6 Moroccan Staples You Shouldn’t Miss Out OnOctober 15, 2014
- Samantha PacardoWords
Simply the word Morocco is enough to evoke images of ancient medinas, conical piles of fragrant spices, and crowds moving against each other in narrow alleys. In the months I spent living there, traveling north and south on the weekends, I learned that there is much more to sample than their world-famous couscous. Whether you find yourself in a desert bivouac just outside Merzouga or looking out to Spain from the port in Tangier, here are a few local favorites worth discovering.
1. Moroccan Mint Tea
Be prepared to drink mint tea by the liter if you want to fit in with the locals, who sip away from morning until evening, regardless of the weather. Real Moroccan mint tea is prepared by steeping Chinese gunpowder green tea leaves (surprising, I know!) and fresh mint in silver teapots. Since it will be served already sweetened with blocks of sugar, it is customary to pour out one cup before returning it inside the pot to ensure that the sugar is properly mixed.
You can also order atay (Darija for “tea”) by the glass if you’re a solo traveler with only 15 minutes before your bus leaves, or if you’re unsure that you can finish an entire pot.
Once described to me as “Morocco’s crepe”, meloui is a breakfast staple that goes perfectly with your first cup of mint tea for the day. The dough starts out looking like yellow pita bread that is then fried and folded. You can usually pick the filling by asking to have it avec miel (“with honey” in French), chocolat, or fromage (“cheese”).
Not only does the texture vary from fluffy to flaky, meloui also goes by different names depending on which city you are in. Nevertheless, it is always a cheap but filling meal that will give you enough energy to spend the morning exploring the medina.
Next to couscous, the tagine is an important national dish that can be made with meat, poultry, and seafood. The name is taken from the distinct conical pot in which it is cooked. I was told that the shape allows the smoke to move in a certain way while everything simmers, giving the tagine a distinct flavor.
Southern cities like Marrakech commonly use beef, chicken, and lamb in their tagines. Once you hit north or places close to the water, you will see that shrimp and fish tagines appear in the menus. Because of the wide variety of meats and seafood that can be used, there are just as many recipes for a tagine. No matter where you go, however, it is always served with a side of olives and a basket of khobz, a disc-shaped bread.
Walk into any store and there’s a good chance that you will find a well-stocked refrigerator dedicated to yogurt. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of colorful containers, but give in to your curiosity and pick up a few that catch your eye. With each carton priced at 8 Dirhams or less (that’s about US$ 1 or less), there is no reason to feel guilty.
Skip the usual vanilla and strawberry, and go for the more unusual combinations you would be pressed to find here in Manila. I highly recommend Danone’s peach and pear yogurt, and Jaouda’s avocado and almonds yogurt.
5. Moroccan Pizza
While major cities have branches of American pizza chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, it’s worth trying the local version of this Italian classic. “The more, the better” seems to be the principle behind the preparation of this dish. Olives, an important part of every Moroccan’s diet, are heaped on the tomato sauce and bell peppers. Don’t be surprised if they also top your pizza with corn kernels and mushrooms.
6. Chez Aziz’s Pastries in Chefchaouen
Many people endure the long bus ride to Chefchaouen to see Morocco’s Blue City and one of the most photogenic places in the country. Its unique color scheme, which extends from the buildings to the sky blue taxis, is just one reason to go to this mountain city located northwest of Morocco. A second reason is Chez Aziz, a local institution that specializes in making a wide array of pastries that will satisfy any sweet tooth.
If not for the steady stream of customers walking out with boxes tied up using the store’s distinct yellow ribbons, it would be easy to overlook the small patisserie just outside the medina. Chez Aziz is especially known for selling its pastries by bulk; you can pick up brownies, cookies, and bars by the kilo for only 50 Dirhams (that’s less than US$ 7 or a little over PHP 300). Since there is no set menu, customers will just have to pop by to see what baked goods come out of the ovens that day.