From the budding café culture to the lesser-known Middle Eastern winelands, this is the real taste of Morocco and where you can find it for yourself.
Travelling in Morocco is like peeling back the fronds of a palm tree, layer after layer keeps arising and exhibiting another dimension to the land many know only for the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. When it comes to the food, couscous, tagines and kebabs replace these figures as landmarks, as the influences of the Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cuisines unite. But there is so much more for your palate to experience in this North African/Middle Eastern corner of the world.
Starting with these ten favourites:
1. Tea or Coffee?
Café society in many cities in Morocco is as lively as that of the major metropolises of the world – Paris, Berlin, Cape Town. From the streets corners of Fez, Meknes and Marrakech to the beautiful riads, the two main types of coffee that you can order are cafe noir - a small cup of espresso - or "nous nous", meaning “half and half” - half milk and half espresso.
Mint tea is just as cherished here. You’re bound to glimpse locals sipping this sweet mix of green tea, fresh mint and sugar, known as 'Moroccan whisky', in every little square you cross. And most likely to the splash of fountains adorned with zellige tiles. The only thing more beautiful than this sight are the classically Moroccan tea pots with their long, curved spouts used for pouring tea into glasses from a height to create a frothy crown.
2. To the Market
Markets (souks) are very much a part of life in Morocco. Join the beaten path and lose yourself in the forest of food stalls, following the fragrances of curcuma and anise from the spice vendors and the sights of colourful heaps of babouches and lanterns from others. Discover “The Place”, the Djemaa El Fna, which has over 100 stalls and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage.
3. Thy daily bread
Bread is more than a side thought at the Moroccan dining room table. Moroccan Flatbread (Khobz), for instance, is a very essential eating utensil, used to sweep up food like a spoon while eating. Bread is never discarded – leftovers are given to the poor in the cities or sold as stale pieces in the markets.
Just as tasty on bread - warm preferably – is Amalou, a mix of almond, honey and argan oil butter. The nutty-flavoured argan oil originates from the fruit of a tree that grows only in southeast Morocco, between Essaouira and Agadir. When in Morocco…
4. Get spicy
Moroccan cuisine is all about flavour – whether infused with fragrant fresh herbs like mint, parsley and coriander, or spices - whether the simple saffron, used in tagines and teas, or the medley of spices that is Ras al hanout – a blend of around 30 different spices, including cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and clove. Don’t go home without being able to know your kamoun (cumin) from your karfa (cinnamon), your kharkoum (turmeric) from your tahmira (paprika).
5. Cook like a Moroccan
Cooking in Morocco is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation – a journey spanning many decades and landscapes. Join the journey with a cooking class led by a Moroccan chef.
At Riad Fès, with its views over the Fès Medina and Atlas mountains, Chefs Abida and Amal invite you to share in their cooking secrets with half-day classes in preparing a starter, main and dessert. As they say, “You will begin with a visit to the souks to buy good fresh products, and to receive some advice about the main spices used in Moroccan cuisine. At the end of each session, there is a convivial lunch to taste the dishes, on the terrace overlooking the Fes medina or in the Riad dining room. A list of dedicated recipes will be given to you at the end of the class to share a touch of Morocco at home, among family, or with friends."
Chef Antoine Gonzalez of Ksar Char-Bagh in Marrakech also opens his door to guests who wish to cook with him, as does Chef Ahmed Handour of L'Heure Bleue Palais, in Essaouira, who offers cooking workshops every week, “Because passion is above all about sharing,” he says.
6. Something sweet
Pastries are almost as big a deal as bread in Morocco. Elizabeth Gilbert of the “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure could easily have begun her journey here, eating her way through kaab el ghzal ("gazelle's horns"), a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar, and Halwa chebakia, pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried, soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Before moving on to Marrakech kisses - rose petal meringues with rose cream – and dates stuffed with honeyed almonds…
Don’t be afraid of the dessert menu at your hotel, even when you see something called a Moroccan Snake Pastry (M'hancha). Snake-free, it is a coil-shaped pastry made with almond paste, orange flower water and cinnamon.
7. Wine not?
Something Bogart would have been grateful for were he still stalking the streets of Casablanca is the rise in Morocco’s winelands. Savour the lesser-known wines of Morocco with a professional to guide your palate, such as with one of the sommeliers at Riad Fès or discover more from Francois Laustriat, Maitre de Maison of Heure Bleue Palais and the Heure Bleue Val d'Argan wine: "I've always dreamed of offering the Heure Bleue Palais a wine created in its image: timeless,” Francois says. “Meeting the visionary wine-maker Charles Melia, who owns an estate between land and sea a few kilometres from Essaouira, was the starting point for this exceptional wine: Heure Bleue Val d'Argan.”
8. Go local
It is typical of many of the finer hotels in Morocco to source much of their produce from the country’s markets or other local producers who still maintain traditional farming methods, giving guests a taste of the region with names like Alfalfa bakoula, pomegranate vinegar, date caramel, Amlou, and tall herb grass honey, as at Dar Ahlam. The cuisine of this traditional Kasbah set in the luscious palm grove of Skoura also features produce from women’s associations in the nearby villages (namely the goats’ cheese or argan oil cooperative).
"Originally from Beni Mellal (Morocco),” Ahmed Handour of L’Heure Bleue Palais says, “I'm extremely proud of traditional Moroccan cuisine, and it inspires me every day. My cooking, which could be called inventive and innovative, enables me to highlight local products.”
9. Go fish
The Atlantic Ocean lapping the coast of Morocco provides another staple for the tables of diners. During your time here, seafood is bound to find its way onto your menu, as Essaouira lobster and sardines do at Le Salon Oriental Restaurant at L’Heure Bleue Palais, and red bream Safi way does at Villa des Orangers in Marrakech.
10. Unique Settings
Only in Morocco can you have breakfast in the heart of a lush palm grove, lunch in the shade of orange trees, and a candlelit dinner in the desert in a day. Be sure to do it all – whether starting with the romantic setting of the pergola at Villa Diyafa Boutique Hôtel & Spa in Rabat or in your own version of the Arabian Nights, under the starlit sky at Dar Ahlam…
Bon Appétit! Or rather, besseha!