Food in Morocco
Moroccan cuisine is often described as one of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations that proudly bear the country’s colonial and Arab influences. Unfortunately, being a tourist in Morocco, particularly if you are on a budget, you are often restricted to a small selection of dishes which seem to be dominant on the menus of every café and restaurant in the country. Most restaurants serve dishes that are foreign to Morocco, considering that Moroccans can eat their local dishes at home. With the exception of large cities, Moroccans do not generally eat in restaurants, so international cuisine choices such as French, Italian, and Chinese are common.
- Couscous, made from semolina grains and steamed in a sieve-like dish called a couscoussière, is the staple food of most Moroccans and probably the best-known Moroccan dish. It can be served as a side dish with a stew or tajine, or mixed with meat and vegetables and presented as a main course. Almost all Moroccan restaurants keep up the tradition of serving couscous on Fridays.
- Tagine (or tajine), a spicy stew of meat and vegetables simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name). Restaurants offer dozens of variations (starting at MAD25 in a budget restaurant), including chicken tajine with lemon and olives, honey-sweetened lamb or beef, fish or prawn tajine in a spicy tomato sauce. There are many variations of this dish.
- A popular Moroccan dish among Berbers is Kaliya, a mixture of lamb, tomatoes, peppers, and onions, which is served together with couscous and bread.
- A popular delicacy in Morocco is the pastilla, where thin pieces of flaky pastry are layered between sweet, spiced meat filling (often lamb or chicken, but preferably pigeon) and layers of almond paste. The pastry is wrapped in a plate-sized pastry, which is baked and dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. The preparation is very time-consuming, so pastilla should be ordered a day in advance. Restaurants that serve pastilla to order can only serve the industrial version, which comes from a freezer (but they will still charge you the price of a handmade one).
- Many convenient eating places offer stews such as loubia (white beans), adassa (lentils) and ker ain (sheep’s foot with chickpeas).
- Fish from the southern beaches are typically quite fresh ( they were caught during the very same day) and also cheap!. A mixed fish platter can be had for about MAD25 at stalls in fishing village markets, while a huge platter of grilled sardines costs about MAD15 to MAD20. If you buy fresh fish at the fish market, a kilogram of fish costs between MAD5 and MAD20 (the latter for a small type of tuna). Most restaurants in the fishing villages have a grill in front of them and will grill any fish you bring them for MAD30 (including fries, salad and of course bread). Fish can be gutted on request at the market. A small tip of MAD1 to MAD2 is appropriate for gutting.
- Sfenj: These deep-fried donuts made from unsweetened yeast dough, dusted with sugar, are a popular and very filling snack that can be had all over the country for MAD1 each. They want to be eaten very fresh. Look out for stalls with a huge bowl of hot oil.
Many cafés and restaurants also offer cheap petit déjeun breakfasts, which essentially include a tea or coffee, orange juice (jus d’orange) and a croissant or bread with jam from MAD10.
- A Moroccan meal often starts with a hot dish of harira ( in French, soup marocene), a tasty soup made up of lentils, chickpeas, mutton, tomatoes, and vegetables. Surprisingly, among Moroccans, harira has more of a role as a nutritious meal for “bluebloods” than as a high-flying cuisine.
- Soups are also a traditional breakfast in Morocco. Bissara, a thick porridge of split peas and a generous drizzle of olive oil, can be seen bubbling in the morning near markets and in medinas.
Snacks and fast food
Snackers and budget-conscious people get their money’s worth in Morocco. Rotisserie chicken shops abound, where you can get a quarter of chicken with fries and salad for about MAD20. Sandwiches (from MAD10) served in chicken fryers or small shops are also popular. These fresh, crispy baguettes are topped with a variety of fillings such as tuna, chicken, skewers and different salads. The whole thing is rounded off with the obligatory chips stuffed into the sandwich and a blob of mayonnaise squirted on top.
You may also see traders and vendors selling a variety of nuts as well as steamed broad beans and grilled corn on the cob.
Drinks in Morocco
While the country is predominantly Muslim, Morocco is not dry.
Alcohol is available in restaurants, liquor shops, bars, supermarkets, clubs, hotels and discos. Some Moroccans enjoy a drink, although it is frowned upon in public places. The local brew of choice bears the highly original name Casablanca Beer. It is a full-bodied lager that can be enjoyed with local cuisine or as a refreshment. Other typical Moroccan beers include Flag Special and Stork. There is also the local Judeo Berber vodka, which tastes mildly of aniseed and is brewed from figs. Morocco is also producing a wide variety of wines – several with remarkable quality. A bottle in supermarkets starts at MAD35 and goes up to MAD1000; a good quality wine can be had for as little as MAD50.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal, even if you have only had one beer
As a rule, you should not drink tap water at all in Morocco, not even in hotels, as it contains much more minerals than the water in Europe. For locals this is not a problem as their bodies are used to it and can cope with it, but for travellers from countries like Europe, drinking the tap water usually leads to an illness. Generally this is not serious, an upset stomach is the only symptom, but it is enough to spoil a day or two of your holiday.
Bottled water is widely available. The most popular brands of water are Oulmes ( which is carbonated) and Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem and Ain Sais Danon. Nothing with a high mineralisation is produced (so far?).
Every traveller is offered mint tea at least once a day. The Moroccan people, even the economically the most humble, are supplied with a teapot and a number of glasses. Although the offer is sometimes more of a lure into a deal than a hospitable gesture, it is polite to accept. Before you drink, look the host in the eye and say “ba saha ou raha”. This means “enjoy and relax” and any local will be impressed by your language skills.
Note that a woman travelling alone may feel more comfortable having a drink or snack in a patisserie or restaurant, as cafés are traditionally for men. However, this does not apply to couples.