In contrast to our own rules; being scolded not to play with our food or to eat it with our fingers – the situation in Morocco is quite the opposite. Read on for some fun facts and trivia to find out 5 ways that religion and culture impact the eating and food habits in Morocco.

Sharing

Eating in Morocco is about coming together and sharing. The family unit is extremely important, and what better way to strengthen that than by sharing a meal. Besides, the idea of large family groups for dinner explains the size and number of salons in Moroccan houses!


Typically, the dining table in a Moroccan home will be a low one. Everyone sits on the divans around the edge of the room surrounding the table, and reaches forwards to get their food. This will most often be served on a single and very large platter – one big plate for everyone. This especially applies to meals like tajines and couscous, for example. Everyone helps themselves to the one platter which is piled up with food.

Contributing to this chaotic coming together, another food rule is “talk while you eat” – quite the opposite to the rules we grow up with – don’t talk with your mouth full, be quiet. In Morocco, eating in silence is considered rude.

It is also bad manners to reach across in front of anyone else. It is important to take food only from right in front of you. If you are set on a particularly juicy looking piece of chicken or vegetable, you must ask someone to pass it to you.  

And of course, there is always “Couscous Friday”. Similar to sitting around the table together over a Sunday roast on a traditional day of rest and church, the Moroccans also have their Sunday roast. Their roast is couscous, and the rest time is Friday afternoons when a large weekly prayer time takes place and then families come together for their meal.

The couscous itself is a very small type of pasta. On top of a mini mountain of couscous, in the middle of the plate, the food is piled. First is the meat, then the vegetables, then something sweet like cooked prunes or raisins or dried apricots, and right at the top is the pile of glazed caramelized onions.

This is in itself a clever ploy, because the meat has been carefully hidden underneath. It is no more appropriate to dig for the meat than it is to reach in front of someone. This means everyone has to eat a good amount of the vegetables on top first, the healthy bits that are good for us, before eating the meat. If you find the meat first, wait until it is generally uncovered by all before having your tidbits.

Cumin and the Basics

On our table, we are used to having salt and pepper, and maybe also ketchup and mustard. On a Moroccan table there is salt and cumin, olive oil and maybe vinegar. Cumin actually works very well instead of pepper, especially on eggs. But importantly, it is thought to stimulate the digestive system.


Mornings also have their standards. No morning can be started without tea and olive oil. And with that olive oil comes the basic bread, the Moroccan daily staple – rghifa. This is a flat sheet bread in a square, flour mixed with a lot of oil. It is dry fried, then spread with butter or oil, jam or honey, Moroccan white cheese or amlou, almond paste mixed with argan oil. The bread can be rolled or folded, and cut.

Prosperity

Religion and culture are deeply important in shaping attitudes towards food in Morocco. Baraka is a very significant word, meaning blessing. The bitter Moroccan olive oil is always on the table and used on many foods, a symbol of prosperity. 

Another sign of prosperity will be bread on the table for every meal, even if not needed. Being there shows that the house is full of things, another sign of plenty.

Drinking

Some traditional rules about drinking include that you should not drink while eating. But after eating the meal it is good to follow with a glass of tea. This is supposed to aid digestion, and to be especially good after a large or heavy meal including red meat. The only exception to this is lben – the sour buttermilk very much loved by Moroccans. It is drunk with couscous.

There are also rules about drinking water. You should never gulp it down as soon as you are given it. Start with 3 small sips. After that you can drink the water as you like.

Hands

Some etiquette with hands is that you must wash your hands before a meal. This is logical, of course, especially when eating with your hands. But in Morocco it is almost an obsessive requirement, like a ritual before eating.

Due to Moroccans eating with their hands, they use just three fingers – the thumb and the first two fingers, keeping the two little ones out of the way. Many Moroccans are also quite particular about using only the right hand, since the left hand is used for the toilet. This may no longer be essential for health reasons with the higher standards of today, but it is now embedded within the customs of Morocco.

There is one more trick which is fun to know about. Make sure you get your fingers messy with your food, because it is also important to lick your fingers! This is a rather lovely spin on prosperity. You need to lick your fingers to make sure you catch the prosperity in them, and since you don’t know which finger might have the prosperity in it, you must lick all of them. You don’t want to take the chance of missing out.

So come to dinner. Try out your Moroccan eating etiquettes. Maybe drop into Blue Door Cuisine for a food event, learn how to cook a tajine or couscous, then practice your table manners eating your own food.

Written by OzzyHopper.

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