Moroccan cuisine is like a party (a festival, a symphony of tastes and sensuality: flavour, smell and sight. A festival that can be perceived (sensed in the zocos (zoouks) when we see the different spices, different colours and smells and the contrasts of sweet and salty tastes, spicy and bitter. And finally, if we dare to eat with our hands, we can sense the touch of the food when we pick it up.

Moroccan cuisine is passed from mothers to daughters it has been women´s unique mastery from centuries. The recipes are passed on within the families orally due to the high rate of illiteracy in the woman´s world and especially in the rural environment; it is not surprising, therefore, that there are hardly any recipe books.

Moroccan gastronomy has its roots in the different people of Morocco. The Berbers contributed with the Tajine and the Harira (we´ll talk about them later). From the Bedouin tribes of the Sahara came the cereals, milk and dates and the Arabs brought the olive oil, the seasoning, the almonds and the fruit. On the other hand Andalusian cuisine brought refinement, subtlety, new flavours and delicacy (tact) in the presentations of the dishes. In the great cities like Fez, Marrakech or Rabat one can appreciate this refinement in the most popular dishes, while the coast offers shellfish and a variety of fish recipes.

In the first place, we are going to talk about the spices because their especial touch enhances the flavour of food in a surprising way. A mixture of 27spices knownas  ras-el-hanout, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon from China, belladonna berries, roses shoots, Jamaican pepper, cinnamon,cubebe?; mize, clove,nigelle?,maniguette?galanga?cyperacee? And so on …a very long list as each cook makes its own list. Another mixtureKamahas pepper, turmeric, ginger and nutmeg. Thechermoulaflavours marinade with parsley, coriander, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, sesame seeds, sweet pepper and olive oil.

The starters are varied. In the first place we have thebriouatesor sandwiches made of leaves of flower, water and salt stuffed with chicken, vegetables or fish and prawns. They are fried. They usually have an added contrasting flavour with the sweetness of raisins and cinnamon. Among the most famous are thepastillestuffed with chicken, young pigeon or ringdove, accompanied with egg, onion, almonds and spices, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, an example of the sweet-salty Moroccan dish. Salads are very important as the vegetables come directly from the kitchen gardens, with a freshness difficult to find anywhere else. From the more straightforward, composed of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers or peppers, to the more sophisticated ones, with aubergines, broad beans, carrots, potatoes, courgette, etc. seasoned with parsley, paprika or cayenne or just with olive oil. Sometimes these salads are served in small plates, so that each can mix it at he likes.

We will always have at the start of a meal the delicious olives, seasoned in many different ways, green or black olives, with lemon, paprika, chilies, parsley and coriander. They are delicious in any way. Among the many soups theharirastands out. It is the most important one because this soup is used by the Moroccans to break the fast during the Ramadan. It is made with pulses and vegetables, some meat to add flavor, tomatoes, and onions and seasoned with coliander and parsley. TheChorbasoup with meatballs of ringdove or chicken vegetable. In Marrakech they add ground nuts to the meatballs. Thechorba belhouta specialty from Essaouira  is a fish-based soup. TheSikouk soup,a summer´s cold soup made with curd milk, semolina maize, orange flower water and whey.  

Thebissaradried broad beans purée with olive oil and garlic.
The illan or sorghum soup for breakfast is perfumed with anise; in other places they use barley instead of sorghum and the Berbers add thyme to it.

Main dishes. Thecouscous.Let´s say that this is the Moroccan dish equivalent to ourcocido.It varies according to the regions and the families. At its base there is a meat and vegetable stew which is cooked in a large food steamer. Over this you place a steamer that has holes around its edge so steam can escape and cook the semolina (made of coarsely ground wheat grains water and salt).  One must move the semolina with the hands at least three times during cooking, so as to keep the grains separate and to do that a sour butter calledSmenis used and this gives a curd cheese flavor to it.  Couscous is generally served with  vegetables and chick peas, caramelized onions and the meat (generally lamb, mutton or chicken) is added.

This dish is presented on a large platter, with the meat placed in the centre surrounded by the semolina, as if it were a crown, topped with the vegetables, the chickpeas, etc.. and a broth is poured over it all. More broth can be added as the cous cous is eaten. The Moroccans eat this dish with their fingers, making small balls or croquettes, mixing semolina, meat and vegetables according to their tastes. Cous cous is usually eaten on Fridays, Moroccan religious feast day and the whole family gathers around this cooking event.

