Let’s Chat About Moroccan Food

I love good food, and I love Morocco. So one might think that I’d be in seventh heaven. After all, doesn’t Moroccan food sound exotic? You can just imagine the flavors from strange spices and seasonings, right?  Well, I’m going to have to burst that bubble.

Basically, Moroccan food sucks.

Sure, a nice tajine or couscous sounds delightful. As does my favorite dish, b’stella. I love quickly breaking the powdered sugar-coated flaky crust with my fingers and watching the steam rise from the delicious mixture of ground meat, cinnamon and egg. It’s hard to avoid burning your tongue and fingertips because you can’t wait for it to cool down before digging in.

The local cuisine is incredibly fresh. Frozen items are not very popular, and the majority of consumed canned items are generally limited to sardines and tuna.  Except in large towns, the grocery stores don’t sell fruits and vegetables, or meat. Those you get from local vendors.

When I go to buy our chameau, I look for the displayed dismembered camel leg. A small leg means the meat came from a calf so it’s better for chops.  A larger leg indicates it’s an older camel, so it’s best for kafta.  I then indicate which one I want, the butcher slices it off the section hanging from a metal hook, and voila, we’re on our way. If it’s kafta, he grinds it for me while I stand there.

Chicken is so fresh that it’s still running around a small pen when you order it.  Come back a few minutes later, and the plucked chicken is waiting for you in a bag.

Veggies and fruit are bought from vendors in either a kiosk or a compilation of carts.  My favorite vendor is one of the few who doesn’t make me irritated when I hear him calling out Bonjour, mon ami!  He can get away with it because he gives me good stuff and doesn’t try to rob me.

At our favorite breakfast place, they squeeze your juice after you order it.

Fresh food does always taste better, but there’s only so much you can do.  The local cuisine, at least in the areas we’ve been, has been less than exciting.  Okay, frankly, it’s been boring.  How boring?  The other day I was thinking how lovely a batch of Chicken McNuggets would taste.

Yes, it really is that bad.

And bland.

Now, to be fair I love spicy food.  I’m happiest when I have to wipe sweat off my brow and my nose is running (from the spices).  In the States, when I eat Thai food and order it super spicy, they usually stand somewhere they can watch. I think they’re afraid my head will explode. When I eat Mexican, I tell them to cook it for a Mexican not a gringo.  Even then I’m usually adding more salsa to it.

French and Italian food is flavorful enough that I still love it even if it doesn’t make me sweat or surprise me the next morning.

In Essaouira, I sat amused as an African woman got so frustrated with the cook that she stepped behind the counter and seasoned her own food.  I found that to be a little rude, but now I think she’s just been here for a while.  The same flavors day in and day out are just not enough.  At first I was thinking I was just being too much of a food snob, but when Tigger started complaining the food was too bland I knew it was serious.

Definitely come to Morocco. The experience is unlike any other place you’re likely to visit. Just be prepared to either go somewhere touristy for a cuisine break or plan a food heaven location for when you leave.

You’ll thank me later.

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  1. I wish you two had traveled through Morocco with us. We only spent a month, but we all loved the food. Our only complaint was that we were gaining weight eating so much of it. You named all our favorites in the first paragraph – especially b’stella. We loved just about everything, from the fresh bread to the mint tea.

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    • We were there for 3 months, and 2 of those months were on an oasis, so not a lot of chances for variety. 😉 We were enjoying it for the 1st month. After that it started to get really boring. B’stella and the mint tea are my faves.

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    • My wife and I went to Morocco in 2014 and it remains my favorite place for food. We even brought back a tagine and a cook book and the one recipe we’ve made thus far was phenomenal. I think the spices are amazingly flavorful and savory. I guess this blogger thinks it’s “bland” because he has burned off all of his taste buds by food that will practically set off fire alarms. I don’t think of HOT as being flavorful. I want to taste flavors, not just heat. Perhaps that’s why I found Moroccan cuisine so amazing.

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      • I’m a big fan of flavor, even if it doesn’t make me sweat. Tagine was nice the first couple of times, but we lived in Morocco for 3 months, and when that’s the main offering that, and anything else, gets old. Also different areas of the country have different flavors. We found Essaouira and Marrakech to have more flavors than rural southern Morocco where we spent most of our time.

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  2. Ok, I just laughed out loud reading this. Thank you! I’m in Morocco right now, an Essaouira at that, and I totally agreed. I love Morocco and I was super excited to try the food. But recently, I’ve opted more for the non-Moroccan restaurants and cooking at home because I just can’t get into Moroccan cuisine. When I see all those spice pyramids, I’m so confused! So much spice should equal so much flavor.

