Common fish and seafood in Morocco

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Having lived in different countries, I always found it difficult to find some types of fish I grew up eating. Fishing industry is one of the main sources of money for the country.

For any Moroccan, fresh fish is the deal. We don’t buy frozen, we like to see the head of most of the fish we buy to define its freshness and we usually discard anything not caught the same day.
We have plenty of calamari, whiting, sardines, sea bass, eel, sole, skate while tuna gets snatched by the Japanese in high sea.

Common fish in Moroccan markets

Some of the very common fish you find at the fishmongers stalls and which are heavily used for different recipes:
  • Bar or loup bar (Moroccans call it “le loup” or “Darii”) and can measure anywhere from 20 to 70 cm, is also a favourite for fish tagines or stuffing. It’s seems it’s a type of bass when it’s translated to English.
  • La lotte (Eng: monkfish) is another perfect fish for tagine and a favourite.
  • Congre (farkh or sennour in Moroccan) is conger in English, perfect for tagines again
  • Ombrine (Eng: umbrine) is used for stuffing as well as pageot (Eng: red sea bream)
  • Merlan (Mirna, mirla in Moroccan) or whiting in English, a -Moroccan favourite for fishballs or for frying.
  • Shark and espadon are commonly used from grilled fish kebabs.
  • Soles are just as good for cooking “en papillote” or frying.

 

Fishmonger in a local market

References in Moroccan fish

This webpage offers an idea of the commonly caught fish in Morocco. This is an example of the common fish in Morocco (from the Southern region only).
We have multiple ways of cooking fish: frying, grilling, stewing or baking.
Fresh oyster with lemon juice (freshly opened for me as we tend to snack on it on the go)

Common ways to cook fish and seafood in Morocco

While the small fried or grilled fish is usually served as starter, a cooked tagine and baked tray of fish can have whole big fish with the head, filleted fish or fish balls.
During family gatherings, we like to buy a big fish, stuff it and bake it or we cut it into big pieces and make tagine.
Fresh shrimp, small sardines, soles, squids, whiting…etc, commonly found in Moroccan markets
Most of the fish tagines or baked tray have one of the chermoulas as main seasoning, but in some areas, a sweet element is introduced while chermoula is not used. Safi is a city which is famous with it’s fish stuffed with interesting praline paste while Rabat and Fes use a specific type of fish which they cook with sultanas. Now some sultanas are acidic and others are sweet. So you want to find the right one for the job.
Basic fish recipes especially for grilling or cooking in “papillote” might just need cumin or salt and that’s about it. The fish is so fresh that you just want to keep the taste of the sea intact.
Many small ports in Morocco have small joints who are only there to serve you a tomato and onion salad and offer to grill the fish you would have bought from the fishermen who just got out of the sea with loads of freshly caught fish. That’s how fresh it can get!
Some of the upcoming posts will be all about fish. So locate a place where you can get fresh fish and let’s get cooking.
But for now, I leave you with a list of some previously posted recipes of fish and seafood with different cooking options:
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Mahlabas, an icon of Moroccan street food on a low budget

Mahlaba literally means”dairy shop” but actually it goes beyond that. Mahlabas are our “Mcdonald’s” only with healthier options. They’re our saviours in hungry moments.  If you have a working mother, you can grab a breakfast formula (juice or yoghurt and sandwich), or a snack for snack time.

 

A modern Mahlaba with seats and tables

There is a sacred relationship between Moroccans and their Mahlabas. And these shops keep us addicted to them that they even get designed according to new trends, to accommodate more people. They extended their menus in the last 20 years..Some of them even make tagines and soups.

 

A Mahlaba with a funny name found in Larache

But how did it all start?

Mahlabas were famous with their dairy products such as milk (sometimes farm milk), traditional Moroccan yoghurt (Raib), Moroccan cottage cheese Jben and farm butter.

They moved on to make sweet and savoury snacks such as Moroccan flabreads and Msemmens, harcha and sweet galettes and cakes but also cheap croissants and slices of cakes with cream.

 

Some products founds in Mahlabas, ask for a fresh juice
and a sandwich and they’ll make it for you right there

We always loved and still love Mahlabas because that’s where you will always have a fresh
panaché (a mixed fruit juice) or juice. On the less healthy option you could get cold sodas. Nowadays, you can even get hot drinks such as Moroccan tea, coffee and a few other hot drinks.