Tajineis a dish that gets its name from the utensil used for cooking it. It is an earthenware pot with a cone-shape lid that keeps the heat inside. It is cooked slowly over a clay brazier calledKanoumormajmar(left to simmer on a low heat) an ancient technique used even today. It can be made with meat: chicken, lamb or beef, or with fish. One adds vegetables to it and one can also add figs, dates, prunes, quince, raisins, grapes, olives and preserved lemon.

Although it is cooked all over Morocco, the one with lamb is typical of the Berbers regions, the one with quails if of the Atlas, the  fish flavoured one is from the coast and the chicken flavoured one, usually with saffron and ginger and preserved lemons and olives is delicious. TheKeftaone needs special mention, with a combination of mince meat, marinated and with spices made into small balls and with a poached egg on top. Simply delicious.¡

Another Marakeck´s speciality, thetanjia marrakchia, originally prepared by men, takes its name from the earthenware jar in which it is cooked. Cuts of seasoned, spiced  meat of a leg of lamb and olive oil are stuffed. It is taken to the hamman. He buries thetanjiavessel in the smoldering embers and leaves it to slowly cook for a few hours.
The brochettes of meat, chicken or fish are placed over the embers. The meat is seasoned with a mixture of spices.

In the Fez´s region the lamb is cooked inside an earthen pot with raisins and almonds, then it is left to cool until it solidifies with the grease. Then,the meat is kept in glass jars for months.

After this quick going over the Moroccan cuisine, we´ll look at the desserts.
First of all, we´ll look at the famous pastries stuffed with almond paste, sesame, nuts, pistachio, orange flavoured water, honey and cinnamon, accompanied with tea and which take different names:fakkas,ghribas, makhroud, and the famous gazelle´s horns which owe their name to the crescent shape.

Crepsbaghir,are a sponge like pancakes that have little open air pockets on the top due to the yeast, are eaten with honey or filled with honey. A speciality, with a high level of calories which helps the body to recover after a strenuous work, is thesfouf,which is never missing in the house of a woman who has just given birth, and is made with roasted flour, ground fried almonds, roasted sesame, cinnamon, nutmeg and anise.

Among the drinks, we have theleven,which is nothing more than sour milk, and it is sold in the streets, at the market entries and usually in the northern Morocco, the Rif women bring it freshly made.

As it cannot be otherwise a special mention must be made to the mint tea. It is prepared with green tea from China and it is Morocco´s hospitality drink, it will be offered to you whenever you go into a house or enter the shops and you can savour it on the street terraces, accompanied always with a great number of mint leaves. Sometimes it is served as an aperitif before the meals, together with maze flower creppes (msemmen), with almond paste, pastries or just with bread. A great deal of fruit juice is drunk, especially orange juice that can be found all year round.

Finally, and even if it seems surprising, we´ll talk about alcohol. Because of their religion the Moroccans can´t consume alcohol but they do produce it. During the years of the French Protectorate many vineyards were planted (with garnacha, cabernet and cinsault grapes) especially in the regions of Meknes, Bernake and Boulane and a great variety of wines are marketed. Regarding beers Morocco produces two brands of beers: Flag and Casablanca,  equal to the beers you are used to .

And finally as the western culture reaches the farthers corners of the planet, Moroccans are heavy drinkers of Coca-Cola and Fanta.

In Morocco, at a reasonable price, one can enjoy of a diverse and excellent gastronomy, with the added bonus that they use known produce of the Mediterranean cuisine. The trick is that their ingredients are significantly more ecologically natural, and therefore more taster and combine magically with the spices. On the coast one must eat fish and shellfish. For those who are distrusful of  hot spices we must tell them that, as a preservative that the spices are, they are used with moderation  in the mild climate regions (the northern Morocco coast) and, therefore, it is nothing to worry about.

There is a subject that we cannot avoid mentioning. The traditional Moroccan cuisine is very elaborated. Most dishes need at least three hours of preparation and this is why it is almost impossible or extremely difficult to eat a cous cous or a real tajine in a restaurant unless it is ordered in advance We cannot forget that the tourists are “guiris” and that we have none or very little knowledge of their dishes. They take advantage of this lack of knowledge to serve us reheated meals that bear no comparison to the traditional cuisine.

In our hotel Al Alba, to solve this serious problem, widely spread through the Moroccan restaurants, we have opted to have one menu for lunch and another menu for dinner, which are cooked during the previous hours with the fresh produce brought every morning from the orchards by women from the Rif.

Once more we have to mention the tea. The Moroccans drink it all the time, very sweet with lots of mint and very hot. It is a sign of hospitality and we offer it to our guests on freshly picked mint leaves from our own terrace.

Finally one can´t forget the delicious pastries with their unbelievable variety and flavours. Here we are not sparing with sugar, almonds, honey, cinnamon, orange water. Their forms invite you to enjoy them.