Food is extremely important to us on our travels. It can make or break a trip if the food or cuisine in a place isn’t very good. The phrase “being allergic to bad food!” really resonates with us.
We recently came back from Morocco sans enfants. Before we went, I didn’t have much prior experience with Moroccan cuisine – I had never tried a tajine but also didn’t like couscous either.
What a difference it makes when you are in the country itself! Moroccan cuisine exceeded our expectations and its tastes and textures surprised and delighted us.
Here are the various types of dishes we tried and where we found the best ones!
Being the most famous Moroccan dish, Tajines are named after the distinctive shape of its earthenware. It is basically a slow-cooked stew braised in low temperatures. The main protein is usually a meat (chicken, lamb or meatballs) accompanied by a medley of spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits (quinces, prunes, dates, apricots, olives as well as preserved lemons and nuts), although we’ve tried a salmon tajine and the one with baby shrimps (in the north influenced by the Spanish tapas)
As most restaurants and hotels throughout Morocco will serve tajines, one can get easily tajined-out. The portion size is often quite large for one person as well. As such, it’s important to plan the restaurants and what you order so to avoid tajine fatigue! The restaurants I’ve mentioned in this article all have great tajines on their menus – the notable ones are Restaurant Bab Ssour in Chefchaouen, Resturant Palais Ismailia in Meknes and L’Ambre of Riad Fes in Fez.
To be honest, I was not a fan of couscous before our trip to Morocco. The places I’ve tried in Australia, US and Asia made it too dry, coarse and tasteless, and I didn’t quite understand what it really was and what it was made of. However, when I tried it at source, where the origin of couscous is said to be credited to the Berbers, and when it was cooked properly with the right ingredients, then it totally changed the game for me. Done well, couscous is light, fluffy, not dry, with no clumps and absorbs all the wonderful sauces and flavors from the stewed meat and vegetables.
Our most favorite couscous during the trip was at Chez Hicham at Chefchaouen followed by L’Ambre of Riad Fes and Gold Sand Camp at the Sahara.
Shish Kebabs in Morocco are not just about grilled skewered meat. There is a skill to it with the spice marinate and achieving that slightly burnt charred finish that makes it tastes so good. The perfect dish to accompany all that meat is the simple and fresh Moroccan salad (a basic cucumber and tomatoes salad that is oh so good!) or a good selection of Moroccan mezze.
Chez Hicham at Chefchaouen again came up as the forefront restaurant perfecting the Shish Kebabs with Ksar El Kabbaba at Skoura and Restaurant Ryad Nejjarine in Fez right there behind it.
This traditional Moroccan “meat pie” was my most favorite dish. It’s a crispy filo pastry wrapped in seafood or spiced meats and fruits – usually chicken, pigeon and even foie gras – with a touch of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top! It has a great balance between sweetness of the spices and fruits and the savory tastes of the meats which married well with the crispiness of the filo pastry. It was so good, I tried several versions of Pastilla at different restaurants – these were the best ones!
- In Fes, L’Ambre of Riad Fes served up its celebrated pigeon pastilla
- Also in Fes, the chicken pastilla at The Ruined Garden was slightly sweeter with shredded chicken and cinnamon
- In Marrakesh, Al Fassia offers a seafood version which is creamier and much more savory
- At our Marrakesh hotel, Villa des Orangers gave a French decadent twist adding foie gras into the pastry – yum!
Okay, it may sound gross, but camel is in fact a delicacy and in some middle eastern culture, people spend a fortune buying priced camels for special occasions like weddings. We actually visited a camel farm in Doha years ago that sold camels for that very reason.
So, my curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. As a burger, it sounded more safe I guess. In any case, the camel burger at the Clock Café in Fez is famed so it was a must try! Overall, it was really tasty and I was not disappointed. While the camel (really a patty with many herbs and spices) wasn’t as juicy and fatty as a beef patty, its clever taza ketchup (ketchup mixed with cinnamon and honey) perfectly complimented and raised the taste of the entire dish.
Madfouna (Berger Pizza)
Having been a little Tajined-out, we were in luck in Berber country. At Rissani, our guide took us to Restaurant Oasis Tafilalet for some Berber pizza. It is somewhat like a flat calzone with chunks of beef, onions and spices. It may look deceivingly simple, but it was delicious and just want we needed! We also loved how the restaurant described its address: “sortie de Rissani vers Merzouga” meaning “exiting Rissani towards Merzouga”. It’s not an actual or precise address but you are sure to find it!
Berber eggs for breakfast
I can’t quite explain it but Moroccan spices, onions, tomatoes topped with an egg, slowed cooked in a tajine, is one of the best eggy breakfast meals I’ve ever had. And to have it in our dining tent after seeing the sun rising like a golden egg over the desert horizon at our Gold Sand Camp was an unforgettable experience! It should be a bucket list!
Tanjia is a local specialty from Marrakesh, and is not to be confused with Tajine as mentioned above. Tanjia is actually an earthen pot shaped a little like a Greek terracotta jug. It’s traditionally prepared by men so there is a distinct absence of vegetables – rather the pot is filled with meat, herbs, spices and preserved fruits and taken to the Hamman! At the public Hamman, the bathhouse workers who manage the fire for the hot water supply, would place the tanjias in the hot ashes to be slowly stewed overnight. As they scoop out the hot ashes from the furnace, it gets spread out over the tanjias for the slow cook. The result is a tender juicy dish of sumptuous meats!
Most restaurants require advance bookings for tanjia dishes. However, we were in luck and had the best ones at Al Fassia in Marrakesh and surprisingly, in Meknes’ Restaurant Palais Ismailia. It was in fact in Meknes that Jeff first tried the Tanjia au Veau au Safran et Smen Beldi (Tanjia of Veal in saffron and preserved aged butter) which got him instantly hooked!
Morocco was a French protectorate for 44 years from 1912, and the French influence from language to cuisine is still very evident today. So it is not surprising that there are some great French fine dining restaurants in Fez and Marrakesh.
Located in the beautifully renovated riad inside the Fez medina, Dar Roumana offers well executed and presented French fare at a price we cannot enjoy in France or in Asia. It was such a treat and a great break from local traditional Moroccan cooking. In Marrakesh, we stayed at Villa des Orangers enjoying their half board service (breakfast and lunch included). The food was so delicious, we could have paid for full board, and eaten all our meals at the hotel!! We almost did if it wasn’t that we wanted to try some local Marrakesh eateries.