History of Cuisine

Due to its geographical position and close historical links with other countries, Morocco’s cuisine is a melting pot of many cultures and traditions. Its culinary culture is a unique blend of influences from the indigenous people, traders and conquering nations who brought with them new ingredients, customs and cooking methods. The nomadic tribes called Berbers were the first known inhabitants of Morocco over two thousand years ago and their style of cooking can still be seen today in Moroccan cooking. They were keen to create dishes whose ingredients complimented and enhanced the flavor of each other and so mixed local ingredients such as olives, figs, and dates with lamb or poultry and spices in one pot to create stews with distinctive flavors.

Their traditions were over time influenced by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans, and particularly the Arabs, who came to Morocco in the 7th century AD after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. The Arabs brought new breads and other foods made from grains, introduced spices including cinnamon, ginger, paprika, saffron, cumin, and turmeric. To this day these spices are still used extensively in Moroccan food. Over time, these imported spices have been mixed with native many ingredients, like saffron from Tiliouine, mint and olives from Meknes, oranges and lemons from Fez and figs, dates, almonds and argan from the South to produce the unique flavors seen in Moroccan cooking.

The Arabs also introduced sweet-and-sour cooking, which they had learned from the Persians, and were joined by the Moors from Andalusia in southern Spain between 1462-1615 who in turn have influenced Moroccan cooking. The most famous example is the pastilla, or bisteeya, a popular pigeon or chicken pie served at weddings and other parties, which is originally a Moorish dish.

More recently the French and Spanish, who colonized the country in the 19th & 20th centuries, brought more continental ingredients and traditions which can still be seen by the number of patisseries and boulangeries in the country.

Situated in the Northwest corner of Africa, Morocco has a unique position of having the Mediterranean sea run along its North coast and the Atlantic Sea on the West coast. This has not only allowed a constant interaction and commerce with other sea farers and cultures over the centuries but also put fish and seafood as an integral part of Moroccan cuisine in these regions. The mixing of these influences has been refined over centuries and has resulted in what we enjoy as Moroccan cooking today.

Inland, the soil is surprisingly very fertile allowing cereals, a large range of Mediterranean fruits and vegetables and even some tropical ones to grow in abundance and also providing an ideal environment to raise sheep, chicken, camel, rabbit, and goat, which serve as a base for the cuisine. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around lamb or poultry. This is also due to the fact that Moroccan lamb has a more favorable, less over-powering taste than other types. As the North African sheep breeds store most of their fat in their tails, it means that their meat does not have the pungent flavor that Western lamb and mutton have.

Morocco, unlike most other African countries and despite its proximity to the Sahara desert in the South, produces all the food it needs to feed its people. 

A typical Moroccan meal begins with an array of hot and cold salads, including both raw and cooked ingredients. Cold salads include zaalouk, an aubergine and tomato mixture, and taktouka (a mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, garlic and spices).

These are followed by a traditional tagine. This typical dish takes its name from the distinctive earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top in which it is cooked and served. It is essentially a slowly cooked lamb or poultry stew marrying meat with spices and a number of other ingredients such as almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes and other vegetables depending on regional and seasonal variations. The tagine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its distinctive flavoring, which comes from the blend of spices including saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and ground red pepper.

It is traditionally eaten with flat, round Moroccan Bread khobz, which is used as a utensil, as Moroccans usually eat with their hands.

One of the few dishes that is not eaten with the bread is the most famous dish from the region, couscous, which is usually eaten in Moroccan households on a Friday after prayers at the mosque. Although its origin is unknown, the word couscous is of Berber origin, from their word seksu. Couscous is a fine grain product made from semolina and is steamed several times to make it light and fluffy. It is served in many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood and with harissa on the side as a spicy accompaniment.

Mint tea is an integral part of Moroccan cuisine and culture as it is served at the end of every meal in Morocco. It is made up of green tea, lots of sprigs of fresh mint and sweetened with a large quantity of sugar while it is still in the pot. Traditionally, making good mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form and the drinking of it with friends and family is one of the important rituals of the day. The pouring technique is as crucial as the quality of the tea itself. For the best taste, glasses are filled in two stages from a height to create bubbles in the tea.

Some Moroccans joke that unemployment is so high that you find more men in cafes than in the work field. Cafes are mostly for men only, but in bigger cities, you can find some exceptions to this rule. Black coffee, orqahwa kahla, is taken Turkish-style in Morocco. But people also take their coffee with milk in varying proportions. Qahwa meherris (trans: broken coffee) is coffee with a dab of milk. The opposite is helib meherris (trans: broken milk): milk with a dab of coffee. In between these two are qahwa nus-nus: half coffee, half milk; and of course, café au lait (qahwa helib).