Moroccan yoghurt, sold with or without fruit topping

The traditional humble Moroccan sandwiches found in a Mahlaba would be: bread with cheese, Barley bread with cheese and boiled eggs. bread with tuna, olives and harissa or bread with cheese and cold cuts (casher).

Mahlabas got creative in presenting many basic products, this is yoghurt with a coulis

Again, the list of sandwiches has gone bigger and there are more options especially in Mahlabas located close to schools or offices.

More Moroccan yoghurt (Raib)

Mahlabas are found in all Moroccan cities and they cater for all ages and all spheres of the society. On their own, the Mahlabas represent a version of Moroccan street food.

Some sweet pastries usually found in Mahlabas

So, do you know where to look for the Moroccan avocado juice or just a standard fruit juice? Head to a Mahlabas..You will always be well fed on a ridiculously low budget. Do not forget to grab a cold panaché for a multivitamins punch..It’s always tasty because it will be made with fresh fruits. 




Moroccan olives and olive oil

Today’s post is about olives, olives and olives.

We’re all about olive oil and olives in Morocco. We have different varieties of both and we consume masses and masses of them.

We like our olive oil cold pressed and unfiltered.

In fact, I used to spend my childhood vacations on the top of an old “m’aassra”, these are the olive oil producing units where the oil is (used to be, in my time) extracted in the most traditional way. there was a whole level of flats all smelling olive and olive oil that it does not make any difference passed a few hours of my presence in the flat..I have to mention that the primary schools in Morocco used to give 3 months vacation, out of which half will be spent in Fes with my aunties.

So olives are in my blood, so to say.

The main variety of olive in Morocco is “Moroccan picholine” but there are many others.

We eat olives, we extract oil from them and use the rests to make soap/black soap. We also cook with them (chicken m’qualli with olives here, hmmmm or potato and chicken tagine here which is a nation-favourite to name a few).

Basically, these sellers in Ben’jdia Market (Casablanca) have all what’s needed for a yummy olives and tuna sandwich or cheese and olives or cold cuts and olives, harissa is on request but don’t skip it! Here is a snack/meal on the go.

So, what do you thing of these olives coming with grated cold cuts and chopped pickles (see below)?

And how about those purple olives which we mostly use in chicken tagines and as a garnish with some salads.

Years and years ago (even now but lesser), I used to see my family members getting their massive buckets of olives from Fes. Then my mother would cure them herself. My parents always loved Meslala as well as the black picholine but left slightly bitter after a few days of curing, while we, the children, preferred the olives with a milder taste and with different marinations. Any olive connoisseur will advise you to buy unpitted olives because they taste much better than pitted ones, especially if you buy them in a brine. Actually, selling unpitted olives in a watery brine should be illegal!

 

The good news, you don’t have to cure your olives from scratch unless you are lucky to get hold of them straight from the tree. If you have visited Morocco or are from there, you are familiar with streets of olive shops who sell them in different colours and marinades..

My next post will be about how to marinate cured olives the Moroccan way! I hope you’ll be back to check!

Stay tuned….

 


Ramadan in Morocco

Today’s post is about Ramadan and how it’s observed and “celebrated” in Morocco.

I’d like to propose a better understanding of what Ramadan is about but most importantly, Islam being one Religion, people live it differently, according to their own cultural background, which is an important point to remember when we watch the mainstream media who tries to put all Muslim in one mold…

I’m going to write about the holy month of Ramadan from a cultural (including culinary) point of view.
In my description of the Moroccan way of eating during Ramadan, I’ll try to give a glimpse of the main habits, old and Modern bearing in mind that they can vary from a family to another. Also bear in mind things can be very different between major city dwellers and other parts of the country.
Moroccan savoury bites during Ramadan
Each month of Ramadan, the usual eating habits are very different as compared to non-fasting days. If Harira (the National soup) remains the essential dish in Ramadan’s table for many families, each home has some other preferred specialties.
Last meal before sunrise is called S’hour or souhour (an Ealy breakfast) and the meal at sunset is called Iftar (f’tour in Morocco).

