Hello and welcome to my first blog post revolving around one of my all-time favourite things… FOOD!
Usually one of the things which draws me to a country when I plan my travels is the local cuisine. Some of the best meals I’ve had have been in far-off places, such as freshly grilled fish and chips in Honduras, Pad Thai made by yours truly during a cooking class in Thailand, and homemade devilled potatoes in Sri Lanka.
When I thought of Morocco, however, my mind didn’t automatically jump to food. I thought of stunning mosques, vast deserts, beautiful ceramic-tiled riads (traditional Moroccan houses), but never gave much thought to what I would be eating whilst there. It turns out Morocco cuisine is a mixture of cultural interactions over the centuries, from Spanish, sub-Saharan, Berber and Arabic influences!
Luckily, experiencing Morocco by travelling with Intrepid meant that our local guide took us to some of the best restaurants, street vendors, and guesthouses to sample authentic Moroccan dishes.
Early on it became clear that meals are an important time of day in Morocco, with most dishes served in large pots and bowls and shared around the table. The national dish is cous cous, which is usually served in a tagine with beef or chicken and a variety of vegetables, and topped with caramelised onions and sultanas.
By far the best meal I had in Morocco was a lamb tagine at L’Etoile Centrale in Casablanca. The meat was succulent and fell apart and the seasoning was superb. If I have one criticism of Moroccan food it would be that there were generally never enough spices! But the meal at L’Etoile, although slightly more than we paid elsewhere at around £10 each, was really good and the restaurant itself was beautifully traditional.
A slightly more unusual tagine was the meatball and egg kind. This tagine was cooked in tomato based sauce and tasted a bit like a thick, peppery bolognaise, but with a couple of fried eggs thrown on top!
Another amazing vegetable tagine I ate was at Restaurant La Tolerance in Essaouira. It was so good and at an amazing cost of just £10 for bread, olives, soup and two main courses, we went there two nights in a row!
At the beginning of every meal we were given an array of small dishes, kind of like Spanish tapas. These often included olives, bread, harissa paste, stewed aubergines, fresh tomatoes and cucumber, herby potatoes, lima beans, and sweet pumpkin paste. They were all served cold like a salad starter and passed around the table, so I had to make sure not too eat too much and ruin my main course!
Another common starter was harira soup, a peppery broth with noodles and vegetables which I actually had as a main course one night and it really filled me up! The soup was also one of the best priced dishes on the menu in most restaurants, at around £2-3.
Most days we popped down to a corner shop and bought a baguette or a round loaf of freshly baked bread to have for lunch. Almost like a ciabatta, these floury loaves were baked in traditional ovens and literally cost a few pence.
CAMEL BURGER (!)
One of my favourite meals in Morocco was actually the camel burger we tried in Meknes. Before anyone gets grossed out or thinks I’m an awful person, I will disclose that in most places I travel to I do try the local dishes, as this is a way of sampling the culture. We were also informed that the camels were not killed specifically for their meat; rather, they are working animals whose by-products are put to use once they have died, so as not to waste anything. The burger was really delicious and didn’t have a weird taste, either, so if I hadn’t been told it was camel I probably wouldn’t have guessed!
Loads of street vendors sell falafel wraps and kebabs at a low price, which make for a great lunch while out and about exploring the towns and cities of Morocco. This delicious (and huge) falafel wrap cost £2 – just make sure that the place you buy from doesn’t have meat sitting out in the sun or flies all over the salad.
At most of the hotels we stayed in, we were offered continental style breakfasts, with cheese, eggs, and cereals. The Moroccan choice for breakfasts, however, were crepes! Not quite like the thin crispy ones you would find in France, these crepes are thick and almost doughy, served with a drizzle of honey, a dollop of soft cheese, and rolled up ready to eat.
The only dish I really didn’t like (but everyone else seemed to love) in Morocco was the chicken pastilla. Another very popular national dish, a pastilla is a pastry parcel with shredded chicken and vegetables inside, and served with a slice of lemon and a rather generous dusting of cinnamon and sugar on top. This dish would have been delicious if it wasn’t for its overwhelming sweetness, but it is still worth a try when visiting Morocco.
Tea! We practically lived off of tea in Morocco, as every time we checked into a hotel we were greeted with a tray of freshly brewed mint tea. At one of the guesthouses in Moulay Idriss we were given a demonstration on how to brew the perfect pot of tea, which involved pouring it into a glass and then back into the pot and repeating three times! The only downside: the quantity of sugar involved. I’ve come back home with a sweet tooth!
Another thing we tried which must be mentioned was Moroccan alcohol! I had assumed, with it being a Muslim country, that alcohol wouldn’t be available at all on the trip, and for the most part it was rare to see even in restaurants, but some places had a licence and sold local beer and wine. But let me tell you it was NOT cheap.
The Fes Speciale beer was 22 dirhams, approximately £2, for a 220ml (tiny) bottle. A bottle of Meknes wine (the red variety tasted OK but the white tasted somewhat like acid) would set you back around 130-150 dirhams, so a little over £10. Wine was seemingly never served by the glass, and imported beers such as Heineken and Budweiser, meanwhile, cost a minimum of 55 dirhams (£5), again for a small bottle. My advice would be to suck it up and have a detox while you’re in Morocco!
Overall the food in Morocco was tasty, but not as varied as you might expect. There were days when the last thing I wanted was another tagine, but it was still great to try different takes on the national dish in each place we travelled to.
One thing I wish I had known about food in Morocco before we went was the prices we should expect. In Essaouira we found little restaurants off the main paths where we could have a large meal for two for around £10. On our tour, however, we were given little choice as to where we ate, so ended up visiting some not-so-budget restaurants which were more like £10 each. Although this was more than we had hoped to pay, it was still pretty cheap compared to what you’d expect to pay as a tourist in Europe, so it was worth trying all these dishes for a little extra.