The Best Moroccan Food You’ll Never Eat (in a Restaurant)

Moroccan food has to be homecooked.  For the most part, and tajine joints aside, restaurants around here just don’t do it right, which explains the fact that Moroccans rarely order their own national food when dining out.  Instead they seem to have picked Italian food, or a version of it, as the national eat-out food.  Pizzas, paninis, pasta are standard fare in many popular eateries.  It makes sense, most people want a break from what they eat at home, something that is not spiced with cumin, ginger and paprika for a change, something you don’t sop up with bread.

Visitors to Morocco may surmise, from eating at restaurants that serve Moroccan food, that we Moroccans survive on a steady rotation of three different meals: Chicken Tajine with Preserved Lemons, Beef Tajine with Prunes, and Couscous (on Friday).  I don’t know how those three dishes became our national culinary representatives and ambassadors, given the variety of other superlative candidates.

Take for example, in no particular order:

1-Chicken Bastila:

This dish has it all, chicken stewed in saffron and spices then cleaned off the bone, eggs, almonds that have been peeled, deep fried and ground with cinnamon, sugar and rosewater, all wrapped in crunchy, buttery paper thin layered dough.  It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s soft, it’s crunchy.  I could eat this every day.  Realistically Moroccans will only eat this on a special occasion.

The downside is that it’s pricey and time-consuming.  Not to mention the calories.

2-Fish Bastila:

For a long time I was a Chicken Bastila purist, until I finally got over my seafood phobia (someone once told me to be really careful when eating sardines, or the little bones would get stuck in my throat.  I did not eat fish again til I was an adult).  Even so this bastila is not super fishy tasting, it’s stuffed with shrimp, calamar and cubed white fish cooked with vermicelli and mushrooms.

3-Herbel: it’s like oatmeal, only good.  Moroccans eat this on Eid morning as a special breakfast.  It’s cracked wheat boiled for hours until it softens, then you add condensed milk and butter.  Some take it salty and others add honey.  It’s very satisfying and addictive.  Carbalicious.


After: creamy and delicious.  Even the Gerber baby approves.

4-My go-to Chicken and Rice recipe

You’re not likely to have this dish in anyone’s home, much less a restaurant.  The reason?  I got this recipe from my sister, who I believe got it from the Moroccan TV chef Choumisha.  Since then it’s always come through for me (although I have a tendency to forget about it for months on end, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment every time I remember that I know how to make this).    It’s distinctly Moroccan, yet the rice sets it apart from most Moroccan dishes.   No bread!  I don’t even know if my sister still makes this (do you sis?).  If not I may be the only person in Morocco who presents this on a regular basis.  And now I humbly pass it on to you.

You start with some old old North African standbys: garlic and onion, parsley and coriander, preserved lemon and sliced olives, turmeric, paprika, ginger and yellow stuff.  A tea glass full of half olive oil, half regular.  It makes this kind of salad that looks pretty remarkable as is.

But then you mix it with cooked rice, and use it a stuffing for chicken.  The juice from the chicken runs down and cooks into the rice.  I make plenty of the rice because that’s usually the best part.  There’s crunchy part.   If you come over to my house, I will probably serve you this (if I remember that I know how to make it).

5-The Big Salad

Every Moroccan family has their own version of the big salad.  It’s great especially in this weather (guess how hot it is here).  You just keep piling stuff on until voila, it’s a meal.  My favorite versions include corn, boiled eggs, cheese, avocado.

You know, I am also writing a post about homeschooling.  It’s a lot of work (the writing that is.  The homeschooling is a whole other ball of wax).  I don’t exactly know what I think about it, but writing is helping me sort that out.  Some blog topics are a lot of work, so we end up with post after post about food and pictures.  Fun, light, safe.  To do it justice I’m going to have to write about homeschooling in installments, complete with flashbacks to my own school days, psychological forays into what motherhood means to me, issues of identity and belonging (mine and my kids’), and how my husband saved me from near breakdown.  There’s a good book’s worth of material right there.  Stay tuned…


12 thoughts on “The Best Moroccan Food You’ll Never Eat (in a Restaurant)

  1. xoussef says:

    Not to mention more humble fares, local (?) pasta: chaariya, chaariya mfouara, lsan tayr, mhamsa and legumes like lentils on stale bread and loubiya, I have a feeling they don’t make these elsewhere, or not the moroccan way 🙂 There is the rabbit tagine, the pigeon bastila, the bouzroug tagine, thrid… Many variations on limited themes maybe, but if you’ve eaten a tagine, you certainly haven’t eaten them all.
    My mother makes the same rice filling you make, but stuffs bell peppers with it and bake them. And our version of shlada has loads of raw and steamed vegetables including beets, boiled eggs and eather rotini and edam, or a central mound (shaped with a bowl) of rice, corn and tuna 🙂

    • I know, foreigners will probably never taste the more “humble fare” because when we Moroccans invite people over we don’t think those are good enough. It’s gotta be meat and lots of it. What a coincidence that your mom makes the same rice, nice to know I’m not alone. The shlada, I can see it now…

  2. Shauna(Amal in Morocco) says:

    I always learn something new from your blog, I love the idea of the chicken and rice dish,.. looks yummy too. looking forward to reading about the homeschooling experience

  3. Meriem (sis) says:

    You’re right, I’d completely forgotten about the chicken and rice dish. In fact I think I’ve forgotten how to cook altogether. I bake cakes regularly and make pancakes for breakfast every once in a while, throw together the occasional salad… that’s about it.

  4. delaney says:

    mmm. Chicken Bastilla in Essaouira was scrumptious 🙂 all of these are yummy! Beautiful photos by the way, and anything with Charmoula is just mouth-watering.

  5. sk says:

    you Moroccans are amazing with your food! definitely the food of kings (Andalusian!);
    looking forward to your homeschooling thoughts! lots of Muslims are homeschooling: it’s great to share ideas so good ones don’t get lost or limited to just one set of lucky children! (-:
    thanks for being willing to share!

  6. I’ve been to Morocco often enough now to have tried all the main restaurant dishes and can cook them myself to a reasonable standard (did a cookery course in Fes once!). Without paying large amounts to go to very expensive restaurants, it’s hard to find anywhere serving an interesting and wide variety of Moroccan food, as you say. I guess it all happens in people’s homes. This post has inspired me to do more Moroccan style cooking at home, though! Shukran!

  7. You really shouldn’t talk so much about this yummy food when we are all fasting. It sounds like heaven. I am going to start trying some of the recipes on here. I have only eaten Moroccan food in restaurants till now so would love to try something homemade.

    In any case, I was really excited to discover your blog a couple of weeks ago when you did the post on the 10 dos and donts of Ramadan in Morocco. I am now slowly going through the blog to discover more about life in Morocco. In fact, I am wondering if I should follow a similar format to show the real life in Pakistan for all those misinformed individuals out there.

    Because of this, I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

    I am not sure if you have gone through this before, but these are the 3 steps to follow if you choose to accept it:
    1) Backlink to the blogger who gave you the award
    2) Tell us 7 things about yourself that we don’t know yet through your blog
    3) Nominate 15 blogs that inspire you

    • Thank you dear one for your faith in me. I’d love to read about “the real Pakistan”. I am honored that anyone would nominate me for anything, and I’ll find some time to compose the post in the next few weeks, insha Allah.

  8. Sara says:

    I just found your blog because I was looking for sellou after my first trip ever to Morocco. Will you please share the ingredients for the roast chicken and rice? I think I see tomatoes or red bell peppers in the stuffing mix? Shukran

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