Talking tajine, tourism and tradition with Amanda Mouttaki, the voice behind the MarocMama food project

Amanda Mouttaki – the name behind the hugely popular and endlessly rewarding MarocMama food guide and culinary tours company – knows the Marrakech food scene inside and out. Because we’re always in search of what’s truly authentic about our destinations, we asked Amanda to serve up some answers to our most pressing questions about how the city eats – from the best tajines to the importance of community in Morocco’s traditional cooking.

Firstly, tell me about yourself, and tell me about your MarocMama project. 

I’m an American woman living in Marrakech with my Moroccan husband and our three kids. I started writing my website MarocMama over twelve years ago mostly as a resource for people who wanted to adapt Moroccan recipes for an American kitchen. Food has always been an important part of our lives but as we moved to Morocco nearly 7seven years ago I began writing more from a travel angle – with a heavy focus on food. Shortly after we moved to Marrakech and having people asking us all the time where to eat my husband and I started a food tour company as a parallel business to my website where we can show guests where to go to eat authentic Moroccan food. 

 

I think everyone has – in their minds – a perception of what Moroccan cuisine ‘is.’ I’m thinking tagine, mint tea, Etc. Tell me I’m wrong. 

You’re not completely wrong.  Tajine and mint tea certainly are important parts of the cuisine but there’s a lot of other aspects that rarely make it beyond the borders of the country. Bread for one thing is such an integral part of the cuisine. There are so many different varieties and for most Moroccans a meal isn’t a meal unless there’s bread.

I think two other misconceptions people have are 1) Moroccan food is spicy (it’s not, it uses a lot of spices but very few things are “hot” and 2) there’s a lot of meat involved. Traditional Moroccan cuisine is very light on meat, it’s added if available and then only in small amounts. You never eat the meat first, you fill up on everything else and have a few bites of meat at the end. Meat was and still is to many a luxury but you wouldn’t know that based on menus in most tourist restaurants. Finally only because this is something I constantly see outside Morocco, couscous and tajine do not go together. Couscous is its own dish, it’s not a side dish to tajine. Moroccans never eat tajine with couscous.

Marrakech – in particular – swells during the tourist season. Does that make it difficult to find a truly authentic meal? 

Well, I’d probably argue that this is the case across Morocco and any time of year. The truth is Moroccans do not go out to eat Moroccan food – the exception being if they possibly are on vacation in another Moroccan city. The most authentic Moroccan food you’ll eat is in someone’s home or cooked by someone preparing it like they are at home. 90% of the Moroccan food cooked in restaurants is cooked specifically for tourists. This doesn’t mean it’s all bad but it’s not as good as it should be. Sadly most tourists don’t really know the difference. The places that serve the most authentic food are likely to be the places you’re least likely to walk in. 

 

How would you characterise the cuisine of Marrakech specifically – in terms of its regional character?

Marrakech is a crossroads and has been a crossroads of trade for hundreds of years. That means it has a bit of this and a bit of that. The climate also plays a role in the foods that come from here. The most famous dish is the tangia, it’s something you should make a point to eat in Marrakech because you won’t find it elsewhere and it comes from here. What you won’t find is a lot of dairy in Marrakech whether that’s cheese or milk in dishes. Again the climate just didn’t leave ways for people to store these things traditionally so it isn’t as typical. 

And how has it changed?

I think a lot of the changes that have come might not affect the everyday Marrakechi as they do the tourists that come to visit or those people that can afford imported options either in the grocery store or restaurants. Most Moroccans aren’t eating in the restaurants tourists are because it’s simply too expensive. Just like a lot of places there’s a wider availability of processed goods now so this has affected the typical diet. Also, as people do make more money now than in the past you’re seeing a lot more meat in the diet and more dining out in “fast food” type restaurants. 

What does the ‘typical’ Moroccan meal look like?

Usually lunch is the biggest meal of the day. You’ll always have some dish that’s the central item usually that’s tajine (or couscous if it’s a big gathering or a Friday). With that you’ll have anywhere from one to maybe five (sometimes more) smaller, usually cooked salads. For the main dish it’s always served communally and everyone eats from the main dish using bread. Afterwards dessert is seasonal fruit. 

Ok, I have to pass through Morocco. I can eat only one thing. What do I buy?

Not fair but I would say the one thing you eat is a tajine (your choice of what’s inside) cooked over charcoal with fresh, warm bread. 

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