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Moroccan cuisine is influenced by Morocco's interactions and exchanges with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Moroccan cuisine is typically a mix of Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cuisine. 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, goat, mutton and lamb, camel, chicken and seafood, which serve as a base for the cuisine. Characteristic flavorings include lemon pickle, cold-pressed, unrefined olive oil and dried fruits.
Spices and other flavorings
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan food. Although spices have been imported to Morocco through the arabs for thousands of years, many ingredients — like saffron from Talaouine, mint and olives from Meknes, and oranges and lemons from Fes — 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
A typical lunch meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tagine or Dwaz. 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 either eat with fork, knife and spoon or with their hands using bread as a utensil depending on the dish served. The consumption of pork and alcohol is not common due to religious 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 a wide selection of vegetables. Chicken is also very commonly used in Tagines, or roasted. One of the most appreciated local dishes is the Tagine of Chicken, fries and olives.
Lamb is also heavily consumed, and since Moroccan sheep breeds store most of their fat in their tails, Moroccan lamb does not have the pungent flavour that Western lamb and mutton have.
Since Morocco lies on two coasts the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Moroccan cuisine has ample seafood dishes. European pilchard is widely and heavily consumed due to its abundance and quality, hence Morocco is the first producer of this kind of species globally.
Among the most famous Moroccan dishes are Couscous, Pastilla (also spelled Basteeya or Bestilla), Tajine, Tanjia and Harira, a typical heavy soup, eaten during winter to warm up and is usually served for dinner, it is typical eaten with plain bread or with dates. The latter is especially used during the month of Ramadan.
A big part of the daily meal is bread. Bread in Morocco is principally made 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 or baguettes. 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 vegetables, 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). Though the composition of a bocadillo varies by region, it is usually a baguette filled with salad and a choice of meats, Mozarella, fish (usually tuna), or omelette.
Dairy product shops locally called Mhlaba, are very prevalent all around the country. Those dairy stores generally offer all types of dairy products, juices, and local delicacies such as (Bocadillos, Msemen and Harcha).
In the late 1990s, several multinational fast-food franchises opened restaurants in major cities.
Moroccan food abroad
Couscous is one of the most popular North African dishes globally. Markets, stores and restaurants in Europe, especially in France and lately the United Kingdom, feature lamb tajines, bastilla, and couscous.
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, the Netherlands 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
- 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