Its tender tagines and fluffy couscous characterize Morrocan food, but there's so much more to this North African culinary scene than these two famous dishes!
To cook Moroccan style is to cook with spices, and Moroccan food culture is bursting with flavors and aromas from across the Mediterranean and deep into the Sahara Desert. This is where cuisine from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East collide, and you can enjoy sumptuous eggplant salads for lunch before delving into spice-laden seafood for dinner.
With a little know-how (and a tagine pot), you can replicate many of Morroco's most popular dishes at home. To inspire your next culinary adventure, here's our guide to the best Moroccan food!
Okay, so we know that Moroccan food comes from Morocco. That much is easy. It's also easy enough for us to say that we love Moroccan food (and we do point this out, quite a lot!). But what exactly is Moroccan food? With more hungry travelers returning each year from Morocco and seeking out the unusual spices and flavors of this North African nation, it's time we took a look at traditional Moroccan food in more detail!
Moroccan food is both unique and familiar. It's spicy, fragrant, hearty, and wholesome. There's no single influence or characteristic that can define Moroccan cooking because, in fact, food in Morocco goes far beyond tagine, the country's most well-known dish.
Moroccan food is ancient, and over the years, cooking techniques and ingredients have been drawn from all over the Mediterranean world. Moroccan food is a flavorful collision of Andalusian, Arab, Berber, and Saharan cuisine. You'll recognize ingredients from Spanish cooking or names that you might have heard elsewhere in the Middle East before, but at the same time, Moroccan food is so very different from the rest of the world!
Morocco is known for its tender tagines, its slow-cooked chicken dishes, and its fruity yet spicy couscous. On the coast, you'll be offered spicy seafood, in the deserts, you might end up dining on a sheep's head, and in the cities, you'll find fusion food like nowhere else!
One of the best defining characteristics of Moroccan food is its spiciness. But let's be clear, we aren't just talking about chilis or fiery peppers. While some Moroccan dishes do make use of cayenne peppers or other spicy additions, Moroccan spices are often more subtle and flavorful, rather than 'set-your-mouth-on-fire-hot'!
Moroccan dishes use a medley of different spices, so much so that you can often find them bundled and mixed up together when sold abroad. For example, you've probably seen Ras el Hanout spice mix or Harissa Paste for sale in your local store, which are two famous spice mixtures based on North African Cuisine.
These medleys will contain popular Moroccan spices, which are dominated by the following ingredients:
Each dish has a complex array of spices that are designed to complement each other and the ingredients that you are cooking. The more you develop a taste for Moroccan food, the more complicated the Moroccan kitchen becomes!
The number of unique Moroccan dishes you can find across the country is as extensive as the number of spices that go into a Ras el Hanout mix.
Even a simple Moroccan lunch can start with a meze style platter of cold salads and small hot dishes, only to be quickly followed by a steaming hot tagine, and then a full plate of chicken on a bed of fruity couscous.
We don't have room to describe the entire palate of Moroccan cuisine, but we can tantalize your taste buds with our top 8 dishes!
The country's most famous dish is tagine, which is, of course, the national dish of Morocco. A tagine is a traditional Moroccan cooking pot, a clay pot that has an unusual conical lid. This lid allows you to slow cook the ingredients inside to create a wonderfully moist, tender, and flavorful meal that's also known simply as a tagine.
Tagine comes in all shapes and sizes but often will consist of tender pieces of beef, lamb, or chicken, cooked in a medley of Moroccan vegetables, such as eggplant, onions, carrots, and plenty of spices. You can easily make Moroccan food vegetarian, too, by preparing a veggie tagine without any meat.
A hearty, spicy tagine is often served with a large side of couscous, which is equally as famous a dish. Couscous is made from durum wheat, which is the same wheat that's used to prepare pasta. Couscous is rather different in texture and flavor from Italian pasta, however!
Couscous is light and fluffy when it's cooked well, and while it's commonly served as a side dish, it's also served as the primary component of many Moroccan dishes. For instance, couscous forms the base for many chicken or lamb dishes, or it can be served with different vegetables. Fruity couscous, served with raisins, is particularly popular!
Bastilla Chicken is one of Morocco's lesser-known dishes, but only outside of the country itself. Head to Morocco, and you'll quickly find yourself enjoying slice after slice of Bastilla Chicken!
Bastilla is a type of pie, which in this case, is stuffed full of chicken and flavored with a beautiful mixture of almonds, saffron, and ginger. The pie filling is encased by a beautifully light yet wonderfully crispy outer layer of pastry. It's usually savory (there's chicken, of course), but sometimes you'll also find a version of Bastilla that's almost sweet and sugary and could be counted as one of the best traditional Moroccan sweets!
If you're a lover of hearty soups, then Moroccan food is never going to disappoint. One of the best to indulge in is Harira, which you'll find all over the country being sold in restaurants or as Moroccan street food. You can even cook up Harira at home with the right ingredients.
The primary ingredients you need for a hearty Moroccan Harira are tomatoes, lentils, and chickpeas. On top of this, you can add meat, other vegetables, noodles, rice, or couscous to the meal!
Moroccan salads aren't quite like the salads you might prepare at home. For starters, there's not usually going to be any lettuce. Moroccan salads are full of spices, just like other Moroccan food.
Zaalouk is one of Morocco's best salads, consisting of a hearty tomato base that is mixed with grilled eggplants and garnished with plenty of spices.
Morocco has a long coastline that extends across both the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's no surprise then that the coastal areas are particularly fond of their seafood.
One of the more curious seafood dishes that have huge popularity across Morocco is Spicy Sardines. This Moroccan favorite involves baking fresh sardines and serving them on top of a spicy tomato-based sauce known as chermoula.
Okay, we've already included tagines at the top of our list, but the Kefta meatball tagine is so good that we had to give the dish its own spot. This is a classic tagine dish that you can make at home, too, if you've got yourself a tagine pot and a few Moroccan spices.
Kefta meatball tagine involves slow-cooking lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. The dish is often topped off with a few poached eggs to add to the decadence!
One of the best traditional Moroccan desserts is Mhencha, a pastry-like sweet that's made with almonds and sugar. Of course, there are many more variations, and you can find Mhencha with pistachios, Mhencha with orange, lemons, or other fruits, and countless other variations!
Mhencha can also make for a quick, sweet, and energizing Moroccan breakfast, as well as tasty, sweet dessert!
That's it for our top 8 round-up of our favorite Moroccan dishes, but what's your favorite Morrocan food? Do you prefer the steamy spices and tenderness of a slow-cooked tagine, or are you more of a spicy sardine kind of person?
Moroccan cuisine has a lot to offer, especially for the adventurous foodie. So why not start stocking up your spice rack with cumin and paprika, chopping up those red hot chilis, and firing up the tagine pot?
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