Saturday, April 21, 2012

Morocco 101: Meals

Justin and I recently put together a short language and culture "cheat sheet" for his parents and friends, who spent about 10 days traveling through Morocco (more on their visit in my last blog post). Developing the cheat sheet was an interesting opportunity to distance myself from day-to-day life and to think about some of the differences between Moroccan and American culture. In today's post, I thought I would talk a bit about Moroccan meals and the differences that I have seen.

To start with the basics - Moroccans seem to eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a lovely little "snack" between lunch and dinner called "kaskrot." I used quotations around the word snack, as it seems to be considered a smaller meal but often is NOT the case! Here's an example of a kaskrot meal:

Now, this is certainly on the larger end of kaskrots, but we've experienced this type of spread on several occasions. It usually seems to be a combination of breads (the dish in the middle is milwi, a very tasty fried layered bread) and often a few sweets (or as the case may be, more than a few!). And of course, always Moroccan tea - which is not always mint tea, by the way - sometimes just green tea, and sometimes green tea in combination with another herb - such as sheba, also known as absinthium or wormwood. But always lots of sugar.

Another kaskrot - this one has skewered meat (pretty unusual)
and an AMAZING thing called sellou, made from sesame,
almonds and flour and usually served during Ramadan.

Lunch seems to be the largest meal of the day. The most frequent main dishes that we have seen are tagines, couscous, fried fish, lentils, or beans. Often the main dish is accompanied by a salad, and bread is almost always on the table as a means of eating the food. Dessert seems to almost always be fruit (the Moroccan word for fruit, "deeseer," also means dessert!). Here's an example of a lunch spread:

It is customary for families to eat couscous on Fridays. Not everyone does but it is a widely observed custom, and Justin and I go to our host family's house every Friday for lunch. Couscous is usually topped with a variety of vegetables and starches, ranging from squash to carrots, potatoes to fava beans, zucchini to tomatoes. Sometimes there will be meat in the middle of the couscous too.

Breakfasts seem to be fairly basic, usually with some sort of bread (milwi, as I described above; or harsha, like cornbread except with semolina flour and cooked on a pan rather than baked; or sometimes just basic baguettes or round loaves of white or wheat bread), sometimes egg or cheese, sometimes honey, butter, or jam. And dinners also seem to be light and fairly simple, sometimes soups, or pasta with tomato sauce or milk, or leftovers from recent meals.

I should also mention that the times for meals are a bit different - Breakfast and lunch are similar to the U.S., with breakfast happening before kids go to school or adults go to work (7/8 A.M.), and lunch around 12:30 or 1 PM. Kaskrot is usually slightly before our dinnertime, around 5 or 5:30 PM. And dinner can be served really late - we've had it as "early" as 9:30 or 10 P.M. but as late as midnight. When we were in training, we had a lot of difficulty staying awake for dinner; fortunately now that we live on our own, we are able to keep to our own schedule (and no, we typically don't add in the kaskrot meal, though we do sometimes have tea or coffee at our local cafe during kaskrot time).

Rfisa - my favorite Moroccan dish so far.

Meal preparation is also quite different (you can read more about that in a guest post that I wrote). In a town like Tiflet that has a market open every day, people just buy whatever is needed for that day. In smaller communities that don't have a daily market, people travel to the nearest big town, usually once a week, to get the food items that they need at what is called a "souk."  And common cooking apparatuses include the pressure cooker, tagine pot, couscoussier (a double-chambered food steamer), mjmar (a clay charcoal grill), gsaa (a large, shallow clay vessel used for serving and also making doughs), stock pots, and of course, tea pots.

Shopping at the market in Moulay Yacoub.

In terms of eating - Typically main dishes are eaten from shared platters. With couscous, people often use a spoon (though many people have an amazing technique of eating couscous with their hands), but with most other main dishes, people either eat just with the hand, or with bread as a means of dipping into the platter and getting sauce, vegetables, etc. There's an unspoken system of triangles in which each person keeps to his/her own area when eating. And typically meat is in the middle of the platter, and is not eaten until towards the end of the meal, when often someone in the family will give portions of meat to each person (in most meals, the portion of meat eaten is significantly smaller than what we might eat in a meal in the U.S.).

That's all for now on Moroccan Meals 101! And speaking of eating, my own cooking adventures have continued...

Yes, that is my first-ever challah baking experiment, which was a phenomenal success, and led to some REALLY good french toast and a spin-off on hamburger buns which got the thumbs-up from our Moroccan host family. Thanks to the wonderful Jessie who contributed her recipe via one of my most favorite cooking blogs, by my friend Nishta - you can get the recipe here (I didn't change a bit of it, it's perfect!).

By the way, if you are interested the full cheat sheet (including both language and cultural info, geared towards short-term visitors), you can view and download it here.


  1. Jamie & Lauren this is very well done!
    Yum. I did my service 30 years ago in Marrakesh (gasp) before internet etc. And yup we are doing our reunion in June--am writing to a few current PCVs because though I wont be able to come to the official morocco anniversary goings-on this year (unless later in ramadan) but am writing to you in case you know of any small projects that returned PCVs might support and/or fund. Please let me know! P Adem Carroll
    From last year's visit:

  2. Hi Paul, thanks so much for your comment! My husband is working with an association on a project coming up soon, but they have just been approved for a microgrant, so no funds will be needed. I'm happy to reach out to my fellow PCVs to ask them about potential projects needing funding, if you'd like. Please let me know - you can reach me at laurenjamiebernstein (at) gmail (dot) com. And thanks for the video, we haven't traveling to Casablanca yet but inshallah we will soon!