Moroccan cuisine is completely unique although it is influenced by many cuisines and cultures in the world. It is also true that you will not experience exquisite Moroccan cuisine unless you are in a private home. There is just no comparison to even many of the finest restaurants in the country. This is one of the great advantages to staying in a guesthouse.
One would be hard pressed to find a Moroccan cookbook in the country for most recipes are passed down from mother to daughter working together in the kitchen or as in Assia's case, from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. It is common that when a young woman marries, her new mother-in-law will teach her to make all the dishes in the way her son is accustomed to having them taste.
The most common spices used are: cinnamon (even in many meat dishes), cumin, saffron, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, paprika and coriander.
The main dishes you will eat in a home will be tagines or couscous. A tagine will have meat (either beef, chicken or lamb) with vegetables and is cooked in one pot and served in one main dish that everyone eats out of. Sometimes a tagine will have homemade french fries on top. Couscous is considered an original Berber dish but is also considered the national food of Morocco. In nearly every home on a Friday, the holy day, each family will be eating a large platter of couscous with either meat and vegetables on top. Containers of broth or juice will be on the table for those who prefer to pour a bit of it in their area of the main dish. It is also served at feasts honoring a birth, wedding, or circumcision and when there is a death, it is often prepared by friends and neighbors and taken to the home of the family in mourning. They in turn hand it out to the poor during their period of mourning. It is made from the grains of semolina.
Harira soup is also unique to Morocco and is eaten each evening during the month of Ramadan to break the fast although it is also eaten at other times during the year.
Freshness is a key to the food tasting so good. Women go to the souk each day to buy what they need for the meals they will prepare and often they go for each meal during the day. If a dish with chicken is being prepared they will go to the souk to the stand with chickens where the chicken will be weighed and killed on the spot, cleaned and feathers picked. Many of the olives and fresh produce you eat at the guesthouse will be from Haj's own garden as is often the olive oil you will be dipping your bread in at meals.
While vegetarian cuisine is not common to the Moroccan menu, Assia has had many American and European guests who have requested vegetarian meals so she has some choices for you. It will be harder for you to truly experience Moroccan cuisine as a vegetarian but couscous can be made with only vegetables on top as well as an eggplant dip or "salad Moroccan" which is made by roasting green bell peppers and tomatoes and mixing them and is often eaten with bread. Omelette's are an option if you eat eggs or cooked potatoes and carrots served cold as a salad and fried eggplant are also available. It is also a country rich in seasonal fruits. She will accommodate you in any way possible if you let your dietary needs be known.
Assia understands that tourists need to eat food that is fully cooked and fruit that can be peeled. (Apples, bananas and melons are great easy fruit options) However, please be aware that it is also safe to eat fruit such as apricots, figs etc. that are unpeeled but only if they have been soaked in water with a few drops of bleach. The Moroccan government instructed Assia to do this for any guests as a precaution against stomach problems while traveling. Bottled water is always easily available in all the stores in the town.
Generally the food is brought out in a large platter as shown in the photographs on this page. Traditionally a water carrier for hand washing was brought around the table so all guests were sure to wash their hands before putting their hand in a community platter. However, now that most homes have running water, most people just go to the sink and wash their hands. It is good manners to only eat out of the platter directly in front of you rather than reach into someone else's area for a piece of meat you might have your eye on. You will often find that your hosts will be passing you choice pieces of meat from their side of the platter. It is also not proper to allow your hand to touch inside your mouth when you insert the food as you will be putting your hand back in the community platter. Generally speaking the man of the house will keep the bread basket by him and monitor who needs more bread and pass it to them. For those of you who are just not comfortable eating out of a community platter or with your hands, please speak up and your host will be happy to furnish you with your own plate and silverware.
Choose a dish you would like to learn to make and Assia will be happy to teach you to make it. Most Moroccan cooks do not use measuring spoons and cups so you will need to estimate what she is putting into each dish as far as spices are concerned.
We suggest you bring some measuring implements from home to help you reproduce the amounts accurately. Also, keep in mind that you will need to buy Moroccan spices and take them home or buy your spices in an international market that sells imported spices to reproduce a similar taste. Assia will be happy to take you to the spice merchant and buy spices to carry home. It is recommended that you bring some plastic baggies if you want to do this. Price for cooking lessons: 100.00 Dhirhams per lesson and you buy the ingredients unless it is a meal you are being charged for off the menu then you just pay for the lesson.
If the guesthouse is very full, please arrange for the lesson in advance so your hostess may work it in around serving the other guests.