Not Drinking in Morocco

Written by on June 15, 2012 in Travel - 2 Comments

Architecture in Southern Morocco: Ouarzazate’s Kasbah Ait-Ben-Haddou (photo: Tiffany Harris)

Morocco is a great place for non-drinkers, and the reason for this is simple. Morocco is an Islamic country and intoxicants are haram (forbidden) in the Qur’an, so observant Moroccans do not drink alcohol. This means that there are many fun activities both day and night, indoor and outdoor, that don’t revolve around drinking.

Alcohol can certainly be found if you’re looking for it. Beer, wine, and liquor are all readily available in Morocco, especially in the larger cities and upscale restaurants. Laws towards alcohol are quite liberal compared to most Islamic countries. Moroccans themselves are, for the most part, open-minded, understanding that Western norms are different from their own. This is especially true in cities where tourism is common.

But drinking alcohol in Morocco is still frowned upon. It’s especially offensive to locals when done near a mosque or during religious holidays. On top of this, it’s generally an unpleasant experience, especially for female travellers: Moroccan bars tend to be dark, smoke-filled rooms with sketchy locals, prostitutes and a host of other vices.

Not drinking

Fortunately, there are many alternatives, especially if you’re a tourist: take a cookery class in traditional Moroccan cuisine; visit a hammam (public steam bath); wander round one of the country’s many souqs; spend the night in a traditional riad; visit the tanneries of Fes or stroll through the beautiful blue streets of Chefchaouen.

The view from Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Moroccan High Atlas (photo: Tiffany Harris)

It doesn’t stop there. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, how about taking an overnight camel trek in the Sahara Desert, surfing Southern Morocco’s Atlantic breakers or hiking through the Ourika Valley or High Atlas Mountains? Head for Oukaïmeden, just outside of Ifrane, and you can even go skiing, despite the proximity to the Sahara Desert.

But for a real journey through Morocco, try exploring the food and drink. Eating and drinking in Morocco is a social ritual tied to many important cultural nuances. Thanks to the country’s interactions with various empires throughout the centuries, Morocco’s food and drinks are savoury, sweet and extremely diverse.

Alternative drinks

About four times per day, Moroccans are refreshed with mint tea, the national drink. Traditional Moroccan mint tea is made using Chinese gunpowder tea and spearmint leaves. Depending on the region and the season, many families mix it up, using ingredients such as pine nuts, sage, za’atar (thyme), saffron, fresh orange blossoms, fliou (a variety of mint), louiza (lemon verbena), sheba (wormwood leaves) and wild geranium.

Moroccans like their tea very sweet. When ordering tea in a restaurant, sugar will be served on the side and you can adjust it to your personal taste. Because tea occupies such an important place in Moroccan food culture, great importance is placed on the way it is served. You can avoid committing cultural faux pas by observing those around you. Notice how the tea is mixed and then poured into each glass from high above to produce a foamy layer on the top of the tea.

There’s not just tea, though: one remnant of French occupation is Morocco’s coffee culture. Cappuccino, espresso or the very milky ‘nus nus’ (half coffee, half milk) are all readily available. Sometimes coffee is served with exotic spices like, ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger.

Smoothies are another great option, with juice bars are popular hangouts in many Moroccan cities. There are many popular combinations: avocado with milk and almonds; dates with milk; strawberry and banana; carrot and orange… the delicious list just goes on.

A group of men in Rabat’s medina wearing Djellabas – traditional Berber robes (photo: Tiffany Harris)

New friends

In addition to taking great pride the country’s food and drink culture, Moroccan families are very hospitable. If someone invites you to their home for Friday couscous or mint tea, this is likely a genuine offer – take them up on it!

You may be inclined to bring a small gift, like a bottle of soda or cookies. Eat with your right hand only and remember to say efak (please) and shukran (thank you). Bismillah (a religious expression), meanwhile, is said before eating and drinking. This may all go out the window come mealtime, but the most important thing is to ditch any diet you may be on and wear elastic-waist pants!

Conclusion

In Morocco, you can easily avoid alcohol without ‘Moroccan’ the boat. Just remember to bring an appetite for delicious food and your sweet tooth for Moroccan mint tea!

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About the Author

Tiffany Harris lived in Morocco for 27 months working as a Rural Community Health Volunteer with an American development organization. She currently resides in Lugano, Switzerland. For permission to view the blog and/or surf her couch email: tiffanydawnharris@gmail.com

2 Comments on "Not Drinking in Morocco"

  1. Jane June 20, 2012 at 10:06 pm · Reply

    Best food and drink in the world, no doubt about it. People from other North African countries systematically brag about their couscous but the Moroccan one cannot be beat. Back to drinks though, and my favorite is haleeb b’luz, or almond milk.

    • Neil Bennion July 14, 2012 at 9:28 am · Reply

      I certainly enjoyed it when I was there, Jane – shall have to try the almond milk if (when!) I go back

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