Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Glossary of Foods and Food Terms in Morocco


Amalou: a smooth thick blend of crushed almonds, honey and olive oil used as a spread on Khboz (regular bread) or fried breads, and as an ingredient in a breakfast gruel called Zematur.

Barbary Figs: name given to a succulent pear-shaped fruit of a type of cactus plant. Also called prickly pear.

Bisteeya, Pastilla, or Bastilla: one of the most important Moroccan dishes, of Berber origin and inevitably part of any diffa (banquet). A large circular pie, composed of many buttery, tissue-thin layers of pastry (Warka) enclosing lamb, eggs, vegetables and usually pigeon meat all salted and spiced, redolent with cinnamon and almonds.

Boukha: sweet brandy distilled from figs.

Braiwats: similar to the Greek Tiropetes. Tissue-thin Warka pastry oiled or generously buttered and filled with cheese or other savory mixtures then pinched or folded and finally baked or deep-fried and served crisp and hot.

Brik: deep-fried meat turnovers but made with Warka pastry and often filled with a whole raw egg that cooks during the deep-frying. While eating, some care is needed not to dribble the soft-cooked yolk. Tunisian classic, eaten also in Morocco.

Chele or Khelea: a preserved form of beef used as a snack, appetizer or as flavoring in other dishes. The selected pieces of beef are spice-rubbed, sun-dried, then oil-cooked, and finally preserved in oil until used.

Chermoula: Tunisian dish of sautéed fish served with a sweet and sour sauce of raisins and wine vinegar touched with sugar.

Chorba: name given to any thin soup.

Couscous: classic Moroccan dish of Berber origin. Basically this is a dish of specially prepared grains over or beside which is served a stew of vegetables and meats with a well-seasoned sauce. The classic Couscous is prepared from wheat flour rubbed with dribbles of water to form tiny grains. Often the Couscous may be purchased in this form. Cooking is done by steaming (no cover) over a bubbling stew or boiling water in a pan with a perforated base. The two-layer pot used to prepare both the stew and the Couscous grains is called a couscousiere. Note that Couscous may be made with any grain and sometimes even with sprouted grains or even dried bread crumbs.

Djej: chicken.

Doqq: salt-preserved lemons. Moroccan Jews often prepare Doqq by preserving their lemons in oil as well as salt. Indispensable to Moroccan cuisine.

Harira: one of the most famous of Moroccan soups, a meal in itself. It is made with browned pieces of lamb, lentils and garbanzos, noodles and vegetables all pungent with ginger, coriander, and pepper. The final touch may be threads of lemony eggs or a thickening of slightly fermented flour and water stirred in just before serving. Large bowls of this, accompanied with sweet pastries, dates, and other fruits are the usual sundown meal of the month of Ramadan.

Harissa: a smooth peppery sauce added to the Couscous by the diner according to taste. If it is true that Moroccan sauces are “everything,” then the Harissa is truly important for it always accompanies the Couscous (unless it is a dessert couscous) and usually enhances many other foods. The base of this sauce is usually the slow-simmered juices of the stew accompanying the Couscous, thus the blend while being peppery is also one of subtle seasonings.

Hummous: a name heard all over the Mahgrib and many other places as well. It is a general name referring either to whole chickpeas or garbanzos, or to a puree of these legumes. The latter is usually blended with both garlic and pepper.

Hut Makali: crispy fried fish. Popular street snack found almost everywhere but especially in coastal areas.

Kaaki: Tunisian breadsticks prepared in many shapes and sold by street vendors. These are nibbled anytime and especially enjoyed by children.

Kebab: small morsels threaded on skewers and broiled usually over charcoal. The French call them Brochettes, the Spanish Pinchitos, but all around the Mediterranean they are called Kebab.

Kefta: the Moroccan version of ground meat used in large or small meatballs with the mixture usually sweetened and spiced with cinnamon.

Khboz or Kisra: typical Moroccan bread made from wholewheat flour and unbleached white flour (all white flour for guests), yeast, milk, or water and seasoned with anise, sometimes sprinkled with sesame seeds. Baked fresh daily, usually in communal ovens.

Kousha: a Tunisian stew of potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas, and any variety of fish. May be garnished with prawns or shrimp.

Leben or Lobon: similar to buttermilk, used as a cooling beverage or in cookery.

Mahalkra: like biting into crisp honey, these saffron-tinted yeast pretzels are shaped then browned in hot oil and plunged into boiling honey They are served with a sprinkle of sesame seeds (cool), adding a mouthful of sweetness to the sundown meal of Ramadan.

