Few people outside of cities have clocks in Morocco, instead scheduling their days around the five calls to prayer and the five daily meals. Yes, there are five. Breakfast comes early in the morning, followed by a second breakfast at mid-morning. Lunch is served at midday, and in the late afternoon there is a break for tea and bread. Finally, dinner is served in the late evening.
These rhythms are predictable and universally held across the country. What you can expect to find on a Moroccan table at any one of these meals is also not too hard to guess. Morocco has a long and proud culinary tradition, and families rarely stray far from the basics. Luckily, the basics are universally delicious.
Bread – If a Moroccan home is without bread, something is deeply wrong. Bread is the one true staple of Moroccan diets, and girls learn how to bake their family’s bread at an early age. While breads vary from family to family, most are circular flatbreads and are baked using whatever grains are grown locally. Breakfast usually includes bread with butter or jam, and bread is also integral to other meals and snacks throughout the day.
Tea – The other mainstay of the Moroccan diet, tea is the national drink and revered as such. This isn’t any tea you’ve likely had before, though; Moroccan tea is brewed in a very certain way. Starting with gunpowder style green tea, masses of sugar and fresh sprigs of mint are added to the steeping brew, creating a syrupy-sweet concoction that is never far from any table. It is served with breakfasts and tea breaks, and as dessert after lunches and dinners. While visitors often struggle with the sugar content, Moroccans will be impressed if you take the tea as they do. It’s something to try at least once—if you have a real sweet tooth, you’ll feel right at home.
Tagine – The name of this dish actually comes from the conical clay pot in which it is cooked and served. Tagine is a thick stew of vegetables, whatever may be on hand or in season, with a bit of meat added in the middle. The dish is served hot, and presented in a single dish to the table of diners. Moroccan meals are a communal affair, and the tagine is shared from the single pot, with each diner keeping to their own ‘triangle’ of the dish. Rather than use spoons or forks, tagine is eaten with bread. Tearing a small piece off a larger slice, the idea is to use the bread to soak up some of the broth while also scooping up some of the vegetables and meat. Tagine is usually eaten for both dinner and lunch and is the standard meal within the Moroccan diet.
Couscous – When people think of Moroccan foods, they often think of couscous. Moroccans are proud of their de-facto national dish, and are very particular about its preparation. Rather than boiling the dried couscous in a covered pot as is often done in North America, the couscous is placed into a steamer above a pot of boiling vegetables. The couscous is steamed this way for an hour or more, periodically fluffed by hand. When the couscous is ready, it is served in a single large plate, the vegetables poured over the top. As with tagine, couscous is eaten by hand—a difficult skill for visitors to develop. Because of the labor-intensive nature of its preparation, couscous is seen more as a special occasion dish than a daily staple. Many families have couscous each Friday (the holy day), as well as in honor of guests or special events.
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by David Darricau.