    I’ve been wondering if I haven’t love the food because I’m only eating it in restaurants and not in people’s home? I had two home cooked meals at a Riad I stayed in and they were incredible. But still, Chicken Nuggets do sound good! (I admit, I’ve made one trip to the McDonalds in Marrakesh myself. In my defense, I was waiting at the train station and that seemed like the best option.) Thanks again for writing this!

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    • I think perhaps eating in homes would be better, although on the oasis I heard a lot about tagines, so I don’t have a lot of confidence. LOL Glad I’m not alone!

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  3. Oh, that b’stella looks amazing! It almost makes me wish I wasn’t a vegetarian…

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    • Zero flames?! Oh my. I wouldn’t know how to eat. Maybe I’d lose weight. Hmmm. Nah.

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  4. I went to Thailand and I cannot stop trying their foods even the same foods especially green curry!

    But Turkish foods, I never try in Turkey but I tried it somewhere In europe. It was tasty but I think once or twice, would be enough for me 🙂

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    • OMG! I LOVE green curry! It’s one of the first things I want to eat when we get to Thailand. I’m thoroughly looking forward to taking cooking classes while we’re there, too.

      I hear that about Turkish food. Kind of like Moroccan. LOL

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  5. your food posts always make me want to go eat something good. i love food talon. i love food.

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    • LOL! Just wait until we’re somewhere with really good food. You’ll need a bib when you visit the blog. 😀

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  6. I experienced the same thing when I went to Vietnam. The first time I was there for 2 weeks, I couldn’t have enough of Vietnamese food. I was in foodie heaven! The second time I went for another two weeks was also the same. On my third 2-week visit, though, I could have killed for simple Philippine food. I think that’s really the way it is. Still, I can’t believe you’d be too bored to hanker for McNuggets! 😀

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    • Two months of roasted chicken and tagines will do that to you. We found frozen turkey burger patties in the store and were actually excited. It’s tragic. LOL

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  7. About a decade ago, I moved to a small city in the middle of Turkey for a 2 year teaching contract. I was one of maybe 4 foreigners in a traditional, conservative city of 800k. The year before I arrived, the first McDonalds had opened. That was it when it came to foreign options. And that was fine, because Turkish food is AWESOME, especially where I was living (they had the red pepper flakes, mint, sumak, fresh squeezed lemon, etc, lots of lamb and fresh veggies).

    But for 2 years? And during those looooooong cold Anatolian winters when the veggie guys have, um, onion and pepper and spud… or spud, onion and peppers? There’s only so much guvec, kofte or manti a girl can take. Any soup beyond lentil would have helped. Even going to the big grocery store in the city centre (a 30 min walk hauling bags down the snowy, icy main drag) only carried 100% Turkish ingredients that refused to combine to make anything that didn’t taste wholly Turkish. Seriously. I experimented.

    Did I mention there was no booze? Or coffee beyond gritty Turkish coffee or Nescafe? At least the tea was strong and awesome. I packed my own stovetop espresso maker and a few coveted bags of coffee. At one point, I was making coffee and cheddar and wine runs to Bulgaria a few times a year (a 10 hour train ride from Istanbul). They also had, to my delight, a Chinese restaurant in Plovdiv– something even big city Istanbul in the early 2000s lacked.

    Then I started taking monthly 12 hour bus rides to Istanbul Friday night, returning at 5am Monday (teaching 10 year olds at 8am…) just because they had a few ethnic restaurants and a newly opened Starbucks (non Nescafe!!!). Oh, and women could actually drink in public!! I had dreams of curries and sushi and Thai food. It got pretty overwhelming!

    I actually still love Turkish food and I get cravings for it here in China, but whoa, I sure got sick of it there, day after day after day. It’s the same with Chinese, though to a much lesser extent as Chinese is so diverse and varied. It’s why I started up the food blog I mentioned to you yesterday (http://www.wokwithmebaby.com/)– sometimes you just want tacos! Sometimes damnit, you need a decent curry! Sometimes you just have to make it yourself.

    Did you ever try to make the wok tortillas?

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    • I can totally understand you getting to the point of that desperation. We were lucky in Utila because it was only a 45-minute ferry ride to the larger city that had more variety of food than we had on the island. It’s so hard when you’re used to variety and then find yourself where there is none. By the time we got to Miraflores in Peru, I had already planned to gringo out on some of the foods. We hit Starbucks for a frapuccino and a green tea latte, Tony Roma’s for ribs, a waffle place, and we hit the local version of Whole Foods several times because they had a massive selection of cheese. LOL

      When we get to a point where we want to settle down more, it will have to be somewhere with lots of food options I think.

