The nation of Morocco is a vibrant tapestry of people, languages, and traditions. Over centuries, travelers from different lands settled here, their cultures enriching the country and influencing its cuisine. The following ethnic groups of Morocco have a long and fascinating heritage.
History of Berbers Influence on Moroccan Cuisine
Until the expansionist conquests of the Muslim Empire in 8th century CE, the Berbers formed the dominant ethnic group in Saharan Africa, particularly the Maghreb. The descendants of pre- Arab inhabitants, the Berbers call themselves as Amazigh.
Referred to as Libyans in ancient texts, the early Berbers spoke a category of Afro- Asiatic languages that were primarily oral. However, written scripts as old as 2,500 years old have been discovered, that have linguistic connections to the languages of the Kushites, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Levantine tribes, and Somalis.
When it comes to food, the Berbers used local ingredients such as olives, figs, and dates to prepare lamb and poultry stews.
History of Arabs Influence on Moroccan Cuisine
In the years following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic missionaries spread across the Middle East and North Africa. By the end of the 7th century, the Arabs arrived in Morocco, bringing the teachings of Islam with them. They converted the Christian Berbers into Muslims and fought together with them in the war of the Iberian Peninsula.
Today, only the Shereefs claim to be of "pure" Arab lineage, tracing their ancestry all the way back to The Prophet. Most Moroccans however, identify as both Arab and Berber.
The Arabs had significantly influenced Moroccan cuisine. They introduced grains and breadstuffs to the region. They also brought with them spices such as ginger, cinnamon, saffron, cumin, and caraway, to compliment the sweet and sour cooking they had picked up from the Persians.
History of the Gnaoua Influence on Moroccan Cuisine
The Ghana Empire of Ouagadougou ruled an area encompassing modern day Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Gambia and a majority of Mali. When the Gnaoua people settled in Morocco, they adopted Sufism in order to assimilate with the local population. But even today, they retain elements of their pre- Islamic culture such as possession during ritualistic worship, classical music, treatment of scorpion stings, indulging in colors, and creating traditional perfumes.
The world- famous Gnaoua Music Festival celebrates Sufi music together with African beats and draws thousands of visitors to the UNESCO world heritage site of Essaouira.
History of the Jews Influence on Moroccan Cuisine
During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Jewish people started to migrate to North Africa. Despite the wave of Islamization, Jews were granted safe residence and favorable economic conditions by Isdris II. In the 1490s, Spain and Portugal banished the Jews and many fled to Moroccan cities such as Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Fez. With the founding of the State of Israel in the 1940s, religious tensions escalated resulting in mass emigration. Half a century ago, more than a quarter million Jews lived in Morocco. Today, only a few remain, the vast majority have left for Israel.
The Jews taught pickling and preservation techniques for fruits and vegetables, including olives, citrus, and carrots.
Different people bring different flavors and aromas. The following are some traditional dishes of Moroccan cuisine inspired by the cultures of the ethnic groups.
Traditional Dishes of Morocco & Their Origins
- Kefta Tagine: Balls of minced beef or lamb with garlic, cinnamon, coriander, and parsley are cooked in a tomato and onion sauce. The dish is served with bread.
- Chermoula: A marinade consisting of herbs and spices is grilled over coals, and used as a dipping sauce.
- Zaalouk: A smoked aubergine dip, garnished with garlic, chilies, paprika, and cumin.
- Bastilla: Traditionally made of pigeon meat, it now consists of fish or chicken wrapped with almonds and eggs within layers of pastry. Finished with a seasoning of saffron, icing sugar and cinnamon.
- Mint Tea: Known as ‘Moroccan whiskey’, it consists of generously sweetened sugar chipped off a sugar cone.
If you wish to enjoy authentic Moroccan cuisine, consisting of aromatic flavors and natural ingredients, reserve your table today.