Although Islam forbids drinking alcohol, you will still see many Moroccans (almost exclusively men) in bars and buying alcohol in the grocery stores. The French introduced wine making to the country and there is still a significant industry. The most prominent winery in Morocco is the Celiers de Meknes, which produces a range in qualities, some of them quite tasty. The cheapest wine costs around 30 DH. You can get a nice bottle of red for 50 DH and above. Recommended are Guerrouane, Domain Sahari Reserves, Beauvallon and Medaillon (arguably the best label in Morocco).

Situated on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon has an area of 4,015 square miles (10,400 square kilometers), about three-fourths the size of the state of Connecticut. The Lebanon Mountains are rugged. East of the Lebanon Mountains is the Bekaa Valley, an extremely fertile flatland. At the eastern flank of the Bekaa stands Mount Hermon, straddling the border with Syria. Lebanon contains few rivers, and its harbors are mostly shallow and small.  Lebanon has an extraordinarily varied climate: within a 45-minute drive in winter, spring, and fall, both skiing and swimming are possible. Less than 30% of Lebanon's total area can support crop production. Expansion of cultivated areas is limited by the arid and rugged nature of the land.

A unique cultural history has helped to make Lebanese food the most popular of all Middle Eastern cuisines. For most of its past, Lebanon has been ruled by foreign powers that have influenced the types of food the Lebanese ate. From 1516 to 1918, the Ottoman Turks controlled Lebanon and introduced a variety of foods that have become staples in the Lebanese diet, including olive oil, fresh bread, baklava (a sweet pastry dessert), laban (homemade yogurt), stuffed vegetables, and a variety of nuts. The Ottomans also increased the popularity of lamb.

After the Ottomans were defeated in World War I (1914–1918), France took control of Lebanon until 1946, when the country won its independence. During this time, the French introduced some of their most widely eaten foods, particularly treats such as flan, a caramel custard dessert dating back to the 1500s, and buttery croissants.

The Lebanese themselves have also helped to bring foods of other cultures into their diet. Ancient tribes journeyed throughout the Middle East, carrying with them food that would not spoil easily, such as rice and dates. These foods slowly became part of the Lebanese diet. As the tribes wandered, they discovered new seasonings, fruits, and vegetables that they could add to their everyday meals. Exotic ingredients from the Far East (east and southeast Asia) and other areas of the world were often discovered by these early tribes.

The Lebanese diet focuses on herbs, spices, and fresh ingredients (the Lebanese rarely eat leftovers), relying less on heavy sauces. Mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon are the most common seasonings.

Bread, a staple food in Lebanon, is served with almost every meal, most often as a flat bread, or pita. It is so crucial to the Lebanese diet that some Arabic dialects refer to it as esh , meaning "life."

Fruit, vegetables, rice, and bread out-weigh the amount of meat eaten in the average Lebanese meal. However, the most commonly eaten meats, poultry and lamb, make up some of the country's most popular dishes. The national dish, kibbeh (or kibbe ), consists of a ground lamb and cracked wheat paste, similar to paté. Kibbeh was originally made by harshly pounding the lamb and kneading in the spices and wheat. Those who were unfamiliar with this practice often found it quite unpleasant, including the English food writer George Lassalle, who described it as "frightening." Some rural villages continue to prepare it this way.

Mezze, a variety of flavorful hot and cold dishes, is another important part of the Lebanese diet. As many as forty small dishes are presented at once as either appetizers or as a meal itself. Hummus (chickpea, sesame seed, and garlic paste), rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves, mashed beans, hot and cold salads, grilled seafood and meats (including kebabs, cooked cubes of lamb, peppers, and onions), and pickled vegetables are most popular. Lebanese meals are rarely served in courses, but presented all at once. Tabbouleh (a salad made with cracked wheat) and mujaddara (a lentil and rice dish) are also widely consumed.

Lebanon's variety of fresh fruits makes them popular after-dinner desserts. Melon, apples, oranges, tangerines, persimmons, grapes, and figs are great treats. Baklava, a sweet, flaky pastry, is usually associated with Greek cuisine. However, the Lebanese have embraced the dessert and normally prepare it with pistachio nuts, drizzled with rose-water syrup (the Greeks use walnuts and honey). Ahweh (strong, thick Arabic-style coffee) and the country's national drink, arak (a colorless alcoholic beverage made with anise, also called "Lion's Milk" because it is white), are most commonly served with dessert.