I firmly believe that one of the best ways to get to know a people and a country is through their cuisine. It is the alleyways of bites and sips - the delicate flavour of a spice, the turn of the meat or the nuance of a sauce - that might lead you to their soul. And it was no different in Morocco.
Moroccan cuisine reflects the deeply rich and layered culture of a people who make art out of most things they touch - even food. Subtle, comforting and exquisite, the fare is a foodie’s delight with its spectacular variety of bread, meaty treats, bounty of fresh olives, oranges and dry fruits, and pastries. In short, Morocco wins your heart at first bite.
So if you are visiting the north-west African country any time soon, make sure you eat your way through these heavenly delights. Bon appetit!
Soul Food Called Tagine
When I bit into my first tagine - beef and plum garnished with roasted sesame - on a cold night in Marrakesh, I felt it travel right to my soul. Mildly spicy with the waft of star anise and the sweet-and-sour plum weaving into the melt-in-the-mouth succulent meat, this is stuff powerful food memories are made of.
Food for Moroccans, as I discovered, is leisurely business. And the tagine - a Berber meat or vegetable stew almost symbolic of the cuisine - is cooked for hours over charcoal fire in a conical earthenware pot called tagine. That and the mix of 35 spices that go into it makes it an all-weather comfort food. Yum!
Bite into a Pastilla
Now this one is a true delicacy. Originally made of pigeon meat - it’s a bit of a rarity now - pastilla is a meat pie that’s sweet and savoury at the same time. The outer casing is made of ultra-thin layered dough (similar to phyllo) that envelops the filling of shredded slow-cooked chicken or fish and flaked almonds. It’s served with a sprinkling of cinnamon powder and sugar powder and believe you me, it’s nothing like you have ever tasted. Served as a starter on special occasions, it’s perfect for small hunger pangs. Or plain greedy spells.
Now if you love your rice, you could be in a bit of a trouble in Morocco. It’s a bread country and unless you are a fancy-bakery-regular, I bet you have not seen such a wide variety of breads in India. From the flat, round khobz to the flaky laccha paratha-like msemen to the sweetish pan-fried semolina flour flatbread harcha - there’s something for each day of the week. And they are all literally oven fresh.
Most families get their own bread baked every day and you will never be served the same kind in two consecutive meals.
In fact, breads come complimentary by the basket no matter what you order. So it’s wiser not to order any separately.
There’s something about Moroccan beef kebabs. Buttery soft and minimally spiced unlike their Indian cousins, the sheesh kebabs often come encased in their metal mini-swords. I tried eating it like the locals do - by simply putting them in the pocket of a huge bread with a garnish of pickled olives. My reaction? A huge smile and a greater urgency to wolf it all down.
Pop the Pastries
Much to my delight, I found that Moroccans like their sweet thingummies much like their Indian brethren. Moroccan pastries are a cross between our sweets and traditional pastries, depending on what you pick to nibble on. Quite apart from looking like works of art, they come stuffed with almond paste or laced with honey and sesame or even chocolate. And no one can eat just one.
Nougats are quite popular as well and it’s best you try some from a busy shop in the souks than from the large touristy displays around town centres or the Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh.
So have you booked your ticket to Morocco yet?