Mechoui: Moroccan specialty of spit-roasted whole lamb or sheep generously rubbed with ground coriander seeds and garlic cloves. It is eaten with the fingers while piping hot. Tidbits are dipped into a salt and cumin mixture. Moroccan bread is the accompaniment.

Mechouiya: a thick puree of tomatoes and peppers garnished with chunks of hard eggs and tuna. It is not to be confused with the succulent lamb mentioned above (Mechoui); this is a Tunisian appetizer salad resembling a very thick Spanish gazpacho.

Meshmel or Djej Emshmel: classic diffa (banquet) specialty: A Tagine of chicken, green olives, and preserved Moroccan lemons (Doqq).

M’Hanncha: a pastry that uses the thin Warka pastry, stuffed with a rich sweet mixture of sugared chopped nuts and tingling spices, then rolled up, coiled like a snake and baked crisply This pastry is seared in slices with cups of traditional sweet green mint tea as a snack.

Mikla: when the Moroccan bread dough is patted into flat rounds and baked to a brown crustiness on both sides on an open-lire griddle, the resulting bread is called Mikla.

Pita: Mahgrib and Middle Eastern bread, sometimes called Arabic bread. Rounds of simple yeast dough are rolled thinly, allowed to rise, then baked quickly in a hot oven. The resulting breads puff up high then slowly deflate upon cooling. The result is a thin tasty bun that is hollow in the center. Makes a convenient pocket for fillings.

Qodban: Mahgrib tidbits of lamb entrails first marinated then skewered and charcoal-broiled.

Raipe: a bland sweetened dessert resembling yogurt or junket but the whole or skimmed milk is set with the addition of the pounded dried pulp of wild Moroccan artichokes.

Ras el Hanout: a varying blend of spices used in meat and game dishes, stuffing, and even candies. Sometimes mystical properties are attributed to Ras el Hanout, which may be a blend of a few or over a hundred ingredients said to contain legendary aphrodisiacs.

Rghaif: Moroccan version of thin dessert pancakes or crepes. Served in many variations: greased, stretched, folded and deep-fried or layered and served with melted butter and honey Sometimes a special breakfast dish.

Sefirna: the classic Moroccan Jewish Sabbath dish of legumes and meats nestled with whole eggs in the shell. The whole casserole is placed in banked ovens late Friday afternoon, then eaten as the Sabbath noon meal without violating the prohibition of work. Versions of this dish abound. It is said to have been taken by the North African Jews to Spain during the Moorish conquest where the Spanish version came to be known as Olla Podrida (literally, “rotten pot”) because ingredients were always added to the leftovers and reheated and eaten over and over. In central European countries this practical and satisfying dish came to be known as Cholent and often included potato chunks, and/or a large flour dumpling.

Shebbakia: luscious honey pastry, the same as Mahalkra but shaped into stars.

Smen: clarified butter. But the Moroccan version is more than clarified: it is often salted, spiced, or herbed and frequently has been preserved in underground crocks until it has the appearance and odor of very old cheese. Small amounts may be added to soups or Couscous. Most appreciated by Moroccans.

Souk: outdoor markets.

Tagella: bread eaten by the Tuaregs (a Berber group), made from a simple dough and baked in open fires on hot stones.

Tagine: meal cooked in one pot, the bottom of the pot being a rimmed shallow circle fitted with a classic cone-shaped cover. If the ingredients require, the Tagine can be cooked over a heat source or banked with hot coals to give the food a baked-in-the-oven effect. The ingredients may vary but usually include a spiced mixture of vegetables, legumes, meats, with almost as many regional and personal variations as the Couscous.

Tedouira: a floury mixture used for thickening sauces and soups. In Marrakesh, the classic Tedouira is left overnight to ferment and develop a sour flavor.


Warka: thinner even that the Greek phyllo pastry, the Warka is made from flour and water and most closely resembles the technique for making Chinese spring roll skins. The dough mixture is dabbed or rubbed over a flat or domed heated utensil, forming a sheer “skin” of pastry that is gently lifted off as soon as it firms. To keep it workable, it may be gently washed with oil or melted butter. Layered together, the final effect is similar to the French puff pastry.

Za’atar: a herb of sweet aromatic scent, similar to the theme-oregano family.

Zebda: fresh butter.

Zematur: a thin breakfast porridge or gruel made from toasted wheat germ and the honey-almond butter called Amalou.

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