Local food in Morocco
For the first meal of the day, go local. Try baghrir, a Berber pancake – which looks a bit like a crumpet–is generally eaten cold with butter and jam, it is filling, cheap and satisfying. Or, try some jiben (goat’s cheese) with freshly baked bread. Of course always follow up in the traditional way by supping cup after cup of sweet mint tea.
When breakfast is prepared for foreign guests, it tends to include yoghurt, fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs dipped in cumin. Special local breads will also be placed on the table. These will include malaoui (similar to a chapatti) and baghrir. For guests in Riad Sapphire & Spa who ask for a gluten-free diet, we serve barley bread (sha’ir).
You may also come across a thick pea soup called bisara which is also sometimes served for breakfast, topped with olive oil. Some little, hole-in-the-wall stands and shops in Morocco serve only soup that they ladle all day long. These are recognisable by the pile of bowls they normally have in front.
Starters and Snacks
Much like everywhere else in the world, Moroccan meals often start with soup. In Morocco this zesty ‘soup’ is usually harira, a hearty, spicy soup that works well as a light supper. It is especially popular during Ramadan, when it is served to break the fast. Harira is particularly filling as it contains beans and pasta – perfect post-trekking food if you’re in the Atlas Mountains!
Alternatively, you might start with a salad, which in this part of the world comes very finely chopped and usually includes carrot, red onion, red pepper, tomato, freshly chopped parsley and coriander, beetroot, garlic, cumin and olive oil. Delicious and easy to copy at home.
When most people think of Moroccan cuisine they think of delicious, steaming hot tagines. A tagine is essentially a stew, but an incredibly tasty one that has been steam-cooked lovingly and slowly in an earthenware dish. As a tip, the name ‘tagine’ refers to the actual dish, which is shaped like a cone, rather than the food inside.
Tagines tend to be meat-based but you can sometimes find vegetarian or fish options too. Lamb or mutton are the most popular meats used in a tagine and these are slowly cooked, along with plump prunes and almonds, or if the tagine is chicken, with olives and lemon. This makes for a seriously succulent and moreish meal.
Tagines are also great value and if you try one in the souk there’s no need to barter like you might for your Moroccan slippers or kaftan. There’s not usually a menu in the smaller places, or if there is, it’s more likely to be in Arabic but don’t be shy, just smile and point to order.
Other Main Meals
Given that Morocco has hundreds of kilometres of coastline – restaurants offer a wide range of seafood including sea-bass (sometimes encrusted in salt), sardines and crab. All fresh and delicious. Lamb (agneau) and mutton (mouton) are the most popular meats and these sometimes come spit-roasted. Follow your nose in the markets and be bold with your choices, you will not leave disappointed!
Pastilla is a rich, decadent pie stuffed with pigeon or chicken. Heavy and filling this is one for when you are in need of comfort food or for when you have serious tummy rumbles.
Couscous, now eaten all over the world, comes from the Berbers. It is semolina mixed with vegetables and mutton, chicken, or occasionally fish. It is light and aromatic and goes with almost everything.
Deserts and Sweets
While desserts do not always follow every meal, Moroccans do have a collective sweet tooth. Top puddings to try are – almond sweetmeats, orange custard with caramel, ground rice pudding, rosewater ice-cream and – best of all – Moroccan orange salad (which is simply cinnamon-dusted oranges).
Morocco is blessed with tons of ripe, succulent fresh fruit. In the markets, depending on the season, you’ll spot melons, oranges, figs, peaches and strawberries. Piles of fruit of course are wonderfully photogenic and of course any trip to Marrakech is not complete without a few glasses of the freshest fruit juice, preferably at a stand in the main square, Djemaa el-Fna’. Dates are very popular too, look out for them in the winter months when they are freshest.
Key Ingredients in Moroccan Food:
Here are just a few of the ingredients you’ll most likely find in your Moroccan lunch or dinner:
Vegetarians have long known about the power of the humble chickpea. Versatile and cheap, they are found in multiple Moroccan dishes and are a fantastic source of protein. Of course, the main ingredient for hummus too.
Moroccans are fond of cumin. Not only is it a wonderful, relatively subtle spice that adds zing to dishes, it is also believed to benefit digestion and is one of nature’s natural detoxifiers. Add it liberally!
To be found in marvellous mounds in markets all around Marrakech, dried fruits are found in tagines. Amongst your vegetables and meat you’ll also find succulent raisins, apricots, dates and prunes.
Moroccan ‘couscous’ (‘so good they named it twice’) is often served with as many as seven different vegetables most likely carrot, turnips, tomatoes, onions, courgette, sweet potato and squash.
Cheap and good for you! Fava beans are commonly found in Moroccan dips and soups – a great source of protein.