As you may already have assumed from previous posts, Moroccan people are extremely hospitable and always ready to lend a hand. It is not uncommon for a new friend to invite you into their home and proudly share a meal with you. While Moroccans are very accepting and eager to welcome foreigners it is very important for that visitor, in this case you, to be familiar with Moroccan social and table etiquette and to respect the customs and traditions that encompass the family dinner table. Social etiquette and table manners are taken quite seriously in Morocco and people are judged on their behavior in public.
Traditional Moroccan table etiquette has its roots in Islam and these traditions and customs are still adhered to today, even among the youth. If you receive an invitation to a Moroccan home there are a few key behaviors and traditions that should be followed to ensure the proper respect and gratitude is shown to your host.
When invited for dinner at a Moroccan household it is seen as a sign of respect and gratitude to your host to present a small gift of nuts, dates, or flowers with you. Dressing well and taking off your shoes at the door is also a sign of respect and should be followed.
Once invited inside, the host will show you to the dinner table, most likely a knee-high table surrounded by pillows or the traditional Moroccan sofas that line the walls of the room. As the honored guest, you will be sat directly next to your host.
Looking at the table you will notice that there is no silverware, don’t panic! Silverware is not used at Moroccan dinner tables because it is the same material that is used in currencies and is a non-Islamic practice. Instead, Moroccans eat with their right (not left) hands using only their thumb and first two fingers. They also use the famous Moroccan bread as a means to scoop up food and sop up any sauce. As hands are used and cleanliness is very important to Moroccans, a bowl is presented to each guest to wash his/her hands. The host, or member of the household, will pour water over your hands for you; don’t pour the water your self!
After all hands have been washed the food will be presented. Saffron and orange scented couscous, a bubbling tajine full of succulent lamb and roasted vegetables, a large loaf of fresh crusty Moroccan bread – don’t let your stomach get the best of you! It is extremely important to wait until the host has blessed the food and started eating before you dig in!
All of the food is presented in communal bowls and each member of the table takes a portion and places it on their plate. Make sure you take food from the part of the bowl nearest to you; don’t reach all the way over the food for that one really yummy looking piece of lamb. As the guest of the meal all of the best cuts of meat will be presented to you anyway, so you won’t have to reach far to get a good piece.
It is important to accept and try everything that is offered to you by your host. Even if you just take a nibble. Insisting food upon a guest is a sign of hospitality so don’t feel overwhelmed if they keep telling you to eat more. If you feel you have eaten your weight in food and simply can’t eat another bite take a very small amount from the bowl and take very small bites chewing slowly. It will tell the host that you appreciate their hospitality and respect their food.
After the main course a desert of fruit or sweets will be presented (same table manners apply!), traditional Moroccan tea, and a new washing bowl will be brought out, signaling the end of the meal.
Guests may also be offered souak, or swak, to wash and clean their teeth after the meal. Souak is black walnut dried bark that is whittled into a stick and due to its whitening and antiseptic qualities is used as a natural toothpaste after Moroccan meals.
After all is said and done you can leave your host’s house knowing that you showed the upmost respect and gratitude for the wonderful company and delicious meal.