Five Foods To Try In-Morocco
While Morocco is a country that I only spent a fleeting amount of time in, I have always adored Moroccan food. Sadly, Pittsburgh has very few Moroccan restaurants (and none of the traditional seven course spread variety) but in Philadelphia (at least while growing up) there was a small abundance of them and I celebrated at least one birthday feasting on Moroccan food. It’s a delicious cuisine and a strikingly beautiful country that I’d love to go back and explore more in-depth one day. It’s definitely a country and cuisine that is unknown to many Americans, so hopefully this post will help in bridging some of the lack of knowledge surrounding it.
Bstilla: This is a traditional Andalusi-Arab dish, a special meat pie that historically was made of squab (fledgling pigeons) but as squabs are hard to get, shredded chicken is usually the go-to substitute. Typically served as a starter course, it’s a perfect example of salty meets sweet-a dough that is similar to phyllo but even thinner, meat that has been slow-cooked in broth and spices, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. Although the idea of eating chicken with ingredients you’d find on a dessert may seems strange, it really is the perfect compliment. And no joke when I say that the dough (it’s called werga) basically crumbles upon one bite.
Couscous: Although couscous is by no means unique to Morocco (it’s served throughout North Africa as it is a traditional dish of the Berber people), it’s a staple in any Moroccan home. It’s semolina (a type of wheat), is cooked by steaming and is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it (this is where the tagine comes in, see below in the next food paragraph). I have been eating couscous since I was a child and even though there are many people I’ve encountered who have neither heard of it nor are open to trying it, I’m going to say this-don’t be a fool. It’s a grain just like white rice and honestly, it tastes better. If I had to go a week subsisting on just one food, couscous might just be it.
Tagine: Tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, made with meat, poultry, fish or just vegetables. I sadly didn’t have a tagine when I was in Morocco as I only discovered this dish (and the pot that they are cooked in which shares the same name) until a couple of years ago. You can bet it’s the first thing I’d try upon my return to the country that made it onto the Hollywood cultural map thanks to a “small” 1942 film. Spices are a common ingredient in tagines including ginger, cumin, cinnamon and saffron. A unique thing about the tagine pot is its shape-because the dome or cone-shaped lid traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot, only a small amount of water is needed to cook the meats and vegetables. This style of cooking is highly beneficial in areas where water is limited.
Batinjaan Zalud (eggplant salad): Why not spice things up by serving a cold salad that does not feature salad greens? Eggplant is a common staple in North African cooking and this particular food shares many similarities to the well known Middle Eastern dish, baba ganoush; both are essentially a mashed eggplant salad. It’s always topped with a tomato slice and olive and is perfect to serve with pita chips as an appetizer.
Mint tea and pastries: When I visited Morocco, part of our tour included an elaborate seven course lunch at a Moroccan restaurant. Although I’m sure no locals dined there as it was a tourist spot complete with belly dancers, I loved it. I was eating Moroccan food IN Morocco. The entire meal was delicious but my favorite might just have been the final course, mint tea and honey pastries. Sometimes all you need is tea to hit the spot and pastries that have been made with phyllo dough and dipped/baked in honey, well, that’s just sublime.