Café Mozaic Moroccan Food History
Geographical & Historical Influences
Due to its geographical position & close historical links with other countries, Morocco’s cuisine is a melting pot of many cultures & traditions. Its culinary culture is a unique blend of influences from the indigenous people, traders & conquering nations who brought with them new ingredients, customs & cooking methods. The nomadic tribes called Berbers were the first known inhabitants of Morocco over two thousand years ago & their style of cooking can still be seen today in Moroccan coking. They were keen to create dishes whose ingredients complimented & enhanced the flavour of each other & so mixed local ingredients such as olives, figs, & dates with lamb or poultry & spices in one pot to create stews with distinctive flavours.
Their traditions were over time influenced by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, & Romans, & particularly the Arabs who came to Morocco in the 7th century AD after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. The Arabs brought new breads & other foods made from grains, introduced spices including cinnamon, ginger, paprika, saffron, cumin, & turmeric. To this day these spices are still used extensively in Moroccan food. Over time, these imported spices have been mixed with native many ingredients, like saffron from Tiliouine, mint & olives from Meknes, oranges & lemons from Fez & figs, dates, almonds & argan from the South to produce the unique flavours seen in Moroccan cooking.
The Arabs also introduced sweet-and-sour cooking, which they had learned from the Persians & were joined by the Moors from Andalusia in southern Spain between 1462 & 1615 who in turn have influenced Moroccan cooking. The most famous example is the pastilla, or bisteeya, a popular pigeon or chicken pie served at weddings & other parties, which is originally a Moorish dish.
More recently the French & Spanish who colonized the country in the 19th & 20th centuries brought more continental ingredients & traditions which can still be seen by the number of patisseries & boulangeries in the country.
Situated in the North west corner of Africa, Morocco has a unique position of having the Mediterranean sea run along its North coast & the Atlantic Sea on the West coast. This has not only allowed a constant interaction & commerce with other sea farers & cultures over the centuries but also put fish & seafood as an integral part of Moroccan cuisine in these regions. The mixing of these influences has been refined over centuries & has resulted in what we enjoy as Moroccan cooking today.
Inland, the soil is surprisingly very fertile allowing cereals, a large range of Mediterranean fruits & vegetables & even some tropical ones to grow in abundance & also providing an ideal environment to raise sheep, chicken, camel, rabbit, & goat, which serve as a base for the cuisine. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry. This is also due to the fact that Moroccan lamb has a more favourable, less over-powering taste than other types. As the North African sheep breeds store most of their fat in their tails, it means that their meat does not have the pungent flavour that Western lamb & mutton have.
Morocco, unlike most other African countries, & despite its proximity to the Sahara desert in the South, produces all the food it needs to feed its people. However, today Morocco faces a problem with desertification which is the process where fertile land becomes barren & desert-like caused by a severe drought seen in the 1990s.
A Moroccan Meal
A typical Moroccan meal begins with an array of hot & cold salads, including both raw & cooked ingredients. Cold salads include zaalouk, an aubergine & tomatomixture, & taktouka (a mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, garlic & spices).
These are followed by a traditional tagine. This typical dish takes its name from the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top in which it is cooked & served. It is essentially a slowly cooked lamb or poultry stew marrying meat with spices & a number of other ingredients such as almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes, & other vegetables depending on regional & seasonal variations. The tajine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its distinctive flavouring, which comes from the blend of spices including saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, & ground red pepper.
It is traditionally eaten with flat, round Moroccan Bread khobz which is used as autensil as Moroccans usually eat with their hands.
One of the few dishes that is not eaten with the bread is the most famous dish from the region, couscous, which is usually eaten in Moroccan households on a Friday after prayers at the mosque. Although its origin is unknown, the word couscous is of Berber origin, from their word seksu. Couscous is a fine grain product made from semolina & is steamed several times to make it light & fluffy. It is served in many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood & with harissa on the side as a spicy accompaniment.
Usually, seasonal fruits rather than cooked desserts are served at the close of a meal. However, sweets play a very important role in the Moroccan diet. Every household has a supply of homemade sweet desserts made from almonds, honey, & other ingredients. The most common ones are kaab el ghzal ("gazelle's horns"), a pastry stuffed with almond paste & topped with sugar, & "Halwa shebakia", pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried, dipped into a hot pot of honey & sprinkled with sesame seeds which are eaten during the month of Ramadan.
“Le Whiskey Marocain” (Mint Tea!)
Mint tea is an integral part of Moroccan cuisine & culture as it is served at the end of every meal in Morocco. It is made up of green tea, lots of sprigs of fresh mint & sweetened with a large quantity of sugar while it is still in the pot. Traditionally, making good mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form & the drinking of it with friends & family is one of the important rituals of the day. The pouring technique is as crucial as the quality of the tea itself. For the best taste, glasses are filled in two stages from a height to create bubbles in the tea.