Moroccan cuisine has developed over the centuries to incorporate flavours and ingredients from a variety of other cultures and nations – these days it is typically a mix of Arabic, Andalusian, Berber and Mediterranean cuisines. It’s combination that’s impossible to resist.
After spending a week in Morocco eating like a local, my brief flirtation with their simple approach to flavorsome, hearty food has me singing their praises and eager to go back as soon as I can. If you’re heading to Morocco any time soon – here’s what to look out for:
1. The olives
Morocco is the world’s second largest producer of table olives, with the country’s main regions for olive production being Marrakesh, Casablanca, Meknes and Fez – Marrakesh specialises in the olives rather than the oil. The majority are locally grown and picked by hand, meaning minimal food miles and unbeatable freshness; you can find them on restaurant tables all over the city and there’s even an entire souk dedicated to them.
2. The Moroccan salad
You’ll find this as a starter on most decent hotel and restaurant menus, but don’t be fooled – this isn’t a single dish. In fact, in my experience it can be up to seventeen! Kind of like Moroccan tapas, this is the best way to start a meal, and includes everything from pickled cucumbers, pumpkin puree with nutmeg, tomato and onion salsa and spiced chickpeas.
3. The tea
If you thought the Brits were serious about tea, you need to see the Moroccans. Moroccan mint tea is a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar – so much sugar that sometimes it resembles more of a syrup. Traditionally it is always poured from a great height, into small glass cups – be careful, they get hot! Sometimes the first glass of mint tea is poured back into the pot and then into the glass again before being drunk; this is said to remove some of the bitterness that may be found in the first glass and is a way to help circulate the flavours.
Aside from the traditional Moroccan mint tea, it’s also worth sampling some Berber tea, a heady brew which mixes herbs like wild thyme, mint, lemongrass, geranium, sage, verbena, and wormwood.
4. The wine
This one is perhaps slightly surprising for an Arab country, but due to its high mountains and the cooling influence of the Atlantic, Morocco has the perfect climate for wine-making. Moroccan law does not prohibit the production of beer and alcohol, but only their sale to Muslim customers and so the Moroccan wine industry has experienced a revival and expansion since the 1990s, due to influx of foreign investments. We sampled a bottle of Domaine de Sahari Reserve at Al Fassia restuarant in the Gueliz area of Marrakech on our last night in the city, and very nice it was too.
5. The tagines
I’ve saved the best ’til last on this list; honestly, the tagines in Marrakech are to die for. A tagine is a conical clay pot, traditionally filled with meat, dried fruit and vegetables and a small amount of liquid, and left to cook for hours on a slow heat. The result is a tender, meltingly delicious stew, best mopped up with plenty of bread or a few spoonfuls of fluffy cous cous.
Throughout the week I spent in Morocco, I sampled my fair share of these delicious dishes, from simple veggie tagines crammed full of tender, spiced root veg, to my favourite – a luxurious chicken and pureed pumpkin special at Al Fassia restaurant. Pete’s favourite was a thick piece of monkfish cooked with loads of turmeric and green peppers, closely followed by mountain lamb shank with apricots, dates and tomatoes. I’ll definitely be taking inspiration from my Marrrakech meals as we go into winter here in the UK.
Thinking of taking a trip to Marrakech soon?
Holiday Gems are a short haul holiday provider with plenty of low cost packages – take a look at their latest offers by visiting: www.holidaygems.co.uk/destinations/morocco/marrakech
Offset your carbon footprint each time you travel by visiting climatecare.org/calculator.