Beyond Tagines: The best traditional Moroccan dishes to try!
Apprx. Reading Time: 6 minutes
The problem about originating from Asia is that you miss the spices. If you’re a foodie, you will try the dishes wherever you land, love them too, but after a while your head starts conjuring images of fiery curries and grills and you know you have to head off to the nearest Asian restaurant for some soul food!
I didn’t have my head doing that to me in Marrakech.
The food did not have any strong Asian influences, nor was it spicy but it was truly traditional and yum.
There’s abundant street food and Jemaa El Fnaa buzzes with life in the evening. Vendors try to lure you to their stalls full of kebabs and confectionary.
If you love everything Moroccan, you know you can’t miss out on the super sweet mint tea, a fresh glass of grapefruit juice or tagines available at every corner.
But if you’re looking for more inspiration to tickle your taste buds, here is a list of unique and traditional food items that will make you go ‘Hmmmm’!
No, I did not spell Tagine wrong.
Tangia may be served like a tagine but the process of cooking is totally different. Like the way you would cook a tagine in a tagine, a tangia is also cooked in a tangia!
A tagine traps the steam and drains it back to the dish with the help of the conical lid whereas a tangia retains the gravy at the bottom.
Almost like a casserole but with more earthy and fruity flavours.
The tangia is a narrow clay vessel and once the ingredients are placed inside, the top is sealed off with parchment and string and placed in an oven overnight. Slow baking makes the flavours blend and the meat is so soft it almost melts.
If you can’t get enough of tagines but want to try something a little different, here’s what you were looking for!
Camel meat burger
You wouldn’t know the difference if someone served you camel meat stating it was beef. While the quality depends on the cut, I personally found it to be a lot drier than beef.
Many Moroccans respect and adore the camel because of its many uses, and while the meat is not banned, it is not freely available either.
In some of the villages you may find a camel curry or gravy but in Marrakech, I got myself a burger.
Cafe Clock is run by a British expat and the burgers are done right with chips and salad.
Although I love trying new dishes when I travel, I probably won’t eat a camel burger again.
When you’re in a country where dates grow in excess, you have to think of novel ways to ensure you’re not tired of it too soon.
Date milkshake is one such invention and it’s brilliant.
Served at Cafe Clock (the same place that serves camel burgers), the flavour of the dates is not too overpowering and neither is the milkshake too sweet.
Great if you’ve had a tiring day in the sun and are looking for something to cool you down and beer is not to be found!
Or Bastilla as many call it, depending on what they hear!
A pastilla is a precursor to the main dish (be it the tangia or the tagine) and is served only on special occasions. Traditionally a fledgling pigeon is used, but since they are hard to find, chicken is mostly used as a replacement.
Its made with crisp filo pastry and resembles a pie, since the steps involved are almost the same but tastes drastically different because of savoury spices subtly contrasted to sweeter flavours.
Quite rich, topped with flaked almonds, powdered sugar and cinnamon, it is a dish by itself.
You could skip the spices and opt for a sweet version made with fruits too.
It is time-consuming to prepare and hence can be difficult to find, but is truly worth the effort!
Is a soup made from lentils and chickpeas, served specially during Ramadan in the evenings after sunset, while breaking fast. It is a starter that doubles up as a light meal too.
Delicious and light, it is tangy and can be made into a vegetarian version too.
A lovely alternative if you’re looking to skip meat or you’ve had too much tagine (although I’m not sure if that’s possible!)
Not for the faint of heart!
In many countries if an animal is slaughtered, natives ensure nothing goes to waste. I guess the same applies here too.
Its just lamb although it’s usually the presentation that put’s people off.
The head is first charred thoroughly over coal to remove fur and then cleaned well. It is then boiled for a long time with salt, pepper and onions.
If you go ahead and eat it without being nervous, you will taste different textures of meat. Found anywhere in Jemaa El Fnaa, food vendors will carve the meat for you and serve it with some seasoning and salt.
To be honest it tasted like boiled meat and made me queasy. I awarded myself some points for bravery but will not be trying that out again.
Found in abundance in the souk or Jemaa el Fnaa in the evening, snails in Morocco are street food not prepared by chefs.
You may be wary about cleanliness but almost everyone who wants to taste this bizarre item usually has it in the square.
When I asked where the snails came from, one of the vendors mentioned that they were handpicked. While that put me off, they did smell good as these snails are stewed with spices and then ladled out in a bowl when ready to eat. Toothpicks are provided to pull the flesh out.
The stew is said to have medicinal properties, good for the flu, so many skip the snails and slurp the soup.
Springy and rubbery, I skipped these, as snails without garlic butter (like they do in France) just makes it very obvious you’re eating snails!
Dried and peeled fava beans are the chief ingredient used to make Bissara, which is a thick soup made especially during winter as it is so hearty.
Flavoured with garlic, pepper and cumin and then topped with a dash of olive oil and paprika, this is another vegetarian option that you can convert into a meal if eaten with some local bread.
Many use the same recipe and avoid adding water to convert it into a tasty dip too.
A traditional spicy mushy Moroccan salad where the main ingredient is an Eggplant. While I cannot point out the exact difference, it is similar to Baba Ghanoush.
Eggplant is boiled or grilled and then mashed into stir fired tomatoes with cumin, garlic and paprika.
An autumn favourite, this food item is also served with some local bread.
While you are trying the above items do not skip tagines, tangerines, kebabs, olives or authentic couscous.
For the lovers of spice opt for a chicken tagine with preserved lemons for an earthy flavour. A Lamb tagine with pears for someone who prefers something sweet and a harira if it’s bland you’re after.
Food rich in spices and flavour needn’t necessarily cause havoc on your tummy.
You may want to be brave and try out some peculiar items that are best left to the locals (not that the ones selling them are bad, your tummy is probably not accustomed for the same) but only do so once you know where it’s safe to get it from.
It may be quite an experience to eat at the Jemaa El Fnaa square but only eat at stalls frequented by the locals. Even if you skip eating, you’re not missing out on anything as the dishes in the restaurants are quite authentic.
It’s great to get some mint tea and enjoy the locals performing from one of the restaurants in the square. But do not expect authentic flavours at most places in the square.
Be wary of fish in Marrakech as produce may not be fresh, but it should be all right in Essaouira.
Eating in Morocco can be quite a culinary adventure, ensure you embark on one!
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Traditional Food in Morocco and Marrakech
- I had some of the dishes I’ve listed above in the villages near the Sahara, when I was touring the country
- However, the restaurants in Marrakech are top-notch and serve good fare, you need to select carefully if you’re looking for a good experience
- Expensive doesn’t always mean tasty, but Comptoir Darna awas an exception
- I’ve written about some of the best restaurants in Marrakech, both budget and top end and what to get there here
- Street food can be found in the evenings (with some stalls present in the morning) at Jemaa EL Fnaa
- Always ensure you carry your medication with you when traveling if you feel you might upset your tummy :)
I have an exhaustive list of resources for Marrakech and for getting around Morocco here!
Do you like trying local food? Which is the best fare you’ve had?
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