Morocco’s rich culture has its origin in the arrival of various peoples to its shores dating back to time of the Roman Empire, when the indigenous Berbers tribes of what is now Morocco, were joined by followers of Judaism who migrated here. It was with the conquest of the region by Arab Muslims in the 7th century AD, that the Berber culture began to be intermingled with the culture and language of the Arabs and the spread of the Islamic faith. Today, Morocco’s population is a rich tapestry of descendants of the original Berbers, Jews and Arab settlers, African slaves who arrived via trans-Saharan trade routes, Moors and Jews driven out of Iberia, and a more recent influx of immigrant populations from sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
The influences of various cultures can be evidenced in everyday dress and food, and there are many regional variations as well. While it is not unusual to see Moroccan men and women wearing traditional clothing, such as djellebas (long hooded garments with full sleeves) or babouche (traditional slippers), you are just as likely to see Moroccans wearing typically Western clothing, particularly in big cities. Many Moroccans now reserve traditional clothing such as the stunning taksheetas (custom made traditional gowns, often with elaborate beading and embroidery) for occasions such as weddings.
Moroccan artisans meld the best of modern and traditional to create stunning decorative items for the home, many of which are for export, using a variety of natural materials – marble, leather, clay, plaster, wool, and sabra (cactus silk) fibers. Artisans are highly innovative, and each foray into the souks will yield treasures not seen previously. The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is a true architectural beauty showcasing traditional artisanal plaster carving, enameled terra cotta mosaics and carved and intricately painted wood ceilings.
Early in Moroccan history, the diet was based largely on local ingredients such as olives, figs and dates. The Arabs introduced bread and other products made from grains, spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cumin and saffron, and the concept of mixing sweet and savory items in a dish (which originated with the Persians). These ingredients and traditions live on today, and are joined on today’s table by recipes originating in the Mediterranean, Andalusian and European kitchens of centuries past.
Moroccans continue to have access to locally sourced meats and fish and locally grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, including citrus fruits and almonds, both of which have an important place in the Moroccan kitchen. However, recent decades have seen the availability of packaged goods grow, many of which are imported and do little to nothing to offer any health benefit.
Traditionally, meals were taken at home, but in the past few decades, restaurants have become a more popular venue for modern Moroccan families, especially as women have joined the workforce and household help has become less common. While Moroccan food is still the norm in most homes, it is easy to find a lot of variety in local restaurants if you are craving Thai, sushi, Italian or any variety of foods. However, if you are lucky enough to be invited into a Moroccan home, you will experience amazing hospitality and delicious food that is truly second to none.