Where and What to Eat In Morocco
Among my top priorities when it comes to travel, whether that’s to the next county or another country, is knowing what to eat and where to eat it. An entirely forgettable meal on vacation is a bummer in my book. So when it came time to plan a recent family trip, I did my research, gathering tips from friends and published reviews on where and what to eat in Morocco. Coming home after 12 days of travel I learned that indeed, Morocco has much to offer on the culinary front. Note: I wrote a whole post about our travels, which you can find here.
Where to Find the Best Food in Morocco
Truth be told, the best meals of our trip were in private homes, not boutique hotels or fine dining restaurants. We found the home-cooked food soulful, delicious, and served with a level of hospitality that I’d like to mimic in my own house. Our experiences included a lunch we shared with Mohammed, the gentleman who drove us to and from the desert. His mother invited us into her kitchen as she prepared couscous in a clay pot hung over an open fire. She served it in a single generous bowl set on the floor, with all of us, my family and hers, on low cushions with giant spoons for eating. This is the sort of experience that you can’t get in a restaurant and makes traveling across the globe worthwhile in my book.
Because much of our trip was rather remote, we ate many of our meals in the lodges and camps where we stayed. In Marrakech and Essaouira, though, we did have the chance to explore the dining scene. Here’s what we tried:
- Dar Yacout – Recommended by a Moroccan friend, this was as much theater as it was dining. The restaurant is housed in an opulent riad and the meal involved a set menu presented in a parade of giant tagines. It was a good opportunity to try traditional dishes and would be particularly enjoyable if traveling with a family or larger group.
- Sahbi Sahbi – Outside the medina, this was lovely Moroccan food prepared by an all-female kitchen crew in a stylish setting.
- El Jardin – We enjoyed a tasty lunch here in a pretty outdoor courtyard.
- El Fenn – I thought the food was just fine, but I’d recommend enjoying the swanky rooftop bar.
- La Mamounia – We went for a drink and it was a treat to see the glamorous grounds and gardens of one of the city’s fanciest hotels.
- Nomad – We ate lunch here and thought the food was just average. However, their tiny rooftop bar would be a terrific spot to stop during the day and grab a coffee or one of their delicious fresh juices.
- Other Marrakech recommendations: Kabana (for lunch or a rooftop drink), Terrace des Espices (lovely food on a pretty terrace), Naranj, Comptoir Darna for dinner and belly dancing show (touristy, but fun), Maison Árabe (lovely for a beautiful dinner), Dar Moha, Bacha Coffee (in Dar Bacha Museum), Ice Mama (for ice cream)
- Fish shacks – Along the waterfront outside the medina is a series of about a dozen tiny shacks that sell seafood. The host invited us to choose the seafood we wanted to try and handed it to the kitchen. They cooked it on the spot and served it on paper plates with salad and fries. Fun!
- Le Jardin du Villa Maroc – For about $30 a person, we got day passes to this lovely spot about 15 minutes outside of town. The price included access to their relaxing pool, a terrific buffet lunch, and transportation.
- Dar Babba – We enjoyed this colorful, lively restaurant with a Spanish-inspired menu.
- Salut Maroc – Lovely rooftop with live music. We went here for a sunset drink and wished we had time to enjoy a meal there as well.
- Villa Maroc – This was the pretty boutique hotel where we stayed. We ate dinner one night in a cozy corner with a fire.
- Other Essaouira recommendations: Le Love by Caravane (French-inspired food with a convivial atmosphere and dancing), La Table, Umia
Favorite Foods and Drinks in Morocco
We loved eating our way through Morocco. Below are some of our discoveries and favorite dishes. I did my best to spell the dishes correctly and recollect what we ate, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. For that (along with Moroccan recipes), I’d turn to Nargisse Benkabbou or Salima’s Kitchen.
Mint Tea – Of all the food and drink in Morocco, none was more abundant than the mint tea poured into delicate glassware. It’s quite sweet, but we found everyone accommodating when we asked that it be made with less (or no) sugar.
Dried Fruits and Nuts – We found glorious food stalls selling juicy Medjool dates, dried fruits, and nuts throughout the country, which were perfect for snacking on the road. I fell hard for the sweet and savory almonds coated in fennel seeds. Fantastic!
Pancakes and Breads – Breakfast was a favorite meal and was always included in our hotel stays. A standout was msemen, which looks similar to a crepe with a texture more like chapati. It’s delicious with the homemade jams and soft cheeses served alongside. We also liked baghrir, which looks like a thin pancake dotted with holes reminiscent of a crumpet, and harcha, made of semolina and similar in appearance to an English muffin.
Fresh Juices – Freshly squeezed orange and other juices are common, very inexpensive, and a welcome refreshment under the hot Moroccan sun.
