I loved my recent trip to Morocco. I knew that I would love the food and it met all my expectations and more.
Moroccan food is a fusion of Berber (tagine & couscous), Arab (fruit and nuts), Moorish (pastilla-pastries with meat, eggs or a sweet filling) and Jewish (marqa Hzina, Dfina, Chakchouka)
Generally, it is quite sweet with fruit, either dried; dates and apricots or fresh; peaches, kiwi, figs etc., and a lot of nuts such as almonds, argan, pistachio and pine nuts.
We enjoyed wonderful breakfasts (no need for lunch) with homemade yoghurts flavoured with orange blossom water (who can resist anything made with orange blossom water or, for that matter, rose water..not me). Homemade breads and pancakes were served with goat’s cheese, quince jams and olives. Small dishes of olive or argan oil were set out as well as honey –perfect for dipping into with the lovely bread. Argan oil was a new discovery; this is a rich, nutty oil, made from the kernels of the Argan nut grown in a particular region of Morocco –Essaouira. It is used widely in cooking and for dipping as well as in many beauty & health products. Interestingly the oil production involves only women, working mainly in cooperatives, giving them some autonomy & income in this deeply patriarchal society
Referencing the country’s French colonial past –we enjoyed flaky croissants with almond and honey or pastries with dark chocolate and pistachio nuts…absolutely delicious! And mint tea was usually served with small cakes & biscuits which were more Arabic, often deep fried and then dipped in honey with e.g. sesame seeds or ground almonds.
The most common dish served is the tagine which is a sort of stew or casserole. The tagine actually refers to the traditional conical dishes made of earthenware. Popular tagines were e.g. lamb with quince or dried apricots or beef with prunes & eggs with and are cooked very slowly (preferably over charcoal) with many different spices and then eaten with homemade bread and couscous. We were lucky enough to be served one in traditional Berber home with bread straight from the oven. My favourite (and the one I made in the cookery school*) was a tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives with various pepper spices, ginger, turmeric and saffron.
Moroccan cooking is so fragrant with time and great care spent in getting the correct and best mix of spices and herbs. We saw wonderful displays of spices in the markets including saffron the most expensive spice of all. Fortunately, you don’t use much at a time and it was much cheaper than you would buy it here. Most famous of the spice mix is the Ras Elhanout which is a blend of up to 35 different spices including various peppers, cumin, star anise, coriander, ginger, iris root and nigella. Fresh orange juice is available at every food market as well as fresh pomegranate juice, which was delicious. Alongside were street food stalls selling egg sizzling kebabs, stuffed pastilla, harira soup, chickpea baguettes and…….when you are exhausted from looking around a quick sit down with………..even………………………more fresh mint tea. It is really refreshing but is usually served very sweet so we learnt to ask for it without the sugar.
We were never offered any choice as what to eat and always told (very charmingly) that we would be brought wonderful, Moroccan food to eat–and we were.
I was very taken with the Moroccan people, they were kind, gentle and respectful with a measured tolerance…………….we could (should) learn a lot from them. Plus anyone who decorates my food table with fresh rose petals every day should really be cherished.
*Cookery class at La Maison Arabe :
In Marrakesh we stayed at the delightful traditional Riad Ilayka