      No, we only go into town 2x a week.

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  8. I was really excited about the food for my trip to Morocco in February… now, I’m not so sure.
    I love spicy food too, but I never thought Moroccan food would be spicy. I associated it with other Arabic/Middle Eastern food and after dating a Lebanese boy for a while and always going out for Lebanese food with him, I realized it was not even a little spicy. However, I always found the food to be flavourful so hearing the word bland disappoints me.
    But at least I can reassure my mother that she will love the food. She can barely handle ketchup. haha.

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    • The food is decent if you won’t be here long. After a few days, it gets boring. At least in our experience, although I am hearing that from a surprising number of people. It is similar to some of the Lebanese food I’ve had, but I’d say it’s even blander.

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      • I think after a while in any country you get bored with the food. I know after a year in Germany, I was tired of their bland food. Even after just 5 months of living in Asia, I was looking for something that wasn’t served with rice. It’s all about variety, something I think people who live in extremely multicultural countries take for granted (like me, currently living in a big Canadian city).

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        • Yep, when you’re used to having several ethnic or regional foods readily available, it’s hard to suddenly be surrounded by same-same ALL the time.

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  9. Same here, we were very disappointed with the food in Morocco. I always travel with Tabasco for this sort of emergency.

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    • Tabasco would’ve helped. I was VERY tempted to buy some when I found it in a grocery store.

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  10. Wow, that’s interesting. I would never have expected Moroccan food to be bland. I’m with you on the need for spice…

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    • I was quite surprised. I can handle if it isn’t spicy as long as there are some good flavors, but that isn’t too common either which really surprised me. Esp when you walk by the spice merchants and see all the different ones they sell.

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  11. I read this while eating a huge plate of colcannon. Kind of an odd juxtaposition. I figure anyone craving McD’s is in a world of hurt.

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  12. Really interesting post, Talon. At the beginning I thought I might disagree with you, but reading on and thinking about it, I do know what you mean. Isn’t it a measure of how international the world has become that we expect to find diversity of cuisine easy to come by! It’s been interesting for me to observe the last 20 years on Tenerife. In the whole of the south, when we arrived, there was one Chinese restaurant, today? On every street corner of course! Plus French, Thai, Japanese, Argentinian, Lebanese – many toned down to tourist tastes, true, but, still here now. Local cuisine kind of falls into the same category you describe, although because of the climate the seasons are very loose. However, much as I do like Canarian cuisine – yes it’s bland because that’s the history of the place, so thank goodness we now have more variety!

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    • I’m OK without the presence of a lot of ethnically different food. It’s just that I expected Moroccan food to be much more varied than it is. In Mexico I never got tired of Mexican food. Didn’t get tired of Ecuadorian food either. I just had expectations of Moroccan food being more varied and flavorful than it is. Quite interesting to me.

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  13. I hate being disappointed with a country’s food after so looking forward to it. I just couldnt get into Malay food. Didnt do it for me at all. I would have thought Moroccan food to be.spicy and tasty. Im glad I know now what to expect!!!

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    • I was expecting similar! Even though I’ve had Moroccan in the States, I figured it wasn’t authentic. Actually, it was better in the States. LOL

      I’ve heard that about Malay food. I’m kind of interested to see what I’ll think, but I have a feeling we’ll be visiting the Chinese and Indian places more when we’re in Malaysia.

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  14. Too much of a good thing, eh? 🙂

    I live in France so the last thing I should complain about is the food, right? Well, I live in the country and there’s only so much cheese, seasonal vegetables and meat you can eat. Some days I pant and pine for spicy food and like you, I don’t feel I’ve eaten Mexican or Thai or Pakistani unless I’m crying copiously. And oh, what I wouldn’t give for some plain old Cantonese, just a bit of fried rice and a few ribs… but the closest I’ll get to those is if I cook them myself.

    There are restaurants selling these delicacies – but that’s what they are, delicacies, so they cost a fortune.

    Now, I do have some good news. My French village, of nearly 2000 population, has a couple of restaurants. A French one, of course – and a Moroccan! For McNuggets I’ll have to drive for 20 minutes…

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    • The seasonal vegetables thing can be tough. Esp this time of year. Not the most enjoyable. I think if we ever settle down for a longer period of time, it will have to be somewhere that is close enough to other types of cuisine. Too much of just one thing is just too much. Although, I’m not sure that’s possible with Mexican or Thai, but I’m willing to find out.

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