I have always appreciated Moroccan culture since it is rich in history and has unique traditions. One of the significant components of this cultural diversity is Moroccan food. Moroccan flavours are widely known all over the world and recognized among the best cuisines in the world. Each dish has a story to tell, from the varied Tagines to the Moroccan Bastila. But in addition to these well-known dishes, Moroccan cuisine is also renowned for its sweets. More than simple desserts, these pieces of art take on different names when their flavours, textures, and shapes are changed. However, despite these differences, Moroccan pastries do all share the same secret, each piece has a specific tradition and occasion to which Moroccans attach it. And for that reason, these sweets are not simple treats but also cultural symbols.
So, what is the history of Moroccan pastry? What are Morocco's most well-known pastries and what do Moroccans associate them with?
The origins of Moroccan pastries are very old. If we go far back, the roots are Berber. Then when the Umayyads and the Abbasids arrived from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, they introduced new recipes based on sweet almonds, honey, pistachio, sesame oil, and peanuts. In the XVI century, the Turkish influence on Moroccan pastry became more noticeable. With the decline of the Arab presence in Andalusia, many Andalusians of Muslim and Jewish faith crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and settled in particular in the city of Fez, bringing with them their traditions.
So let's start with the most well-known, the 'Chebakia', which tells the tale of a sweet that has spread across Morocco. During Ramadan, a pastry in the shape of a flower that is cooked in oil and covered in honey is a must-have item on all Iftar tables. Although it has become very popular throughout the years, it has not always been made in the region. It is one of the honey sweets that serve as an introduction to the local cuisine. It was created in parallel with the migration of the Jewish and Muslim communities from Andalusia. The 'Chebakia' is a sweet that, in modern times and in contrast to its past, stands in for all the feelings that Moroccans associate with the holy month of Ramadan. For them, this pastry represents more than just a dish; it is an annual, sacred tradition that will be passed down from one generation to the next.
Another well-known Moroccan dish is called 'Briouates' which are triangle-shaped and can be either salty, or sweet and filled with cinnamon, flower water, sugar, and almonds. 'Briouates' are also made during Ramadan, but they are as well consumed all year long and frequently presented on festive occasions like weddings and newborn celebrations, as well as any other gathering with a traditional aspect. I also include the 'Mhancha' in this collection; it is a sizable Moroccan pie with a round form that is filled with almonds and drizzled with honey. Its name comes from the snake-related tree from which its round shape was derived. Moreover, there is the "Pastilla", which is a classic Moroccan dish with a Spanish name. Dough, onions, doves, parsley, coriander, almonds, and cinnamon are used in the preparation of pastillas. It is served all across the country, is very popular and is present in all Moroccan pastries. It is distinguished by its combination of salty and sweet taste.
Finally, it's important to mention the assortment of desserts known as biscuit sweets “sablé” and almond pastries. The traditional names differ, we can name the gazelle horns or what the Moroccans call 'Kaab al ghazal' and there is also a famous one called 'Ghriba'. All these pastries are generally prepared based on flour and the basis of almonds and rose water. They are usually served during celebratory events as well as religious holidays such as Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. It is necessary to mention the importance of these sweets on the famous morning of Eid al Fitr when they are present at the table of each Moroccan family. Celebrating Eid Al Fitr without these traditional sweets for Moroccans would be like celebrating Thanksgiving without a Turkey for Americans.
Far from the ingredients and the cuisine, these traditional sweets present more than just a meal for Moroccans, they are part of the memory of every Moroccan, linked to a joyous occasion or moment. They are a representation of a nation's story and its legendary tradition of hospitality. The traditional pastries accompanied by Moroccan tea are a sign of welcome. They are served on many occasions like weddings and many varieties are offered with tea before meals during the songs and the dances. The chebakia is very appreciated during Ramadan at the breaking of the fast in accompaniment of the famous soup 'Harira'. So dear reader, whatever your preferences in taste are, trust me, in the Moroccan pastry you will find yours.