After months of travelling through Morocco by boat and by bicycle, I bring you a roundup of my 10 favourite Moroccan foods.
Freshly squeezed Orange Juice
Second only to Mint Tea, this drink is as popular with Moroccans as it is with tourists. Fresh from the local groves and warmed by the sun, the oranges are squeezed on demand and the juice is thick with juicy bits. The vendor in the picture has his stand in Essaouira near the docks and has been there for many years. When I’m in Morocco, orange juice is my favourite morning drink. But don’t drink it straight after brushing your teeth.
No visit to Morocco would be complete without mint tea. It’s impossibly sweet but deliciously refreshing. Tea is a way of life. In a country where alcohol is not readily available, the locals (mostly men) sit in cafés where they chat and chain smoke. This is also how they watch football, not a beer in sight!
It’s really a ceremony. You pour tea into a tiny glass, something like a shot glass, then tip it straight back into the pot. Immediately, the oils in the mint are released and the sugar mixes further. You pour some more and tip it into the pot again. Sometimes this is done thrice. Next the tea is poured from a great height and the aroma of mint fills the air. It can be a bit messy until you get the hang of it, and normally it’s served on a tray. I always feel a bit cheated if I go someplace that serves a glass stuffed with mint and the tea already in the glass. Tea is for sharing and if you notice there are more glasses supplied than there are people at your table, then live like the locals and offer a tipple to someone else. They will be most grateful.
In the towns and villages at higher altitudes, mint is not readily available, but they will have something green and fresh to put in the pot. Some of the herbs I have never come across and when I asked I was told it was absinthe, though it does not taste of aniseed.
In the area surrounding Talouine, you can enjoy a delicacy of Saffron Tea. Talouine is where the saffron crocus is grown and almost everything has at least a little saffron in it. If your wee is golden, don’t be surprised.
Not all tagines are equal. They range from the very basic combination of root vegetables piled high over a cheap cut of meat to a dish worthy of being served in a Michelin Star restaurant. Once I ate a small penis. It tasted alright but I wouldn’t specifically order it again, not that I ordered it in the first place.
My favourite tagines ever, were eaten at Yaminas near Tafraoute in the Ameln Valley. The Lamb tagine pictured above was served on the last day of our cycling tour of Morocco at the Riad Maryam in Tarroudant. The restaurant regularly makes the pages of French gourmet magazine Saveurs. It was the most expensive meal we ever ate in Morocco, but it was also the best. You need to order at least two to three hours in advance and the menu is set – Meat or Vegetarian.
Oh, they sell Moroccan wine – three choices, red, white or rosé.
According to some guide books, you can get ground squirrel tagines, though you will have to buy the ground squirrel from one of the children who wander the roadside with squirrels on ropes. I have never come across these mythical children, but I have seen many many of the speedy stripey ground squirrels. They say that their flesh is tender and sweet due to their diet of argan nuts. When I eventually rode into Talouine, I drew a picture of one of these creatures at a restaurant. You see I don’t know what the word for ground squirrel is in french and definitely not in arabic. The restaurant owner laughed and told me they were difficult to catch and he could not make such a tagine. It was a very good drawing.
A dome of fluffy couscous served with a stew of market fresh vegetables is absolute heaven for a hungry biker. Sadly, it’s often only available on Fridays after prayers. Hurry along to get your share as it doesn’t last long. It was often on menus, but hardly ever available. I ate the best and the cheapest at a bus stop when I was taken there by a bus driver. Meal for two including mint tea, served faster than you could say ‘couscous’ cost about two euro.
Baskets of bread are served with every meal. It’s round, white and flat. It’s usually cut into quarters. I was invited into a bakery and will forever remember the dust and delicious smell of baking. It’s nice with amlou (a dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil and honey) and is great for making an easy to hold sandwich.
Made fresh on the street, these are quite possibly the best doughnuts in the world. Whether you eat them rolled in sugar or plain and slightly greasy, is entirely your choice. Mine is covered in sugar. Buy several and they’ll be tied up with a string of grass, then take them to a café of your choosing to eat.
Straight from the ocean, rolled in salt and grilled on a charcoal barbecue. A cheap and simple dish served with salad and bread that I never tire of. Moroccans love fish, especially fried in a light batter, but it’s nothing like the British style fish and chips. There are a thousand varieties. You can find fish everywhere though it may not be fresh the further you are from the sea.
A 6′ 10′ Touareg man in Tata told me the following story.
Berbers, the desert people consider the fish symbol as a sign of good luck. The reason is, that when there are fish in the desert, there must be rain and with the waters, prosperity and fertility follow. At the word fertility, I instantly handed back the necklace he was trying to sell me.
Like a mille feuille of the thinnest crepes, this delicious treat is served with oceans of honey, though sometimes they offer triangle cheese? After a hammam, I usually meet Dan in a café where we devour these with tea. Hmm, where is my magic carpet?
Dried Fruits and Nuts
Dates of a dozen sorts, walnuts, cashews, almonds and peanuts. Garlands of figs and kilos of raisins. The dried fruit is the finest quality and taste testing before you buy is encouraged. Buy as much as you can carry for the journey home. The prices are exceptionally low.
What’s your favourite Moroccan food?