Tagine – Tagine, which references both the savory stew and the clay vessel in which it is cooked, is so ubiquitous, we got more than our fill. We worked our way through many varieties, including tender lamb with dried fruits, vegetable with chickpeas, and kefta (savory meatball tagine).
Couscous – Abolish any notion you have about the instant couscous sold in the US. In Morocco, it takes hours to prepare, is light as air, and typically reserved for Fridays, the holy day in Islam.
Berber Omelet – Prepared in a tagine, we loved this tasty egg dish cooked with onions, tomatoes, and spices. I plan to learn to make it at home.
Ktefa – A favorite dessert, ktefa is stacked layers of thin fried pastry that’s drenched in what tastes like crème anglaise. Delicious.
Nous nous – We found very good espresso throughout the country, even at some of our gas station pit stops. Our preferred drink was nous nous, which means half half (half espresso, half milk).
Fresh Seafood – In Marrakech as well as the seaside town of Essaouira, we had excellent fresh seafood. Sardines are plentiful and you may also find oysters, shrimp, and a wide variety of fish.
Eating with Dietary Restrictions in Morocco
The first thing I’ll say is that everywhere we traveled, from touristy spots in Marrakech to private homes in the middle of nowhere, the Moroccans were respectful and accommodating of our dietary restrictions (we had two pescatarians and one-gluten-free eater among us). Although there is certainly plenty of meat in the diet, Moroccan food is abundant in salads, vegetable dishes, and its famous “seven vegetables” couscous. We also had access to terrific seafood.
Gluten-free eating was a little trickier. All the breads, pancakes, and the like we encountered were wheat-based. Indeed, you might mistake some of the coarser breads for corn meal, when in fact they are more likely semolina. For a gluten intolerance, we were able to work around the limitations. For folks whose wheat or gluten sensitivities are more serious, I imagine it would be harder to navigate.
Can You Drink Alcohol in Morocco?
Since most Moroccans are Muslim, drinking alcohol is prohibited according to their faith. However, it is perfectly legal to drink in Morocco, though it is relegated to restaurants, hotels and other licensed establishments. A few things worth knowing:
- Most restaurants we went to served alcohol.
- Of the hotels and lodges where we stayed, all but one served alcohol.
- We enjoyed local beers and lovely, budget-friendly Moroccan wines, particularly rosés and whites.
Feeling Good and Food Safety in Morocco
One thing I’ll say about our travels is that we returned home feeling good. We did a lot of walking and hiking and stayed pretty active. We found the food quite healthful — abundant in vegetables, seafood, and wholesome, simply prepared dishes. Other than mint tea and occasional desserts, we didn’t eat a lot of sweets and snacked on fruit and nuts.
Like traveling in any foreign country, we took precautions when it came to where and what we ate, since nothing puts a damper on fun like a bout of traveler’s tummy. We got pretty lucky on that front, which I owe in part to a few things:
- As a rule, we only drank bottled water, and that included for brushing our teeth. We skipped having ice in our drinks in most places, unless it catered to tourists and assured us that it hadn’t come from the tap. The exception was in the Atlas Mountains, where we enjoyed glorious, filtered mountain water.
- With the exception of home-cooked meals, most of our dining was in places accustomed to serving foreigners. When in doubt, we opted for vegetarian meals as opposed to meat dishes.
- You’ll see a lot of street food in Morocco, most of which looks tantalizingly tasty. We also noticed less rigorous standards around refrigeration and food safety than we are accustomed to and opted out of most food stalls. When it came to street vendors, we stuck to dried fruits, breads, olives, nuts, and fresh uncut fruit.
Food to Bring Home from Morocco
Most of the culinary riches you might be tempted to bring home are items you can now get in the US. That said, it is fun to buy treasures from the source. Below are a handful of options I found appealing:
Spices – I brought home a bag of ras el hanout, the famous Moroccan spice blend that can include up to 35 different spices. Keep in mind that spices have a shelf life, so don’t overbuy or buy bulk amounts unless you plan to use them within a year or so.
Argan Oil – This oil is abundant in Morocco. Depending on how the oil is processed, it can be used for skin/hair OR for cooking. The culinary version has a nutty aroma and is tasty for dipping bread or drizzling over vegetables.
Preserved Lemons – These are easy to make at home (recipe here), but it could be fun to bring a jar home from your trip if you can pack it securely.
Sweets – Morocco is full of biscuits, cookies, and sticky treats. I wasn’t particularly smitten with the sweets, but perhaps you will be.
Mint Tea – I’ve been brewing mint tea since arriving home, enjoying it in the delicate glasses we bought at the souk during the trip.