As the melting pot of Morocco, Casablanca isn’t known for one signature dish. People have migrated here from across the country, bringing their local dishes and flavors with them: You’ll find Spanish-inspired cooking from the north, camel meat from the south, seafood dishes from towns spanning the entire coast, and countless other representations of Moroccan cuisine tucked among the small streets and sprawling souks of the city. All of this makes Casablanca a particularly great place to eat if you’re hoping to sample Morocco’s regional flavors all in one shot.
But just looking around central Casablanca, you’ll see plenty of international restaurant chains; nondescript coffee shops full of espresso-sipping, smoking men; and a handful of “snak” shops with sandwich menus plastered to the outside walls — restaurants serving traditional Moroccan food are more elusive. As is the case in so many places, this food is mostly the stuff of home cooking, which makes it tricky for travelers who want to sample the classics. Still, with a little work, it’s possible for to eat extraordinarily well in Casablanca. Here, then, are some of the signature dishes worth digging for.
Couscous With Seven Vegetables
Along with its location on the coast and plentiful seafood, Casablanca is also in the agricultural center of Morocco, and this couscous is a testament to the abundance of crops that grow nearby. Couscous with seven vegetables is eaten throughout Morocco, and is sometimes referred to as couscous bidaoui, a reference to the name of Casablanca in Arabic. The number seven is arbitrary, really — in Arabic, the phrase “seven vegetables” just sounds better than “six,” “eight,” or “10.” The dish itself can include as many or as few vegetables as the cook prefers and still be legit.
As for the couscous itself, this is not the five-minute kind that’s dumped out of a box. Moroccan couscous is a whole process that involves multiple steaming sessions and time-intensive preparations of toppings and spice-imbued sauce. Couscous is traditionally eaten on Fridays, the Islamic holy day, when groups gather around a heaping platter during the long midday break. The best spot to try couscous with seven (or eight, or four) vegetables is, of course, in someone’s home. If your invitation hasn’t arrived yet, pop into one of the many restaurants in Casablanca that offer couscous as part of a Friday special menu, like Al Mounia, Zayna, and Basmane. Make sure to order a glass of iben (buttermilk) to sip alongside.
Unlike its cousin chicken pastilla, which has both sweet and savory components, the seafood version of the classic Moroccan pastilla — a delicacy of meat, nuts, and spices wrapped in flaky layers of pastry called warka, similar to phyllo — is entirely savory. You’ll find this variation served throughout Morocco’s coastal cities for special occasions like weddings and birthdays.
The filling includes shrimp, chunks of fresh white fish, and calamari, as well as a mixture of vermicelli noodles that have been spiced with garlic, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper. Sometimes a cheese like gouda is added to the mix. The fillings are tucked inside the pastry to create an even, round pie that is completely enclosed, then baked to a crisp and served at room temperature with wedges of lemon for added pop. Several restaurants in town, like Amande & Miel and Patisserie Bennis, offer seafood pastilla as an advance order for takeaway. If you prefer to sit down, La Sqala is a good choice.
Shrimp With Eggs in Tomato Sauce M’kila
While you can find this dish on upscale menus across Casablanca, the best place to eat it is as at the port itself, where the shrimp are fresh and plentiful. Fruity olive oil, tomatoes, cumin, ginger, and herbs create the base. As the mix bubbles over an open burner, small shrimp are tossed in to cook for a few minutes before an egg is quickly poached or scrambled in the brew.
Served with a bottomless glass of sweet mint tea and plenty of fresh, crusty Moroccan bread for dipping, this is the perfect breakfast or lunch by the seashore. A number of restaurants serve shrimp with eggs around the port, but the best place to have it isn’t a restaurant at all. Instead, head deep inside the port itself and grab one of the makeshift tables. If you see vendors hustling between tables and mostly Moroccans filling the benches, you’ll know you’re in the right spot.
Snails in Spiced Broth
These aren’t your French-style escargots dripping in butter and garlic. Not even close. Moroccan snail soup is a favorite Casablanca street food, especially in cooler winter months. Each vendor’s particular snail broth recipe is strictly guarded, with a pinch of this or that to set each seller apart. But some things are universal, like the extensive cleaning process — some claim to rinse the snails at least seven times to rid them of dirt and debris. Then the mollusks are slowly boiled in a liquid that contains as many as 15 herbs and spices, things like cumin seeds, licorice root, mint leaves, thyme, and ginger.
When properly cooked, the snails have a texture similar to a slightly chewy mushroom, and the rich broth is a delicious elixir worth sipping on its own. Order by the bowlful and use a toothpick to pluck the meat from the shells. But most people insist the broth is the real star, beloved for its supposed curative properties for everything from rheumatism to the seasonal cold.
To be fair, zaazaas — a sweet parfait-like treat — are available most everywhere in Morocco, but they are a staple in the mahlaba shops of Casablanca. These tiny storefronts, usually with just a few tables, sell zaazaa alongside mixed juices and smoothies, as well as occasional small snacks like cookies and cakes.
You’ll certainly need a spoon to eat a zaazaa, but it straddles that mysterious line between a beverage and something to be eaten. A typical version starts with a large glass cup, ideally with a handle because it can get hefty. Banana slices are layered on the bottom, followed by a few scoops of raib, a thin Moroccan yogurt. Chopped almonds or peanuts go next, then avocados, dates, sugar, and milk that have been blended together until smooth (that’s the liquid part).
Repeat the layers until the cup is full and top with more nuts, whipped cream, and sprinkles if you’re feeling extra. You can swap the banana for any type of fruit, either fresh or dried, and sometimes a small cookie or tuile adds the finishing touch.
Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki is a food and travel writer based in Marrakech, Morocco, where she owns a culinary tourism company in addition to her writing work.