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Morocco’s food scene is one of the best in the world, with Arabic, Jewish, Berber, sub-Saharan, and even Roman influences given its history and crossroads between Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. But within Morocco, the cuisine varies based on the region – pastilla in Fes, medfloun in the Sahara region, sardines in coastal Safi, and tanjia in Marrakech. In our latest blog post,we’ve created a list of must-haves during your travels in Morocco.
A specialty of the Fes region, where the flaky pastry is stuffed with pigeon and almonds and flavored with a variety of spices including saffron and cinnamon, this savory sweet dish is often served during wedding celebrations and special occasions. Wander through the medinas and you’ll find it for sale at the food stalls throughout the Fes medina near Bab Boujloud. A seafood version is also available, stuffed with shrimp, calamari, fish, and vermicelli noodles. Be sure to order a mint tea to wash down your pastille (also known as bistilla).
A Marrakech specialty, tanjia is prepared either in the home (traditionally by men) or by the local butcher and slow-cooked over the coals that heat the local hammams, known as the farnatchi, in the medina. Prepared with beef, lamb, or chicken and a blend of spices and preserved lemon, the tanjia pot is then covered tightly with butcher’s paper before roasting for up to eight hours. Served in a clay tajine pot with the juice from the meat, it’s perfect when scooped up with fresh bread.
This dish is slow-cooked (often overnight) in the underground oven where the whole lamb is placed to cook over the coals before falling off the bone and served directly with the lamb. Cumin and a pinch of salt provide the perfect seasoning to the tender Mechoui, which is often served during weddings, but also in mechoui alley in Marrakech just off Jemaa el Fna near the olive souk. Best washed down with a very sweet cup of tea, or three!
Either grilled at a local barbeque in Essaouira and enjoyed al fresco with fresh tomato, onion, and pepper salad, or in a tajine with a tomato sauce served in a restaurant with fresh bread. Or for a quick eat, grab a sardine kefta sandwich stuffed in a loaf of bread from a small unassuming shop in the medina. A major industry in the Safi region, fresh sardines are as readily available as the tinned packages in the supermarkets. Just be aware of the sardines prepared on the street – check the freshness and cleanliness of the preparation.
Another small snack available throughout the medinas, particularly in the north – Meknes, Fes, Moulay Idriss – and in Essaouira, makouda is essentially a deep-fried potato cake. Either eaten individually or stuffed in a sandwich for a carbohydrate overload, makouda are a lovely side to a salad, but are rather heavy.
Most often served on Friday at lunchtime, couscous is served in a large round platter for sharing amongst family following the weekly Friday prayers. Topped with seven vegetables – aubergine, courgette, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, onions, cabbage – and caramelized onions, chickpeas, and either beef or chicken, couscous is a often served with a glass of leben (fermented milk).
The varieties range from lemon chicken tajine with green olives to kefta (meatballs) with eggs. In the Atlas Mountains, a Berber tajine prepared with in-season vegetables includes peas, zucchini, tomatoes, and potatoes and perhaps chicken or beef hidden beneath the mountain of vegetables and it is a pure delight when scooped up with fresh bread.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Morocco without sampling some of the finest homemade patisseries prepared using orange blossom water, rose water, almond paste, and other fine ingredients to prepare these sticky treats. Be sure to try chebakiya with a bowl of harira for a truly local experience and gazelle’s horns with a cup of mint tea as an afternoon treat. In Essaouira, the small bakeries throughout the medina sell fine treats while Al Jawda and Patisserie de Prince serve a wide selection in Marrakech.
With plenty of nut trees in the Atlas Mountain regions, almonds and walnuts are picked and roasted locally while dates are grown in abundance in southern Morocco in numerous varieties. Harvest is in the fall when locals climb the date palms to shake the fruit to the ground. The best place for tasting dates is in Rissani at the date market, but dried fruit, nut, and date shops abound throughout all medinas. Dried apricots and figs are also popular, and often available for sampling at the small shops.
Street food is some of the best in Morocco, and the grilled meats are some of the finest. Stop by the food grills in Moulay Idriss for mouth-watering grilled kefta, tomatoes and onions washed down with a coca-cola and served with fresh bread. In Marrakech, find the grill serving Mergeuz sausages, liver brochettes, or even lamb brochettes served with chips, tomatoes, olives, and fresh bread. And wash it down with a Coca-cola of course!