Welcome back to the Global Eats series! This is a series I’ve been doing to help myself (and hopefully others) learn more about the value of food from other countries.
This is a…
- cultural appreciation,
- history lesson
- and culinary education all rolled into one.
My last 4 posts were all about the Philippines. I shared my inspiration for the series in my first post Global Eats: The Philippines (Part 1, Intro).
Long story short, I read a post by another blogger and it inspired me to seek out the unique history, ingredients and flavors that are common in other cultures.
And let’s face it. It’s been a great way to distract from the winter blahs.
My intent in this series is to answer 3 basic questions:
- How do people in other cultures save money on food?
- What ingredients are staples in other countries?
- What new flavors will I learn about?
Question #2 will be answered in this post. The others I hope to answer by the end of this series on Morocco.
I am very excited to begin learning as much as I can about the foods that are popular and loved in different countries around the globe.
Disclaimer: I am not Moroccan but I will try my best to share what I have learned. To anyone who is Moroccan or is more knowledgeable on the topic, please feel free to share info or correct me if I am in error at any point in my posts.
History of Food & Melding of Cultures
Question: what is the history that shaped present day food dishes in Morocco?
Morocco is located in Northern Africa and borders the nations of Western Sahara and Algeria. Spain and Portugal lie quite close to it’s northern shores.
It has the Atlantic ocean on it’s western coast and a small part of the Mediterranean Sea on it’s northeastern side.
The food history of the country is a complex blend of the Berber people with Arabic, Moorish and French influences.
As far as we know, the Berber people were the first to make their home in present-day Morocco. However, most peoples in the country today are a mix of Berber and Arabic ethnicities. The origin of the Berber people is difficult to trace. But we do know they ate things like olives, figs, dates, couscous and chickpeas (or garbanzo beans). All of these things are still staples today.
The Arabs arrived next and their prominence lasted a little over 1,000 years, from about the 600’s A.D. to the 1700s. Morocco is still largely Berber/Arabic but influence-wise there was a break in political power.
From the Arabs, foods like spices from India and Asia were introduced (cinnamon, ginger, cumin, etc.). Also nuts and dried fruits along with a sweet and sour flavor common in Persian cooking.
The Moores came from Spain around 700 A.D. and were largely responsible for upping the consumption of olives, plus introducing olive oil and citrus trees and fruit.
This part was new to me. In the early 1900s, the country of Morocco declared bankruptcy. This led to The Treaty of Fes, under which Morocco became a French colony until it’s independence in 1956. Oddly there wasn’t a lot of French culinary influence aside from the dessert and the whole café experience. Who doesn’t love French pastries? 😋😋
That covers the food history. So if you were to walk through Morocco today, what are some foods and ingredients that would stand out?
Common & Unique Ingredients
In my reading, there were 4 foods (plus a beverage) that I thought were rather unique. They were:
- Argan oil
- preserved lemons
- and Ras El Hanout.
- (Plus the very popular mint tea.)
What are these things and how are they eaten in Morocco?
Argan oil is made from the kernels of the argan tree. Argan trees are common in Morocco. So common that people will use the oil as a dip for bread.
I find this interesting because I use Argan oil as a facial moisturizer and it is neither easy to find nor cheap to buy in my particular area of the U.S.
Another common ingredient in Moroccan cooking is preserved lemons. I first heard of this from a canning and preserving book last summer. Now I know what it can be used in and where in the globe it is a common ingredient.
Preserved lemons are in various recipes but I think especially so in tagine, which is a special slow cooked stew.
Harissa and Ras El Hanout are two ingredients that add a bit of a spicy kick. Although they are popular in Morocco, they are also used overall in North African cusine.
Harissa is a thick, spicy sauce made from fresh and dried hot chili peppers and spices like caraway and cumin, among other ingredients.
Ras El Hanout translated means “top of shop”. It is a blend of as few as 10 and as many as 100 spices. I found a few recipes online but none that had more than 22 ingredients. I wouldn’t have thought to combine spices like cinnamon and allspice with coriander and turmeric but that is exactly what this recipe does.
Tying it All Together
How to explain Moroccan food? From reading and research only I can see that this food as a whole is rich and complex.
I see sweet mixed with savory and lots of seasonings. Spices like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg are combined with hot spices like cayenne and spices used in Indian cooking like turmeric and cumin. I think that this will make for some interesting flavors.
Besides spices, other common ingredients that I observed were things like chicken, almonds, carrots, chickpeas, raisins, lentils and onions.
Plans for the Moroccan Series
So what’s next? Next I am planning on writing 4 posts based on recipes for authentic Moroccan dishes. As of now, one will be a condiment, then a main dish, a side dish and finally a dessert with a beverage.
I am excited to begin this series and I look forward to the new recipes and flavors I will encounter.
The condiment dish I am planning on having up on the blog later this week. See you then!
Photo credit: All photos from pixabay and Unsplash.
The Multicultural Cookbook for Students, by Carole Lisa Albyn and Lois Sinaiko Webb
The Art of Moroccan Cuisine: A Culture of Eating, Drinking, and Being Hospitable
Food in Every Country/Kazakhstan to South Africa/Morocco
Africa-Morocco country profile
The Magic of Moroccan Cuisine