 

We love shneiks, Moroccan krachel and danish during Iftar or just after it, along with coffee..
This a stereotype about Harira soup being served in EVERY Moroccan home during Ramadan. Actually, this is not the case. There is a repertoire of other soups which are served (like the one here and the other there). More on that subject, I am one of those who can’t digest it due to amount of tomatoes in it and I never ask for it.
Many Moroccans, aware of how harira can be heavy on their stomach (but their pocket too since the price of tomatoes during Ramadan goes sky-high), they literally avoid any bowl of soup to leave space for other goodies. Harira is a meal in itself.
Harira

The Moroccan ouarka sheets (not to confuse with phylo dough) is highly needed to make sweet and savoury triangles (samosa’s cousins), rolls or sbiaats (with almond here or savoury there), mini-bastillas. You may be surprised on the number of mini-bites served on a Moroccan table for Iftar.

Making mini-bastillas ahead of time, they’ll be frozen, uncooked, then baked when needed.

Moroccan women are very creative in the kitchen and cooking is most of the time a second nature which reach its peak in this holy month. They also get organized and make many recipes ahead of Ramadan..Usually, the two weeks before Ramadan are quite busy in our Moroccan homes with all the preparations related to food.

Msemmen, baghrir, mlaoui and other baked or pan-fried Moroccan pancake specialties are also served during Iftar or sohour, either stuffed on the savoury side (for Msemmen and mlaoui) or just drizzled with warm honey and butter.
Plenty of Moroccan pancakes 
As far as the drinks are concerned, Coffee, tea, a myriad of homemade juices are a must on the Iftar table or just after that. It actually depends on the family members. Here is the scenario in our house: While I like having my cold orange for Iftar, my brother would rather have milk and dates in the mosque then join us for the meal.. My brother-in-law can’t function without a first coffee with a croissant. Some just settle for water as a start..Then comes the food.
The so-traditional chebbakia
The Moroccan F’tour
So, is there a rule as to what people eat and how/when? Not really..But like I said, let’s just give some common “formulas” for a Moroccan F’tour.
1- Soup is vital: Some won’t call it ramadan’s Iftar if they don’t see a soup on their table (Harira is one of them). This comes with dates and chebbakia. Then a pause, then tea, coffee, sellou and Moroccan pancakes  of different kind are served just before everybody dashes for Isha prayer, after which a light tagine or grills will be served for dinner. This is a very traditional and widely spread in the deep part of the country and in families with limited budget.
2- Fish, fish and fish :In some coastal cities such as Casablanca and El Jadida, some families can literally have fish for Iftar every single day.”If there is no fish, there is no f’tour”. These also fall under the persons who chose to eat a meal and not break the fast with the soup & small bites formula. Some will have a small bowl of soup, pray while somebody is in charge of finalizing the fish dish.
Mini-harchas
3- Start slowly: People following Sunna (Prophet’s way of living) break the fast with dates and milk , pray, then have the soup with the mini-bites as mentioned previously. The dinner time will be only after the last prayer of the night called (Isha’a)…Anyone following Sunna will wake up for Souhour even for a date or a yoghurt. They usually get the most of the Ramadan’s diet.
4- All in one go: Some, like me, prefer to eat in one go during Iftar which we combine with dinner: A juice and one or two of the usual small bites on the table that day (small Moroccan krachel or danish, an almond briouats or sbiaat, a couple of stuffed mini-batbout, seafood rolls, mini-harcha…). I then eat my dinner right after, that could be grilled meat or fish, tagine of vegetables. I’m done until souhour where I keep it light but wisely chosen: bread, egg, yoghurt, cheese or a sort of porridge.
Classic Ramadan sweets
The Moroccan S’hour
This is again something following everyone’s taste. In Fez where my family comes from, it’s either a homemade yoghurt called Raib or/and mini-batbout drenched in warm honey and butter which would be flavoured with a bit of orange blossom water. Jben (Moroccan white cheese) is also part of the souhour table. Some go for heavier option such as egg and khlii omelet or eat leftover dinner or leftover pastry..
I prefer to keep it simple and wise, it’s either an egg sandwich or cheese sandwich for me. Sometimes, I’ll just settle for yoghurt or a hot porridge to keep me going for a few hours. I avoid too much sweets at all cost during souhour. You need to play it smart or you won’t last until next Iftar :).
Some decide to skip the whole thing, which is not advisable neither by the religion nor by the fact that ramadan is now falling in longer days of the years (for some time)..
Mid-Ramadan
There is nothing special in term of food in mid-ramadan unless you are running out of chebbakia and not wanting to buy it from the market. In this case, you have a long task which consist on replenishing your stock..
The sweet thing in that day is that most of the children who are not eligible to fast yet give it a go (even for half a day) and try to look “grown-up”..The child (ren) is then rewarded by his favourite culinary requests, maybe some money too but most of all, he/she feels so special especially if they manage to finish the day..There is practically nothing to expect from chidren below 9 or 10 especially when It’s about fasting a long day. It’s fun when they try to fast half a day then come and ask mummy “can you sew all the hours I’ve been fasting (understand not nibbling) to make up for a day? I don’t know any mother who didn’t have the magic needle..
Moroccan Jben, a fresh white cheese
Lailat El Qadr (Night of Power, Night of destiny)
The most important night in Ramadan on a spiritual level (Although it hasn’t been precised as of which of the last 10 unpair nights it is, many people tend to believe it’s the 27th). Some families serve trays dried nuts and fruits, draw henna patterns on the hands and feet of little girls (not eligible for fasting yet) who decided to fast that day (and also grown ups). In some areas of Morocco, the main dish for that day is a special couscous.
Eid ul Fitr: Feast of Breaking the Fast
In Morocco, this Eid is also called Eid S’ghir (small) as opposed to Eid El K’bir (the feast of the sheep). People perform the zakat El fitr which is an obligatory form of charity from those who can afford it.
This Eid is basically the day after the last fasting day when men wake up before sunset to get ready with their best traditional attire and head to Moussalla to offer Eid prayer.
In the meantime, women are busy making an important breakfast: plain Moroccan pancakes in all forms and shapes, tea and coffee. Sweets’ trays are prepared to be placed in the guests’ area because the day is for receiving families and loved ones and counting the blessings.
Some traditional Moroccan sweets for eid.

