I keep getting questions from those of you in the states about food in Morocco, so here is a post all about food! I will start off by saying that when you live on your own, you eat what you want, when you want, how you want. So, if I wanted to my family could easily eat American food (with maybe some slight ingredient modifications) on an American schedule in an American way. We actually choose to do about half American and half Moroccan. Also, different households do things differently here, as so this post is only a generalization based on my experiences. Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, here goes.
Breakfast – Continental breakfasts are standard in Morocco. They consist of mainly of bread products: croissants, pastries, baguettes, M’simen (a type of fried pancake type bread), standard circle Moroccan bread (see below), pancakes, etc. Then there are products to go with the bread: cheese (mainly Laughing Cow or Kiri, which are spreadable cheese – you can find Laughing Cow in the states), olive oil, honey, Nutella and jellies. You might find boiled eggs on the table, but any other type of cooked eggs are rare and meat at breakfast is pretty much non existent at breakfast. To drink, you will find coffee (not brewed, but generally instant Nescafe), green tea with mint and sugar, and freshly squeezed orange juice (Oranges are SUPER cheap here, about $0.25 per pound).
Lunch – Lunch is the big, main meal of the day in Morocco. Most stores, businesses, and schools close from 12 – 2 and everyone goes home for lunch and siesta (rest). Most of the time, lunch is a 4 course affair, starting with a salad, followed by a main course, then fruit, and finished with tea and treats.
Course 1 – Salads: Salads in Morocco do not rely on lettuce. Although many salads will include lettuce, the real focus is generally on the tomatoes, cucumbers, or other items. I have never seen croutons on a salad in Morocco, and the only salad dressing I have seen is a homemade olive oil/ lemon juice dressing that is already on the salad when it comes out. Some salads do not have lettuce at all, but consist of eggplant and tomatoes or carrots and tomatoes etc.
Course 2 – The Main Course: If meat is absent at breakfast, it reappears with a vengeance at lunch. Most Moroccan dishes, especially tagines consist mainly of meat. A tagine is a typical Moroccan dish, traditionally slow cooked in a clay dish called a Tagine, but now often cooked in a pressure cooker in a quarter of the time. Most tagines have a tomato, onion, parsley base, and contain potatoes and olives to go with large chunks of meat or chicken. Other common meals for lunch are bastillas (meat or seafood pies wrapped in phyllo dough) and of course on Friday everyone has Cous Cous (a cross between rice and pasta topped with TONS of vegetables, meat and sauce).
Course 3 – Fruit: This is my kids’ favorite part of the meal, and they protest heartily if they miss it for any reason. Generally, this consists of a large plate of seasonal fruit, cut and ready to eat. Right now, we are eating a lot of watermelon and other melons, but it is also common to find bananas, apples, apricots, figs, pears. Surprisingly, you rarely see oranges at meals, they are more often used for juice than eating.
Course 4 – Tea: Green tea with mint is served at pretty much every meal (and often in between meals) in Morocco. With lots of sugar, tea is served very hot, in small glasses (not mugs). In fact, it is generally so hot that you let it sit for about 5 minutes before trying to sip it. While you are waiting to cool, you chit chat and enjoy a selection of pastries, cookies, cakes, and nuts. Cookies in Morocco are generally more firm that the ones I am used to from the states – think Biscotti – and are often flavored with almonds or dates, rather than chocolate or peanut butter. Cakes are also a different consistency here, and are more like a mousse than a cake in my mind.
Tea & Snack – Dinner in Morocco is not served until 8 or 9 at night (and often later – it is not unusual to have a dinner party starting at 11 pm), so most people have tea and snack around 5 or 6 in the evening. Green tea is served (of course), but then you have a meal than resembles breakfast, with pastries, bread, cheese (Laughing Cow or sliced Edam cheese – sort of like a Gouda), jellies, honey, and oil. However, at this meal, you might also find sliced Mortadella (a type of processed lunch meat), boiled eggs, olives, nuts, cookies, dates, fruit, sausage, or pretty much whatever the host has on hand.
Dinner – Dinner is served very late in Morocco, and is generally lighter than dinner. Most of the time, dinner is only Course 2 & 3 of Lunch, although if you are attending a dinner party, you might get all 4 courses again. In addition, the Main Course is generally lighter. Instead of a tagine, you might get soup and bread, rice and chicken, or even a pasta dish.
Food Facts for Morocco
Communal Plate – For most meals in Morocco, food is served on a communal plate (1 plate for everyone, in the center of the table). Because of the communal plate, tables are smaller and often pushed up against a couch or people sit on the floor around the table to eat. Sometimes you use a fork or spoon to eat from the communal plate, but more often than not you use bread (see below) or just your hands.
Bread – Bread is vital to meals in Morocco. It is not a piece of the the meal, it makes the meal. It generally comes in small round loaves (just smaller than a dinner plate), which is cut or torn and passed around the table. For tagines and most other main courses, meal is used as a utensil. Rather than using a fork or a spoon, you tear a small piece of bread and use it and your thumb to scoop your food.
Drinks – Most Moroccan meals are served without drinks. Sometimes soda and juices are offered, but generally not until the last course. Also, soda, juice and tea will get you your own individual cup. However, for water, there are generally 1 or 2 glasses, shared by the group.
Table Manners – There are different table manners here, which has been a focus for my kids to learn.
First and foremost – Everyone MUST wash their hands before eating. In some houses, you go to the restroom to wash your hands, in others they bring around a portable “sink”, with a teapot to pour water over your hands. (You will wash your hands again at the end of the meal too.)
Second – you do not start eating until the host starts, and you do not take meat (which is generally at the bottom of the tagine) until the host spreads it around. (Don’t worry, as a guest, you generally get the largest pieces of meat and are served first.)
Third – only eat in directly in front of you – NEVER reach across the plate to take someone else’s food.
Fourth – only eat with your RIGHT hand. When eating with your hands, you should always keep one hand clean to use to pass a glass, hold a knife, etc., so you only use your right hand when eating.
Fifth – when eating foods with seeds or pits or bones or grizzle (and there really is no such thing as seedless watermelon or pitted olives or boneless skinless chicken here) be sure to place your unwanted pieces right on the table (there is generally a plastic table cloth on top of the table), and NOT back into the main platter
Sixth – try every course Even though Moroccan hostess are extremely willing to bend to the tastes of their guests, it is considered rude to not eat anything. In fact, you will hear eat, eat, eat (cool, cool, cool) all throughout the meal. In order to do this, be careful not to fill up on the first course, know that there will be more food coming out.