Recently, I had the fortune to visit Morocco and enjoy delicious food there. Moroccan food reflects influences in its cuisine from the native Berbers, Arabs, Turks, Moors and French. Formerly a French colony, Morocco has a culture of coffee and cafes, as well as ice cream, pastries and wines. The Moors were in close proximity from Spain and brought olives over since the eighth century. The Ottoman Turks brought delicious grilled meat skewers, kefta and humus. The Arabs from the seventh century brought spices from Asia, such as cinnamon, ginger, paprika and turmeric, as well as nuts and dried fruits. Sweet and sour flavor profiles still feature in Moroccan cooking.
Berber contributed one of Morocco’s national dishes of tagine. Tagine is a North African cone-shaped earthenware cooking vessel. It is ubiquitous and there are many versions with seafood, meats and vegetables. Everyone makes their own versions, with the layers of flavors and time to make it apparent. One of our favorites in Rabat was a tomato-based sauce with squid and shrimp. The spice mix was so delicious, we used every bit of bread to sop up the savory goodness. Not only is the tagine practical, it makes for beautiful presentation. The most elaborate one we had was a home cooked meal in Fez. The seven-vegetable tagine was a feast for the eyes, with artfully arranged vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and couscous.
Couscous is hard to prepare and takes a long time to cook, hence it is only made on Fridays. While it is more commercially available today, we found many restaurants still adhere to the Friday rule. Couscous is made of steamed balls of semolina flour, so it is pasta cooked as a grain. Unlike the instant couscous available in the States, Moroccan couscous cooks slowly in a stew with little water and oil. It is a light and fluffy base, absorbing all the flavors of other ingredients.
Bread is another meal staple and there were several kinds in Morocco. Khobz stands for bread baked inside an oven. There is a variety of bread made from different flours: White, wheat and semolina. Bagrir is made from semolina that comes out looking like a crumpet with a spongy texture, served with jam, honey and butter. Masrah is made from wheat and barley. It is a thick chewy bread that can be baked in an oven or a pan.
In Fez, we sampled homemade sweet and savory pastilla/bastilla, a Moroccan pie encased in phyllo-like puff pastry or werqa dough. Originally made with pigeon, the savory version is now made with chicken; the sweet versions are made with nuts and fruits. Pastilla means small pastry in Spanish, stemming from the Moors. This treat takes two days to prepare. While salty it also has surprising sweetness, topped with powdered sugar, almonds and cinnamon. It is usually made for special occasions.
We loved Turkish grilled meat skewers, with beef, pork or lamb. Lamb was our favored meat of choice. However we tended to get the kefta (seasoned meat meatball) in our tagine, skewers and in shakshouka. Also called Chakchouka, it has Tunisian and Israeli roots. The Turkish version has a skillet of spices, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and peppers. Served with the kebabs are meze (side dishes) of hummus (chick pea or bean spread made with tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt.), falafel (fried chick pea fritters) and baba ganoush (mashed cooked eggplant with tahini, olive oil and spices).
We fell in love with the national drink. mint tea. It is served multiple times a day, preferably with lots of fresh mint leaves and heaping amounts of sugar or honey. We opted for mint tea without sugar. Our meals ended with a selection of fruit. Growing up in an Asian household, we always had fruit for dessert. It was refreshing to have luscious and sweet strawberries, bananas and oranges to end our meals.
This post is also available in: Chinese