How to travel as a vegan in Morocco
By Dr. Najoua El Mesmoudi
So, you’ve had Morocco on your travel Wishlist, and after a long two years wait, the skies are finally open again.
As a vegan traveling to an Arabic country, you might be familiar with the clichéd view of Morocco as non-vegan friendly, because of the place that meat holds as a symbol of generosity and hospitality.
It is true that meat still occupies a central place in Moroccan gastronomy but the food preferences in the country are slowly catching up with those of the vegan movement in Europe.
Although there is no official data of the number of vegans in the Moroccan population, the association of Moroccan vegans and vegetarians “Veg’Morocco” has members in most Moroccan cities. Its Facebook group, “Moroccan vegans” is currently approaching 3,000 members, signalling a definite change in cultural norms and an increased interest in a cruelty-free way of life. The country is leading the vegan movement in the Arab world and Africa as it held for two consecutive years the first vegan festival in the region “Vegfest Morocco”, a festival founded by the vegan activist Simohamed Bouhakkaoui.
A sure sign of the slow but sure increase in the demand of vegan foods is the availability of Tofu, non-dairy, plant-based milks and cheese analogues, and vegan meat substitutes at large hypermarkets such as Carrefour, in most cities in Morocco.
Until the burgeoning interest in veganism becomes widespread, here are some tips you may want to consider getting the most of your experience when traveling to Morocco as a vegan.
Before you leave, be sure to pack your Vitamin B12, Vegan Vitamin D, Zinc, and algae oil. Other vegan-friendly travel essentials include protein powder and vegan snacks. Health food stores in Morocco are not readily available. Other supplements such as Iron, calcium or spirulina can be found at pharmacies.
And so, it is always safer to choose fruits as a sweet treat, and in Morocco, you can rest assured that you will be served some of the freshest and tastiest fruits.
Choosing where to stay
As you might expect, there are no fully vegan hotels in Morocco and hotel menus are rarely vegan-friendly. If eating at the restaurant, keep in mind that many items that seem vegan at first might actually be cooked with non-vegan ingredients such as butter in the case of “Rghaif” (Moroccan pancakes) or sautéed vegetables. If in doubt, it’s a good idea to ask about how the chef prepares those items.
As it is often the case at restaurants, you will have the option to have your dish veganized to accommodate your dietary preferences but remember that even if you are staying at a top star hotel, your wait staff might not know what vegan means. It’s better to be really specific and explain that you don’t want “any red meat, chicken or fish, no parmesan on the pasta or the pizza, no gelatine or cream on desserts and no chicken stock in the soup”! The hardest dishes to make vegan for the kitchen are desserts because they contain eggs, butter and are often soaked in butter and honey. And so, it is always safer to choose fruits as a sweet treat, and in Morocco, you can rest assured that you will be served some of the freshest and tastiest fruits.
Staying at an AirBnB could be a better option If you’re traveling with other people and if you want to have a larger choice of vegan meals. Besides being cheaper than a hotel, you will have access to a kitchen and more often than not, a cook who will escort you through a range of exquisite local vegan dishes that are bursting with flavour and made with love.
Exploring Moroccan restaurants
Traveling is all about experiencing the local food culture. If you are staying in Casablanca, you will be in luck, as you will find some strictly vegan restaurants such as Niya. Besides these few options and if you are visiting other cities, you may want to try some popular and satisfying vegan dishes readily available in restaurants. Here is your guide to the most common vegan dishes that you can order anywhere in Morocco:
You can have an experience of the authentic Moroccan morning table simply with some Moroccan bread, fragrant, locally produced olive oil and some briny bitter or spiced olives, accompanied with a glass of Moroccan tea made with mint or a dozen of other aromatic herbs. Other local breakfast vegan options are:
Baghrir, these sweet fluffy semolina pancakes are usually dripped in a hot mixture of butter and honey. Ask that they be served dry. You may want to add your own agave or maple syrup before consuming,
Besara, a staple food during the winter season, this delicious and humble fava beans puree is usually served with bread and garnished with olive oil and cumin,
Taktouka, a zesty cooked salad made of tomatoes and green pepper. Enjoy it warm or cold, with crusty bread to scoop up the salad.
A typical breakfast table will also include the popular “Rghaif” or “M’semen”, which are square laminated pancakes. Those are generally not vegan because they are made with butter. Similarly, “Harsha”, a staple pan-fried bread made from semolina, is usually made with milk.
When it comes to ordering a main dish at Moroccan restaurants, your options are a bit limited, but some restaurants may have vegan tagines on the menu or make a veganized version for you. Luckily, side dishes are usually always vegan. And so, you can feel feasted creating a full meal from a variety of delicious hot and cold side dishes. Here are some of your options:
Zaalouk, made with grilled eggplant, olive oil and tomato, is a great summertime salad that you can enjoy as a dip, just like Taktouka,
Potato Salad, seasoned with mixed cumin, coriander, garlic, and olive oil,
Beetroot salad, the extra coriander and cumin give all the flavour to this salad,
Baqoula (Khubeiza), is another humble but super delicious side dish made from steamed mallow or spinach, seasoned with olive oil, spices, olives, and preserved lemons. This healthy salad can be eaten hot or cold as a dip with Moroccan bread.
In the soups category, “Besara” or a lentil stew, made with green lentils and an extra dose of cumin are filling and readily available options.
Lastly, if you are offered vegan couscous, please note that it is probably not vegan because the couscous itself is usually prepared with butter during the hand-rolling process.
Unless specifically veganized, All local desserts and sweets will be cooked with butter and sweetened with honey. A popular street snack you can enjoy with peace of mind is “Sfenj”, the Moroccan street Beignets. It is usually soaked in honey but served plain.
Besides its cuisine, Morocco is world-renowned for its handicraft. If you like the bohemian look of the embroidered Moroccan leather slippers (Belgha), you can now get ethically made Moroccan style embroidered slippers from the local brand “Amaz”; a vegan and eco-conscious brand that makes unique modern sneakers with elements of the traditional embroidery. Find them here.
So, if you were at all worried about traveling as a vegan to Morocco, don’t be. You are always welcome to contact the Facebook group, “Moroccan vegans” for any additional tips. Besides immersing yourself in the beauty of this land, you can bring home the experience of the Vegan side of Moroccan culture.