The Ultimate Moroccan Food Guide
Morocco is a foodie mecca. Thanks to their old-fashioned farming techniques and deep-rooted connection to their ancestral culture, Moroccan food is full of rich authentic flavours and is made with good quality produce and meat. You generally don’t have to worry about pesticides or GMOs here, although like anywhere it’s creeping in so see below for some tips to ensure you’re buying local.
This guide explores some tips and tricks to get the best out of the Moroccan food scene! Bon appétit!
Seasonal Foods In Morocco
Most of the food in Morocco is local, grown old-school by farmers which is awesome. The down side: you better make sure you visit Morocco at the right time if you want to indulge in certain dishes/ produce.
Spring: Apricots, cherries, peaches, strawberries
Summer: Watermelon, wild artichokes, tomatoes, figs, peaches, prickly pear (cactus fruit)
Autumn: Figs, pomegranates, grapes
Winter: Oranges, mandarins, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and root vegetables in general
Year round you’ll find staples like dates, nuts, meat (especially lamb, mutton, and goat), olives, and citrus.
Most Moroccan ingredients are cultivated in small quantities the old-fashioned way, without GMOs, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or even machines. Old-school farming is alive and well in Morocco which means your food has likely been hand sewed, hand picked, and not fucked with by modern innovations. Food here is picked when it’s ripe, meaning it’s full of flavour and nutrition. One way to know the food is likely local, is to look with produce without stickers. The old-school farmers don’t have access to these types of thing so when you see fruit with stickers at the farmer’s market, avoid. Same goes for large super markets, they more often will import produce— so stick to the farmer’s markets. The food is also generally prepared using ancestral methods. In Morocco this means a lot of slow-cooked dishes (like Mechoui lamb, tagine, and tanjia). The couscous is hand-rolled and cooked ceremoniously in broth with slow cooked vegetables or meat. Things aren’t rushed, they are made from scratch with fresh ingredients.
You don’t have to worry about shady cookware here, most food is still slow-cooked in clay pots/ vessels.
Take a car ride through the Atlas mountains and you’ll see why most of the meat in Morocco is free-range (/ wild) and antibiotic free: goats, muttons, and lambs roam freely in abundance. There’s no factory farming here, so your ruminants will be raised in open air on a diet of grass and wild-herbs.
If you want meat, you’ll be good to go anywhere in Morocco but it’ especially good and fresh in Marrakech near the Atlas mountains. If you’re looking for fresh seafood, head towards the coast to Essaouira.
Key Moroccan meat dishes to try include:
Mechoui Roasted Lamb: food highlight of the trip for me. This slow cooked whole-lamb come out of an underground oven and are chopped up in front of you, weighed, and served with cumin salt. Mechoui Alley is the go-to for this in Marrakech, they also serve up mutton head (cheeks, eyes, tongue, and ears), and tajine. For Mechoui Alley, the Mechoui lamb and mutton head is served from noon until sold out (around 2pm), and you can get the tajine until it closes around 6pm.
Tanjia: slow-cooked meat for 8-12 hours in pottery vessels in the hammam heat. These are to-die for. (check out Mechoui Alley for an epic lamb tanjia)
Tagine: slow-cooked simmered stews (meat based or veggie) over an open-flame (Café des Épices in Marrakech for a great Tagine)
Kofta: ground meat mixed with spices and grilled up BBQ style
Msemen: thin dough cooked on a griddle, and then stuffed with spices, meat, and veggies
R’fissa: stew made from lentils, chicken, fenugreek seeds, and mixed spices, and served on top of a bed of shredded crepes
Merguez sausage: fatty lamb, garlic, and paprika stuffed sausages, grilled. (Check out stall 31 in Jmaa-al-Fnaa square for killer Merguez)
Snails: since Morocco was a French colony for 44 years, snails are still very much a part of Moroccan culture. Unlike the French (who drown theirs in butter), Moroccan snails are simmered in broth with over 13 spices. (Check out stall number 3 in Jmaa-al-Fnaa square)
B’stilla (or Pastilla): layers of paper-thin pastry, stuffed with pigeon meat (or chicken or fish), almonds, eggs, and lots of fresh spices.
Bone marrow: with all the meat going around, you’ll often find roasted bone marrow on the menu….Yes! (Check out Nomad in Marrakech for a killer marrow)
Mechoui lamb from Mechoui Alley, in Marrakech.
Unlike many places in the world that mass-produce, Moroccan produce is usually harvested by hand when it is actually ripe. This is imperative when it comes to food with a full nutritional profile! When harvested too soon, fruits and vegetables lack nutrient density and flavour! Take one bite into a fresh Moroccan fig from the farmer’s market and you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about.
