Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life in Morocco


Just as it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations about the 200 distinctive Berber groups, so is it impossible to speak of the average Moroccan home. The great gap between rich and poor defies comparisons. How can one even speak in the same breath of the lifestyle of a nomadic Berber tribe of goat herders and a palatial servant-filled home of a Moroccan family serving a thirty-plate diffa (banquet)? Yet both are valid examples of Moroccan life.

But some things are the same. Everywhere, it is the women who cook. Everywhere, classic Arabian hospitality climaxes in the philosophy of shaban: abundance of satisfaction characterized by heaping plates of the best the household can offer. For even the lowliest of peasants shaban can be achieved if one has sufficient kimia. The Moroccan legends of endless exotic dishes preceded by long flowery speeches may not seem so lavish if one remembers that the arts of speech and the arts of the Moroccan cuisine have been carefully cultivated for centuries and just as carefully handed down from mother to daughter.

It also helps to bear in mind that many of these culinary wonders are actually prepared from the simplest and least expensive ingredients. They require, however, the agility of many knowing hands of which there is no shortage in Morocco.

Food preparation begins with the daily shopping for the freshest available ingredients found in the souks (marketplaces) or sold by vendors, sometimes from house to house. Everyone has a favorite source of fine spices, fresh vegetables, and fruits.

Despite the incredible quantity and endless variety of Moroccan food, the utensils needed in the kitchen are few. They include the mortar and pestle for grinding and pounding seasonings, a couscousiere (a two-layered pot for cooking stew in the bottom and the couscous in the perforated top), several pots and pans of universal design, earthenware tagine slaouis (their conical tops may be heaped with charcoal embers to simulate baking or for long slow simmering), shiny copper taouas (casseroles), a range of knives, and a small charcoal stove. If large amounts of food are to be prepared, neighborhood ovens are used.

Not evident in Moroccan kitchens are measuring utensils and electrical appliances. Like loving dedicated cooks throughout the world (only maybe more so in Morocco) amounts of ingredients are measured by experience, tasted knowingly, and seasoned deftly with shakes of this and pinches of that. Small wonder that Moroccan girls begin their training in the culinary arts very early. Electrical power is being increasingly produced from the country’s many rivers but is still considered a luxury and is not widely available. For this reason as well as the enjoyment of the freshest foods, perishables are bought daily rather than stored.

The accomplished Moroccan cook will also have the following utensils for specialty dishes:

  • Gdra Dil Trid: earthenware dome used to stretch the thin pastry for Trid (similar to Bisteeya)
  • Gsaa: large wooden or earthenware kneading trough for bread dough (easier than a board)
  • M’ghazel: silver or brass skewers for meat and vegetable tidbits or meatballs (Kefta)
  • Tobsil: similar to Gdra Dil Trid, except this utensil is placed over heat or over boiling water and is used to make the Warka (paper-thin pastry for Bisteeya)

Included also would be a variety of brass, copper or silver trays for serving, ornate teapot and sets of glasses for tea serving, and small decorated kettles and basins for pouring perfumed waters in the hand washing ritual.

For rural Berber women, the arts of cookery are somewhat simplified. Both breads and main dishes are cooked over open fires with few utensils. Yet the serving of foods, though not as elaborate as a diffa, may be nonetheless gracious. Low tables are placed before the diners and the customary heaped platters are eaten with three fingers of the right hand, while the frequent trays of sweet tea or spiced coffee are just as much enjoyed as in the palatial city homes.

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