“What to do in Morocco?
How can one choose between its ancient cities, maze-like medinas, golden-colored kasbahs, the grandeur of the Atlas mountains, or the allure of the sea…oh, and the Atlantic ocean!! Admittedly, I’m biased. I was lucky enough to live in Morocco for almost 2.5 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Like many Middle Eastern and North African societies, Moroccans are VERY hospitable. People have a way of quickly making you feel at home. How often, in America, would someone invite you to eat dinner with them 5 minuets after meeting you? This happened literally everyday! In fact, I visited so many homes that I never learned how to say, “I’m hungry” in Berber or Moroccan Arabic!
Aywaa, back to the question at hand: What should you do if you visit Morocco? Take a cookery class in traditional Moroccan cuisine; visit a hammam (public steam bath); wander round one of the country’s many souqs; spend the night in a traditional riad; visit the tanneries of Fes or get lost on a walk through the beautiful blue streets of Chefchaouen.
It doesn’t stop there. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, how about taking an overnight camel trek in the Sahara Desert, surfing Southern Morocco’s Atlantic breakers or hiking through the Ourika Valley or High Atlas Mountains? Head for Oukaïmeden, just outside of Ifrane, and you can even go skiing, despite the proximity to the Sahara Desert.
But for a real journey through Morocco, try exploring the food and drink. Eating and drinking in Morocco is a social ritual tied to many important cultural nuances. Thanks to the country’s interactions with various empires throughout the centuries, Morocco’s food and drinks are savory, sweet and extremely diverse.
Regarding drinks, Moroccans are refreshed with mint tea about four times per day. It’s the national drink. Traditional Moroccan mint tea is made using Chinese gunpowder tea and spearmint leaves. Depending on the region and the season, many families mix it up, using ingredients such as pine nuts, sage, za’atar (thyme), saffron, fresh orange blossoms, fliou (a variety of mint), louiza (lemon verbena), sheba (wormwood leaves) and wild geranium.
Moroccans like their tea very sweet. When ordering tea in a restaurant, sugar will be served on the side and you can adjust it to your personal taste. Because tea occupies such an important place in Moroccan food culture, great importance is placed on the way it is served. You can avoid committing cultural faux pas by observing those around you. Notice how the tea is mixed and then poured into each glass from high above to produce a foamy layer called kelkousha on the top of the tea.
There’s not just tea, though: one remnant of French occupation is Morocco’s coffee culture. Cappuccino, espresso or the very milky ‘nus nus’ (half coffee, half milk) are all readily available. Sometimes coffee is served with exotic spices like, ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger.
Smoothies are another great option as juice bars are popular hangouts in many Moroccan cities. There are many popular combinations: avocado with milk and almonds; dates with milk; strawberry and banana; carrot and orange… the delicious list just goes on.
In addition to taking great pride the country’s food and drink culture, as I said before, Moroccan families are very hospitable. If someone invites you to their home for Friday couscous or mint tea, this is likely a genuine offer – take them up on it!
You may be inclined to bring a small gift, like a bottle of soda or cookies. Eat with your right hand only and remember to say efak (please) and shukran (thank you). Bismillah (a religious expression) is said before eating and drinking. If you really want to be polite, you can throw in a few llah irHam lwaldin. Now I realize that this may all go out the window come mealtime, but the most important thing is to ditch any diet you may be on and wear elastic-waist pants!
In conclusion, in Morocco, you can have the time of your life, eat delicious foods, and make new friends without ‘Moroccan’ the boat. Just remember to bring an appetite for delicious food and your sweet tooth for Moroccan mint tea!
Tiffany Harris, USA
YaLa Young Leaders