The origins of Moroccan Cuisine

The origins of Moroccan Cuisine

I’m finally back after such a long time with a bang. Or at least I hope so! This time around, I would like to introduce you to the origins and various cultural, religious and geographic characteristics which helped create it.
First of all, Moroccan cuisine is really one of the best in the world. Of course, we all know that every nation is proud of its cuisine (and often reasonable so) and often rank it as the „best in the world”. But, trust me, Moroccan cuisine is ranked among the best in the world for all the good reasons.

What distinguishes good cuisine from great cuisine?
Here is what I take in consideration when it comes to rating a nation's cuisine:
v  Its dishes are consumable by the large majority of people and made out of ingredients which are consumed all around the world.
v  Its dishes use spicing or other more exotic ingredients which makes the taste somewhat unique and unusual, but not to the point of being too edgy.
v  All the spices and ingredients are largely used in harmony, nothing is overly exaggerated.
v  The meals are relatively healthy, not stuffed with fat or other ingredients which can cause health issues later on.

Well, Moroccan cuisine adapts to all these criteria, largely due to the fact that its roots are so diverse. Moroccan cuisine can thank its uniqueness for having lots of origins which together make it complete.

The roots of Moroccan cuisine:
The cuisine is largely affected by 3 key factors: the geographical location and climate, the culture and the religion of the people. Let's see how these all affect Moroccan cuisine.

Morocco geography and natural characteristics

Morocco Natural Wonders
Morocco is extremely diverse: check out my 10 part series on its natural wonders by clicking on the photo

Moroccan cuisine is among the most diverse cuisines in the world, thanks to its abundance of natural treasures and having such a unique location and being gifted to be bordered both by the Mediterranean sea and the Pacific Ocean. In addition, Morocco is home to Africa’s largest mountain range the Atlas Mountains and in addition, it also has its fair share of the Sahara, the largest desert in the world. Geographical location is largely responsible for what we eat because to put it simply, people eat what they can find, what grows and what can live in that specific geographic location and climate. Morocco is gifted to have wonderful seafood thanks to its long shorelines, lovely grilled food, that’s most often consumed in the mountainous and desert regions and its cuisine is abundant with fresh fruits and vegetables, thanks to all its great fields which grow all sorts of fruits, from continental to tropical types.

Local specialties: this also means, that thanks to this great diversity there are tons of places offering different dishes all across Morocco and you better get to know most of them.

The culture

Culture largely depends on the several other factors such as geographic location, religion, overall lifestyle and social situation but in the end, it becomes a whole different thing, thanks to the people who create it, keep it alive and changes it. Moroccan cuisine can also thank its diversity to the several cultures which influenced it.

Arabic culture & cuisine:

Morocco is largely an Arabic speaking country, thanks to the Arabic conquest that happened back in the 1200s however, Arabic is not the only culture that is being cultivated in Morocco as the nation which has lived there before (they are called Berbers collectively, however, this is a mistake as it’s a tribal culture with multiple sorts of nations such as the Amazigh). These tribes were forced to integrate with the Arabic but all in the same time, they have succeeded to keep much of their cultural heritage and language as well. This means, Arabic culture in Morocco is quite different from the Middle Eastern or Saudi Arabic culture and this also shows in its cuisine. While there are several dishes which have Arabic origins, the commonly known Arabic dishes such as Hummus are not that much consumed in Morocco and their several sorts of bread are also different from the pita bread.  Ingredients which were introduced by Arabic culture include dried fruits and their use in cooked dishes, nuts and many of the well-known sweets.

Spanish: Andalusian-Moorish culture:

The whole Arabic-Islamic culture is built on Moorish origins. Andalusians themselves have lots of Arabic (Moorish) heritage, thanks to the long lasting Arabic-Moorish reign back in the Middle Ages. Morocco has several dishes which originate from Spain or Southern Spain, such as the famous Pastille. The town which has the largest Spanish influence is the Northern lying Tangier. Naturally, this is also the area where you can try most dishes which have Spanish or Andalusian heritage. Ingredients introduced by Moorish culture include the use of olives including olive oil, olive juice and olives as seeds and the use of citrus fruits in dishes. It’s also important to note, that oils have also been used for preserving reasons.

