabic) are open throughout cities in Morocco. Those mahlabas generally offer all types of dairy products, juices, and breakfasts as well as bocadillos, competing with former established snack restaurants.
In the late 1990s, several multinational fast-food franchises opened restaurants in major cities.
Moroccan food abroad
Paula Wolfert, prolific American author of nine cookbooks (two on Moroccan cuisine), helped enable Moroccan-Americans to enjoy their native cuisine with ease. Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco was published in 1973 and is still in print; it was added to the James Beard Hall of Fame in 2008. Her Food of Morocco came out in 2011 and won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook. Wolfert appeared on the Martha Stewart Show to demonstrate cooking in clay.
Raised between Fez and San Sebastian, chef Najat Kaanache has served as an unofficial culinary ambassador of Morocco, sharing Moroccan flavors and cooking techniques with many of the world's top chefs during her pilgrimage through the best restaurant kitchens of Spain, Denmark, Holland and the US.
Additional foods and dishes
Pickled lemons called "country lemon" or "leems", a Moroccan delicacy
- "Food In Morocco". Food In Every Country (Website). Accessed April 2011.
- "Moroccan Couscous Recipe". Maroccan Kitchen Recipes (Website). Accessed April 2014.
- Zeldes, Leah A. (Nov 11, 2009). "Eat this! Zaalouk, a cooked salad from Morocco". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved Nov 12, 2009.
- Paula Wolfert's books
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- Traditional Moroccan Cooking: Recipes from Fez, by Madame Guinaudeau ISBN 1-897959-43-5
- Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen, by: Kitty Morse, Laurie Smith ISBN 0-8118-1503-X
- Scent of Orange Blossoms: Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco, by: Kitty Morse, Owen Morse ISBN 1-58008-269-6
- Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, by: Paula Wolfert, Gael Greene ISBN 0-06-091396-7
- Food of Morocco: Authentic Recipes from the North African Coast, by: Fatema Hal ISBN 962-593-992-X
- Cuisine des palais d'orient, by: Alain Mordelet ISBN 2-87678-868-3