Harvested on time, the produce is bought directly from farmers to the farmer's markets and souks. Keep an eye out to see which stalls are being visited by locals (especially the Moroccan grandmothers!) to get the best quality stuff. Although I myself shared a fig (or three) with the vendor right there at the stall, I suggest rinsing the produce well. Our microbiomes can only take so much newness, so although it’s great to be exposing yourself to new bacteria, you don’t want to overdo it and make yourself sick.
Haggling the price for produce in Morocco
It’s a part of Moroccan culture to haggle in the souks— but my advice here when it comes to produce is actually to just pay full price. The price of fruit and vegetables in the Moroccan farmer’s markets are so so cheap compared to international standards. A kilo of fresh figs will range from 30-35 dirhams, which is about 3 Euros per kilo. Although you probably could get them to drop the price, what’s the point? Support these small local farmers. I actually would let them keep the change, because damn! I am so grateful for this abundance of delicious food and you can tell that they need it. If you want to play the haggle game (and you should!) go for it in the leather/ good souks that sell shoes, bags, purses, lamps, rugs, and even spices. These much higher ticket items are marked up significantly and there’s more room to play. My tip: pay the price these humble farmer’s set for their produce with joy + gratitude in your heart.
Morocco and spices are synonymous. If you’ve spent 24 hours in the Marrakech souks, you’ve surely been offered to buy spices give or take 1 billion times. Common Moroccan spices include cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, paprika, coriander, saffron, mace, cloves, fennel, anise, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, fenugreek, caraway, black pepper and sesame seeds. The spice scene is real, and you’ll find these key players infused in many Moroccan dishes. (Side note: omg, cumin salt will change your life). Don’t forget the herbs! Herbatoserie are full of dried herbs, while the farmer’s markets have you covered on the fresh herbs (like wild mint, that will run you 10 dirham a huge bunch).
The sauce game in Morocco is also strong. Don’t miss out on the harissa (hot chilli paste), chermoula (fresh herbs, garlic, lemon and warming spices), and a green minty cilantro sauce.
Haggling the price for Spices in Morocco
Unlike produce, the spice scene is highly overpriced and definitely requires some haggling if you want to avoid dropping serious bank on real spices. First of all you want to make sure you’re getting the freshest spices possible— I have two tips for you here. First, go to the Marché des Épices, where the bulk of the spice vendors are. Here you’re getting the highest turnover. To find this square you can put “Café des Épices” into your phone GPS and it will take you to the spice square. Next, opt for whole herbs and spices, which they will then grind freshly for you. The piles of already ground spices are probably better than the store bought stuff in your home country, but nowhere near as fragrant as the freshly ground stuff. Make sure you also ask for the country the raw material comes from. You want to be buying Moroccan spices! I had a mad chat with a spice vendor who explained many spice shops also sell goods from India, etc. So get whole material from Morocco, ground freshly for you. You will smell the freshly ground spices through your suitcase, they genuinely are fragrant like nothing you can imagine! Needless to say: do not get pre-packaged spices. At worst you can get pre-ground spices (they’re much cheaper) but if you’re going to take home spices, just go fresh ground. Trust.
Haggling will depend on your comfort level, but you should 10000% not pay full price. Understand that this is a part of the culture here, and the fresh ground spices are not cheap. So unlike the fruit and vegetables, you will probably need to actually haggle if you want to take anything home. Personally I was blown away at how much he was asking me. About 750 dirhams for this lot (see picture), which I ended up paying 200 dirhams for. Now I’ll be honest, I think I paid to little. He was pissed off but it’s all I had on me, and they don’t like letting go of a client to go take out money in case they don’t come back. The general “goal” people suggest only is to expect to pay around 50% of what they ask originally, but to get to that point you have to stand firm and be playful. It’s actually quite daunting for someone like me, but in the end it was all good fun. I bought lots of cinnamon (make sure you get the whole Moroccan bark! The quills are foreign cinnamon), cumin, harissa (a spice mix), and curcuma (turmeric).
Mint tea all the way, it’s the ultimate way to cool down in the hot Moroccan heat. Make sure you ask for no sugar if you want it unsweetened because it generally comes full of sugar. Speaking of sugar, aseer limoon is your go-to across Morocco: freshly pressed orange juice. Oranges are the most abundant fruit in the country and the fresh pressed OJ (albeit a sugar-bomb) is killer (both in a good way for your taste buds, and in the bad way for your blood glucose levels). And let’s not forget good old fashioned h2o! As always (world wide) avoid chemical-ridden tap water. Unfortunately that probably means bottled water (plastic, no bueno, but health wise your better off than drinking from the tap). Being in a Muslim country, alcohol isn’t all the rage— it is available, but I suggest giving your liver a break and enjoying your trip alcohol-free! A 1.5 litre bottle of spring water will cost you 6 dirhams (about 50 cents) in any of the small shops. Your Riad will likely charge you 2-3x that per bottle, so stock up outside!
