Moroccan cuisine has influenced top chefs and restaurants all over the world, but you’ll never find it as tasty or as subtle as the food served up in a Moroccan home.
Essentially, Moroccan cooking combines the desert nomads’ diet of mutton, vegetables and dairy produce with more refined and exotically spiced specialities – often of Syrian origin and introduced in Morocco at the time of the Arab conquest. But over the centuries it has also incorporated other influences: southern European (olives, olive oil, fruit, tomatoes), sub-Saharan African, and French (particularly apparent in the country’s Westernised restaurants).
Here's our guide to the staples of Moroccan menus.
Deep-fried parcels of flaky pastry containing spiced meat, fish or cheese.
Cubes of meat on skewers, most often lamb or beef.
A huge bowl of steamed semolina grains with vegetables, chickpeas and sometimes meat – usually mutton or chicken – or, less often, fish. It’s supposed to be eaten by hand, but spoons are usually provided. If you are invited to a Moroccan home you are most likely to be given this. Traditionally it is eaten on Fridays.
Chicken. A favourite chicken dish is djej mqualli, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and green olives.
Thick, spicy, sometimes creamy soup, based on lamb and pulses. It’s often offered as a starter, but it is filling enough to be a meal in itself. During Ramadan it is served daily to break the fast, often with milk and dates.
Fish. On menus, you will often find this under its French names – loup de mer (bass), rouget (red mullet), merlan (whiting), thon (tuna).
Meatballs flavoured with coriander and cumin. A popular and quick standby, it is sometimes served with eggs in a tagine.
Bread for mopping up harira or tagines; the traditional flat round loaves are ideal. Fairly dry, with a grainy texture. Leftover bread is made into breadcrumbs and combined with honey, flaky pastry and nuts to make sweets.
Whole lamb, spit or oven roasted. M’choui is usually found only on special occasions or in the more traditional restaurants where it often needs to be ordered in advance, though there are places that sell it year-round.
Spicy beef or lamb sausages, often served with harissa, a fiery pepper sauce.
Spiced pigeon meat encased in layers of flaky warkha pastry, often dusted with sugar or cinnamon – a traditional delicacy. A fish version is also found.
A stew of meat (usually beef, lamb or chicken) or fish with vegetables, spices and perhaps fruits and nuts, slowly cooked on a bed of oil in an earthenware pot. It is one of Morocco’s most visible dishes (because of the conical topped dish in which it is cooked). Popular versions include beef with almonds and quinces, lamb with apricots, and chicken with lemons and olives.
Read more about the cultural features of Morocco in Insight Guides: Morocco
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