Morocco is a wonderful place to experience a different culture and an even better place to be gastronomically adventurous. The tastes and aromas of Moroccan cuisine are like nothing else you’ve ever had. It takes some getting used to, and is sometimes not for the faint of heart, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be ready to try everything Morocco has to offer.
Before you even get to dinnertime, you’ll immediately notice that you are offered mint tea and sometimes cookies everywhere you go. Whether you’re arriving at a hotel, visiting someone’s house, or even going into a store, there will be a warm cup of mint tea waiting for you. It’s impolite to turn it down, but why would you want to? Mint tea is amazing; no other tea in the world compares. It’s usually served in an ornate tea kettle, often poured at least a foot away from the glass, which is fun to watch and creates a slight foam at the top of the glass. It’s a trick that is not very hard to learn with a little coordination; just know you will spill a lot of tea trying.
When you do sit down to a meal, you’ll note that food is often shared. Many restaurants will bring out a variety of small plates full of olives, vegetables, chick peas, and of course, a lot of bread. Moroccan bread is called khobz; it’s soft and doughy and perfect for sandwiches or to scoop up meat and dip into sauces. This bread will provide a great buffer as you adjust your palette to the spices of Moroccan cuisine and it’s the one thing on your table that you’ll never be short.
One of the staples of Moroccan cuisine you’ll see quite often is the tajine. The tajine is not any specific food but the terracotta pot that the dish is cooked in. Typically, tajine is either a stew or some sort of meat and vegetables on a bed of rice or couscous. Whether it’s chicken or chunks of meat, the food will be stereotypically seasoned with turmeric, saffron, and paprika. Tajines are very good, though in the same way you wouldn’t want to eat only meals made in a crock pot for a week straight, if you eat it too much, you’re liable to get sick of it. Though the flavor is great, it all tastes like the meat and vegetables that comes out of a stew. The spices keep it from being bland but the style remains consistent regardless of what you’re having in the tajine. After dinner, like during breakfast, you’ll have a choice of fresh fruit or pastries. And of course, just a little bit of mint tea.
Though there’s no shortage of vegetables in Moroccan food, you can also get a wide variety of meat. It’s one of the only countries in the world where you can ride a camel and eat camel in the same afternoon. As the ruthless carnivore that I am, I did just that (though not on the same day). The meat was fairly tender in a thick, yummy sauce that made it spicy, almost like barbecue. The taste is not that different from beef though it’s a little fattier. Some compare it to lamb as well. Overall, it was something worth trying.
But speaking of barbecue, Morocco’s version of barbecue is also worth trying. Maybe my second favorite meal in Morocco was at this place where we had ribs and grilled beef. When I say it’s not for the faint of heart, I mean it. The restaurant, which was part butcher shop, had hanging carcasses, stripped of their skin and without a head or legs, but with a little more neck and tail than I like to see on cuts of meat. And the heads weren’t too far away. One severed goat head dangled among the meat with its tongue sticking out of one side of its mouth. I know that sounds like a horror movie instead of a restaurant, but we went inside and ate nonetheless. Once the meat was cooked, it was aromatic and delicious.
But hands down, my favorite meal and most highly recommended Moroccan dish is the pastilla, or as our friendly hosts called it “Berber pizza.” It’s a lot more like a giant meat-filled pastry. It’s flaky and crispy and the filling, which is usually chicken or meat and chopped onions, is flavorful and savory. Though we only got the opportunity to eat it once, it’s the only meal that even now years later, I still occasionally crave. The way the filling is seasoned takes it a notch above any other meat pie in the world.
After all that unfamiliar fare, you might just be in the mood for fries and coke. Morocco’s got you covered.