If you’re feeling peckish, you can go the healthy route and reach for plenty of fresh or dried fruits, or nuts. Morocco has over 20 varieties of dates! A common fruit snack is sliced orange sprinkled with cinnamon (which reduces the glycemic index— bonus!). There are stalls all over the Medina that sell them by weight. If you’re into pastries go for local specialties like briouats (pastry rolls stuffed with goat’s cheese or eggs and herbs), or pastilla (a sweet/savoury pie with chicken, caramelized onions, lemon, toasted caramelized almonds). Khobz is the local bread, available at almost every corner for about 1 dirham (10 cents), usually eaten with olive oil and zaatar, or jam and butter. If you’re in the mood for soup, you can’t go wrong with bissara (fava-bean and garlic soup with cumin, olive oil, and paprika). There’s freshly roasted corn (in season). And finally, meat lovers can reach for brochettes (meat skewers) in virtually any animal (lamb, beef, chicken, goat), or a freshly grilled merguez (spicy lamb sausage).
Local Specialties by Region
Marrakech Tanjia (crock-pot stew of seasoned lamb cooked for eight to 12 hours in the fire of a hammam) and bissara (fava bean stew with cumin, paprika, olive oil and salt)
High Atlas Mountains Mechoui (slow-roasted stuffed lamb or beef)
Essaouira Hut mqalli (fish tajine with saffron, ginger and preserved lemons); dujaj kadra toumiya (chicken with almonds, onions and chickpeas in buttery saffron sauce)
Tangier Tapas and paella (so close to Spain, you’ll feel it in the food!)
Fez Kennaria (stew with wild thistle or artichoke, with or without meat); hut bu’etob (baked shad filled with almond-stuffed dates)
Casablanca Seksu bedawi (couscous with seven vegetables)
Chefchaouen Dujaj bil berquq (chicken with prunes)
Demnate Seksu Demnati (couscous made with corn or barley instead of semolina)
Meknes Kamama (lamb stewed with ginger, fermented butter, saffron, cinnamon and sweet onions)
Southern Coast Amlou (argan-nut butter paste with honey and argan oil)
(This list was by the Lonely Planet guide— I personally haven’t made it across all of Morocco… yet!)
Tips for Avoiding Food Poisoning in Morocco
Wash your hands before eating, apparently many instances of food poisoning is caused by bacteria on your hands before touching the food. Avoid hand sanitizer (antibacterial soaps and gels are poison), and opt to travel with a mini bottle of Dr. Bronner’s! The best soap ever.
There’s still heaps of delicious food stalls and also dodgy food stalls around Morocco. One of the easiest ways to reduce your odds is to avoid stalls that are too quiet. If you haven’t pre-planned your meal to a place you know is reliable and are just winging it, opt for somewhere that is busy and full of locals. Lots of people also means high turnover which means fresh food.
Related to point no. 2: just plan ahead! There are incredible feeds in Morocco, so make yourself a list of well-trusted spots and avoid landing on a dodgy spot.
There are exceptions, but as general rule try to avoid the street food in highly touristic areas, like in/ around Jemaa el-Fna square. There are a few exceptions, and you’ll be able to find out which spots are legit on sites like TripAdvisor. But don’t just rock up to a random stall in the square (quality low, price high).
Be mindful of cooking oils. In general, best to avoid deep fried foods, even when they are local specialties. Oils are sensitive to heat, so even if the oil is fresh you’re asking for a highly inflammatory, toxic experience (at best!). If the oil isn’t fresh it’s toxic on a whole other level, because the oil becomes dark, smoky, and honestly just please don’t. Opt for grilled or slow-cooked (either in an oven or as a stew). Morocco is well-known for both so avoid the deep fried foods and do yourself a favour.
Take A Cooking Class
Morocco is one of the best places (in my humble opinion) to indulge in a local cooking class. The food is so special here, and learning to use the spices and flavours properly is a skill you will take with you for the rest of your life. Many of these half-day classes will teach you many different dishes, and you’ll feast on your food after! Certain tours also include a trip to the farmer’s market, and then the class itself takes place in a gorgeous Riad. Other cooking tours will take you to a traditional Berber village, where you learn to cook with the locals.