Turkish/Ottoman culture:
In the early middle ages, everyone feared the conquering armies of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the early conquests of the Ottoman Empire in the Northern African region have also brought some important influences in the Moroccan cuisine. This includes the world famous kebab – grilled meat on skewers in Moroccan (and Arabic) cuisine.

Mediterranean culture:

Larache is one of the most beautiful fishing towns in Morocco

I have decided to use this umbrella term because the Mediterranean countries generally use the same types of spices, vegetables and they generally grow the same breed of animals whose meat is mostly being used in their dishes this or that way. This also includes the common use of lamb meat and the seafood, especially fish (Arabic culture much interestingly doesn’t like to deal with sea fruits (including clams, octopus, crabs etc.). You can find the best fish meals in seaside towns, such as Rabat, Tangier, Casablanca or Agadir.  Some of the most popular fishes used in meals include mackerel, sardines, anchovy and European pilchard. Another important element originating from the Mediterranean cuisine is the use of salads as side-dishes. Two signature salads, namely Zaalouk and Taktouka both introduce a great mix of fresh vegetables served with a spicy-oily dressing.

French culture:

Much of Morocco used to be a French colony for a couple of decades. The main French colonial city is Casablanca where there are lots of French buildings and it’s also the area where people largely speak French as their second language. French culture has had an important effect on Moroccan cuisine and eating habits. French were the ones who introduced the Café culture in the country and they were also the ones who started cultivating vineyards in the country- The consuming of café with adjoining pastries can be largely thanked the French. That's why several Moroccan sweets and pastries have a French name to this day. The best examples include Cornes de Gazelle and Briouates, both being signature sweets of Morocco.

Berber tribes such as the Rif Tribe largely live in the mountain where the climate is different alongside the flora and fauna too. Many of Morocco’s signature dishes, such as the Tagine have ancient Berber origins. Tagine is a type of dish that is generally cooked on fire by many. Tagine dish holders which are made out of clay are world famous for their signature triangular forms and they are perfect to be used for cooking the dish itself too. (It’s important to note, however, that we can differentiate cooking tagines from serving tagines). The use of Argan as an essential ingredient also originates from the Berber tribes. Also in the mountainous regions in the Midlands, the use of goat milk, goat cheese and goat meat in foods is much more prevalent. Couscous, Morocco’s signature dish also has tribal origins.

Tribal/Desert culture:

Desert scene in Morocco

Desert tribes have long lived in the Sahara region and therefore have their own culture and cuisine which also include specific styles of cooking and preserving methods due to the harsh climate. Grilled meat dishes largely have Touareg origins. Also in this region ingredients such as camel milk, camel cheese, and even camel meat are commonly consumed. Good examples of dishes which descend from the desert regions include khlea and g’did which both introduce salted meat.

The religion:

Beautiful wall in Fés featuring phrases from the Quran

Islamic / Halal cuisine

Eating and also not eating has special significance in the Muslim religion. Naturally, it has its signature types of meals which all Muslims are bound to eat. One of the most important examples includes the so-called Halal food. This means all the food especially meat, which is prepared in a specific way out of „blessed” meat and ingredients. This means very specifically prescribed ways to prepare food right from the very beginning as it is written in the Holy Quran. These days, the Islamic world celebrates the Eid which means that most families will buy and consume a sacrificial lamb (also present in Christian Catholic religion). This whole process starts right from buying the living lamb, it’s sacrificing for Eid and for being Halal and its consuming by the whole family. This is the time when families are also bound to give meat to the poor ones, who cannot afford to buy their own lamb. Fruits like date-fruit also have their symbolic meaning (eating 7 dates daily means an extra blessing for the believers). Also, the consuming of the bread, the oil for breakfast has deep religious meanings.

Ramadan cuisine

Ramadan is the world famous celebration of Islamic faith and it’s also a very important test of someone’s strenght of faith. This is the time when people do not consume drinks and meals from dusk till dawn. Eating is only allowed after the last prayer, after the sun sets and the first meal, Iftar should be consumed around 4 am before the first prayer. Not eating and drinking throughout the day in such a hot region as Morocco is a very exhausting and trying task. This also means the use of special dishes during Ramadan, ones which are specifically heavy or nutritious, in order for their effect to last throughout the day. I will soon make a post specifically about Ramadan meals and eating traditions.  

I hope you liked this new post of mine and please let me know if there are any specific topics you would like me to cover on cooking Moroccan meals.


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