LOCAL FOOD IN MOROCCO : Vegetarians and the Culinary Experience.
If you are a vegetarian, it may be of concern to you what the options are in Morocco.
Don't worry, here is a useful guide in which Fes Desert Trips gives some essential advice to ensure your holiday is a memorable one and you still get to enjoy and sample the best of the wonderful Moroccan culinary experience.
Main Courses :
No doubt about it, Moroccans love their meat and it is usual to have meat of some kind in the main dishes, especially in restaurants or if you are a guest with a Moroccan family. But many delicious vegetarian options are available and it is becoming more common to see them listed on menus without having to explain your requirements specifically everywhere you go.
Many Moroccans do not understand vegetarianism. Some will think that you are a poor person who cannot afford to buy meat and will therefore ignore your requests for meat free meals or even give you extra meat to show their understanding and generosity. Even those who do understand may just take the meat out of prepared dishes to make them 'vegetarian', or will use utensils that have been used on meat or sauces that are meat based. Many do not consider meat juices to be meat and some won't consider chicken as meat, either. Meat stock is often used on 'vegetarian' dishes. Fried dishes will often be made with the same oil the meat was fried in. You have to be careful and ask a lot of questions, but the Moroccans will try to be helpful once they understand. (though they'll still think you're mad!)
The choice isn't always very wide, but here are some easily found and excellent dishes :
Loubia - Baked beans, but often served as a dish on their own, these are not the tinned British or US variety, but home made in the most flavoursome tomato sauce imaginable with big and juicy kidney beans.
Addis - lentils, again served in a bowl as a solo dish, these are wonderful!
Harira - Moroccan spiced soup, often made with tomato puree, angel hair pasta, chickpeas, lentils, rice, herbs and spices. N.B - this is frequently a meat dish, so please ensure you ask for the vegetarian version and that you make sure it isn't just the ordinary dish with the meat taken out, a common practice, I'm afraid to say. But this is a cheap option for those on a budget and my favourite Moroccan dish!
Bisara - another inexpensive option, this is a thick broth made from pureed broad beans, split peas or chickpeas and sprinkled with olive oil and often cumin and /or red hot pepper. It is often served as a dip.
Tajine - vegetarian versions are now on many hotel and restaurant menus, they contain a varied array of fresh vegetables, often dependent on season, cooked in a delicious broth with spices and olives. The more usual vegetables include potatoes, chickpeas, onions and carrots, but anything goes and you may encounter eggplant, courgette (zucchini), squashes etc. topped with raisins for sweeter varieties, or, otherwise, slices of lemon.
Couscous - the vegetarian option is not as commonly listed on menus as the vegetarian tajines, but is increasingly available, but, again, ensure this isn't just the ordinary version with the meat taken out. Couscous is one of the national dishes of Morocco, traditionally shared by families on a Friday, and if you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Moroccan household, you will find that each one is very proud of their own take on the recipe. It also varies in style from region to region, but is essentially a steamed semolina base with several seasonal vegetables arranged artistically on top and usually chickpeas and a sauce that may be added to taste. Virtually uniquely, this is not eaten with bread!
Bastilla (pastilla) - another national dish, vegetarian options are sometimes available, but be careful as traditionally this is a fish or pigeon/ chicken based food. This consists of a layered ,filo pastry crust, filled with a variety of chopped vegeatbles.
Pizza - vegetarian options are often available and Italian restaurants can be found in many cities that serve a variety of pasta dishes.
Can be a main course if you desire, but a wonderful variety of salads are served as side dishes in Morocco, pretty much guaranteed to be fresh, locally sourced and organic. Some are raw, others cooked. You may get more than a dozen salads served at a single meal. Virtually every main dish will be served with at least one salad, they often also act as starters and appear dotted around the table throughout the meal in little dishes or plates. Many are aromatic and spiced and it is often said that one could happily exist on Moroccan salads alone, though I wouldn't recommend it, as you'd be missing out on the many mouth-watering vegetarian alternatives.
Perhaps the most commonly served salad is made from chopped tomatoes and cucumber with a vinaigrette dressing and is cool and refreshing. Tk'touka is served in many places and is made from green peppers, tomatoes and spices, Zaalouk is an appetizing salad composed of aubergine (eggplant) tomato and garlic.
There will usually also be a little bowl of cubed potatoes with herbs, a fava bean dish, a plate of steamed carrots and sometimes, a lovely squash or pumpkin salad made with cinnamon and caramelized onions. Green beans, tomatoes with onions and beet are all other side dishes frequently encountered.
Most often, cooked salads are eaten with bread, khobz, held between the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, while the raw salads are eaten with small forks, but you are free to choose as you please.
Khobz is served at every meal and are the flat, round loaves that smell and taste delectable. Freshly baked daily, everyone loves this Moroccan bread and it is often used instead of utensils as described above. It's fun trying this and will amuse the Moroccans as you struggle at first, but you'll soon get the hang of it.
French style baguettes are often served, too, as well as croissants, particularly at breakfast when the bread may be dipped in olive oil, and don't forget to try Malawi, a toothsome variety a bit like naan bread crossed with flaky pastry and sometimes has onion and tomato cooked inside it.
Kahrsha is a medium to hard delicacy similar to American cornbread and is often eaten with butter, jam or honey and in some hotels and restaurants there is a yummy variety prepared with oregano and olives.
Moroccan style pancakes are commonly available, too.
Snack Foods :
The little general stores found on almost every street sell very cheap crisps (chips), yoghurts, biscuits and cakes, but there is a huge number of street vendors, restaurants and shops selling a dazzling choice of delicious snack food.
Fruit and Nuts - the price, variety and quality of Moroccan fresh and dried fruit is rightly legendary. From citrus fruits to apples and pears, don't miss out on the prickly pears when they are in season from about July to November, and do try the wonderful dried apricots, figs, dates (a thousand types) and prunes as well as the salted nuts in paper cones. Sunflower seeds are very popular in their summer season, too and sweet corn, as corn on the cob, is found being roasted by the side of the road.
Olives - Morocco is also an olive growing nation and has a huge selection of olives to choose from. Black, green, yellow, purple, rich, savoury, sour, spicy or bitter, there will be something that suits your palate and you can buy plastic bags full of them, for a very reasonable price, with added spices if you prefer, to take away or even take back home with you. Olives are often served as side-dishes, as bar snacks or tapas, as garnish or as a starter.
Smoothies - sometimes known locally as fruit salads, served in a big glass, these are seasonal fruits and sometimes nuts, served in a fresh orange juice or creamy avocado base and mixed or shaken together with milk and sugar. These are quite filling and a huge favourite with the children.
Drinks - as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, tea, coffee, milk and fizzy drinks are readily available. You must try a tall, refreshing glass of mint tea!
Fruit is perhaps the usual dessert of choice and includes apples, oranges, grapes, melon, bananas and so on.
Sometimes biscuits/ cookies are served at the end of a meal with your glass of tea and these are delicious, home-baked in style with a nutty flavour and texture.
Shbakia - is a favorite with the kids, too; fried batter coated in honey. Very popular with the bees as well.
Sfinj - Ring donuts dipped in sugar or plain, these are ridiculously cheap and delightful to munch.
Though there may be a few hurdles to overcome, Morocco offers the vegetarian traveller a wide range of delicious options and you can still get a great flavour of the Moroccan culinary experience and the best of its traditional dishes. If you have any questions or problems at all, don't hesitate to ask your Fes Desert Trips guide who will be only too happy to assist.