 

Notes about the meaning of Ramadan 
Ramadan, besides being a month to go for a good body detox (and potentially lose weight and drop bad habits), it is primarily meant to be a detox for the soul and a time to strengthen our faith and our community bonds.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar year. Practicing Muslims are asked to fast for 29 to 30 days (the month’s observance is based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon).
Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims, except those who are seriously ill, traveling, pregnant (special cases and times of pregnancy or breastfeeding), or women with PMS.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking or smoking, no sexual intercourse either. Food and drink is served daily, before dawn (call for Fajr prayer) and at sunset (call for Maghrib prayer) and life goes back to normal between couples (unlike what I have heard from Non-Muslims who thought they knew what Ramadan was about).
Muslims are also called to work on their soul and attitudes by refraining from swearing, gossiping and remembering to be decent at all time. To those who give Jihad another bloody meaning, this is what Jihad is  first and foremost about: the Prophet asked us to educate our soul and self against wrong-doing and elevate it to a pure creation, this is called “Jihad an-nafss” considering the energy once needs to put in this effort.
Unfortunately, what we see in the media, Jihad is usually associated with blood and ignorant people seeking power and coming with the worst misinterpretation this religion has ever had.
If Muslims can’t be an example anymore of the Perfect God’s creature in his/her behaviour, this is the month where he/she is supposed to re-educate themselves and take the right path that God is asking is to chose.
Having lived in many Muslim countries including our homeland, the reality is else: some people lose it easily, burglary and accidents go up, people eat too much and mix up things (as opposed to what the
Prophet’s Sunna has advised) and this result in sickness and waste. There is a lot of laziness and no commitment at work (which is considered wrong and viewed as a form of treachery). Unfortunately, people only remember the stomach-fasting part of it but not the eye (sight), ear (listening), the heart (bad feelings towards others), ..
Now from a culinary point of view, one can’t limit all Muslim under one ritual..
Being Moroccan from a certain region, I’d say we have a common line of conduct among all of us and I’ll even include Algerian and Tunisia in this pattern. Egyptians and Middle-Eastern Arabs (I will only limit my comparison to this ethnic group) have a wayyyyy different set of recipes for this month.
When I lived in Dubai and Doha, I had to re-create my own menu and I was only going out for Iftar to have something “exotic”. That is how different Moroccan F’tour can be from the other fellow Arabs. Not only that, Moroccans do not have Sohour tents with massive entertainment until dawn. Sohour in Morocco refers to the first early meal before fajr prayer (announcing we should refrain from eating) while a Souhour tent in the Middle-East is usually associated with Music, shiisha, food and a good dose of socializing. Moroccans either go to coffee shops or go visit families/friends in their homes and potentially share dinner. They’ll go home to sleep and then wake up for the Sohour bite..1 Ramadan, 2 different practices.