By Gabrielle Loyer, gluten-free traveler and CCA member
Morocco is an Arab country situated in the north-west corner of Africa, south of Europe. It is 15 kilometres from Spain, on the Mediterranean. Morocco is a major destination for tourism and Mediterranean travel. An estimated 9 million tourists visited the Kingdom of Morocco in 2010. Morocco offers a complete destination for any traveller seeking the sun, the sea, mountains and/or the desert. In Morocco, you see stark contrasts; you can pass by the Sahara with its extreme heat, or head up to the snowy Atlas Mountains with its frigid temperatures. With many cultures within one country, both the population and cuisine are diversified. Moreover, Moroccan cuisine is considered by many as one of the best in the world, with its Mediterranean flavour characterised by a variety of dishes originating in Arab and Berber traditions, complemented by numerous spices. Their food has characteristics similar to other cuisines in the Maghreb region, but while conserving its unique cultural identity.
Moroccan cuisine offers a number of gluten-free choices. Their tajines (stew), based on a variety of meats, such as beef, chicken and lamb, are probably the best choice. Tajine is the traditional plate “par excellence” of Morocco. It is a simple dish, so the success really depends on the cooking method: it must be done slowly so the meats, fish, veggies and spices mingle their scents together. You may be surprised by the sweet and salty tajines, which feature the taste of spices, almonds, and prunes. Served with vegetables, olives and the famous Moroccan eggplant salad (Zaalouk), tajine makes for a fine meal. Don’t forget that a Moroccan dining experience cannot be considered complete without a coffee or a delicious sweet tea, scented with fresh mint.
Some Moroccans speak English, but the majority speak French, and certain Arab words can be useful: wheat (khramèh), barley (zarra), bread (khrobz), milk (halib) and allergic (azèzia). While Moroccans tend not to be aware of celiac disease, they are very respectful and followed our wishes with care in order to avoid cross-contamination. That said, wheat is quite common in Moroccan dishes. For breakfast, the majority of options contain gluten. There’s gheffa, a sort of wheat cake. Harcha is also prepared with wheat. Baghrirs are Moroccan crêpes that locals have with honey, butter or fresh cheese. Bread does go with all meals, but you can just leave it on the table. Moroccan pastries are varied and refined, but unfortunately, they are made with a wheat flour base. In certain spots, though, you can find nut macaroons that are gluten free. To finish off your meal, you’ll always have the chance to sample a nice seasonal fruit, such as melon, grapes, figs, or oranges. And the Moroccan snacks cannot be beat – dried fruit, dates, almonds, pistachios, grapes, apricots and figs. Olive oil and olives play a major role in Moroccan cuisine, and it’s that which gives it the Mediterranean flavour.
It’s possible to find products labelled gluten-free in the special diet section of certain commercial supermarkets, such as Marjane and Acima. The products are there, but there is not much choice – a few chocolate or ginger cookies and rice cakes. At these stores, you can also find some refrigerated gluten-free products like compotes that are labelled GF. Further, the SANTIVERI boutiques (www.santiverimaroc.com) offer a large choice of fresh, gluten-free bread, cookies, pasta and sauces.
The Cuisine Kingdom of Morocco is, therefore, a dream spot for those who love Mediterranean cuisine, with some Arab and Berber. It’s a trip to a world of flavourful and diverse gastronomy, and it will leave you eager to try Moroccan cuisine yourself when you return home.
Besaha – Bon appétit!