African, Atlantic, Andulasian, Mediterranean, Berber, Jewish—nowhere is Morocco’s position as the crossroads of cultures more apparent than in its cuisine. Aside from the delicacies you will encounter in restaurants and cafes, you should not shy from another staple of the Moroccan dining: street food. Many a Western visitor might be tempted to avoid carts and stalls in the interest of health, but street food is not just for the very adventurous. A few basic guidelines will help safeguard your stomach and set your mind at ease, and the variety of local specialties you will experience will be worth it.
One good rule of thumb is to eat where the locals eat. If there is a crowd of native Moroccans lined up at a stall, this is a vote of confidence that the food is both sanitary and fresh. Your safest (and tastiest) bet is to eat food that is either cooked in front of you or has been sitting out for less than a few (2-3) hours. The exception to this is bakery items, which have a longer shelf life as long as there is no meat or dairy (i.e. stuffed with minced lamb or cheese). Be more wary of things that are mixed or washed with water (such as some drinks)—these can carry an increased risk, but many travellers report no ill effects from a morning glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, such as in common in the Djemma el Fna square in Marrakech. Water that has been boiled (such as for tea) and anything cooked is a risk not much different from any other Western country.
Snack carts are plentiful in most towns and cities, especially before and after regular restaurant hours. A quick pommes frites will be familiar and satisfying if you want a little something in between museum jaunts. Freshly roasted peanuts, chickpeas or seasonal chestnuts make a cozy late-night treat. More of a sweet tooth? French influence can be seen in the varieties of pastries available—perfect for your morning coffee and a stroll through the souk. Strings of sfenj donuts are excellent for train or bus rides, and they can come either sweet or savory. If you are looking for something more substantial, try the potato cakes, eaten as an egg-and-potato sandwich stuffed into flatbread. Kebabs, a familiar street food all over Europe and America already, take on all the distinctiveness of Moroccan spices and sauces. Try the roasted lamb, wrapped in paper, served with cumin and salt, or, for the bold, perhaps sheep’s testicles served the same. Another popular snack on cool evenings is barbosa—some swear that the spicy rich broth the snails are served in is a cure-all for a host of ills.
Many more traditional dishes can be eaten from a local stall instead of a restaurant, which can be especially handy if time or dirham is scarce. Try a hearty b’sarra, (white bean soup with olive oil and garlic), Moroccan hummus (unmashed chickpeas cooked with spices), addis (lentils cooked with lemon and spices and oil) or harira (soup with meat or chicken, chickpeas or lentils). Sharing a meal, even a quick a tagine and couscous, while sitting on a street-side bench, conversing with students or watching workers on a lunch break, is perhaps the best way to add a truly memorable flavor to your Moroccan experience.
Written by Erin Tolman.
Photo by Steve & Jemma Copley.