If you are traveling to Morocco, you are in for a treat! Not only is the country one of the most culturally diverse in Africa, but it has perhaps the most diverse menus as well. I could enumerate for you every single thing you have to try (the lamb, beef, chickpeas, various fruits, tagine stew, mint tea, and the tasty desert, bastilla), but I’m going to use my short time to go into detail about what is probably the oldest culinary tradition in Morocco: couscous. Couscous is a prepared form of semolina (or, durum wheat middlings) that includes a vegetable and beef or lamb stew on top. Couscous resembles coarse grits or even rice in its texture, and is the most common meal for the average Moroccan. This is why it’s important for you to be introduced to it. People are proud of their food, and a tourist who demonstrates knowledge and appreciation for the locals’ favorite dish makes friends quickly.
With Berber origins, coucous is one of the only entirely indigenous recipes still in use today in North Africa. The oldest reference to the food comes from a Moroccan cookbook of unknown authorship dated to the 13th century. Since that time, couscous has spread throughout the world and is enjoyed everywhere from Syria to Brazil. High in carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, couscous makes an ideal and inexpensive meal for the active traveler. While the couscous we have in the West is often instant, making traditional Moroccan couscous is quite labor-intensive. The way it is often done, the semolina is rolled into pellets by means of a long process of sprinkling with water and dry semolina until all of the available grain is utilized. The pellets are then steamed and dried in the sun to be stored. Once the semolina is prepared, the Moroccan cook will serve it drenched in vegetable stew and chunks of meat. Sometimes, couscous is served as a desert called seffa where it is topped with almonds, cinnamon, and sugar.
Coucous is actually one of the most healthy grain products in the world, offering a greater volume of essential nutrients than wheat grains, pastas, and rice. When on the streets of Morocco, you will be able to find coucous at every corner, so when making a selection and when complementing your cook or host, it is important to know what good couscous should taste like. When cooked properly, couscous should be light and fluffy like thoroughly steamed white rice. It has a somewhat nutty flavor and seems a bit sweeter than other grains, but typically it adopts the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. So complement your host on their beef or spicy sauces!
If you are looking for the best places to try couscous while in Morocco, your best bet is to stick with riad restaurants. Riads, or traditional Moroccan homes-turned hotels and restaurants, offer the best quality of traditional offerings that you can find.