Morocco’s culinary range doesn’t run wide, consisting largely of a handful of almost ubiquitous dishes—tagines, tanjia, couscous. All three of which can be served with chicken, beef or pork with similar preparation, spices, and texture. The main difference between the three is the vessel it is cooked in (tagines and tanjias are conical pots and clay urns, respectively) or the grain it is cooked with (couscous). And tanjia is only found in Marrakech.
Though limited, the food is delicious. Nothing hits the spot like a still-sizzling juicy lamb tagine with sweet caramelized onions and melting prunes. In particular, Moroccan food fuses the sweet and the savory in a way unmatched by any cuisine I’ve ever encountered. I’ve had lamb tagines with apricots, beef tanjia with raisins, and a chicken soup served with dates, Turkish figs, and a twisted, crunchy honey pastry. I was instructed to eat this last one by taking a bite of something sweet, then a sip of the savory soup.
But no fusion of the sweet and the savory is quite as immediate and as satisfying as the pastilla, the signature dish of Fes—itself known as the culinary capital of Morocco. Pastilla is a savory pastry with a filo-like coating, topped with powdered sugar and nuts and traditionally filled with pigeon, though these days it’s typically served with chicken. Needless to say, I had to have the original pigeon pastilla, and to the mild annoyance of my tour guide I insisted that any place I end up eating have real pigeon pastilla.
My first lunch in the city brought me my pigeon pastilla:
Tasty, a good first pastilla. The inside pigeon meat was slightly dry but had, itself, a delicious sweet-savory flavor that complimented the sweetness of the crust itself. Pigeon, believe it or not, pretty much tastes like chicken, though has a little more of a gamey, dark-meat flavor.
A follow-up meal, later that night, was the ideal pastilla:
This one was made out of fancy ground quail—I gave up my pigeon-purism pretty quickly here. Juicy and moist on the inside with an almost candy-brittle outside crust, this one got devoured and remained my Platonic pastilla for the rest of the trip.
Flavor: 4.5 / 5. The combination of savory and sweet flavors is exceptional when done well, and pastilla is maybe the epitome of this very Moroccan synthesis.
Fun: 3 / 5. The crunch of the pastilla is a fun element in its own right—I’m always a big fan of varied textures, and the soft shredded moist meat inside nicely balances the dry crunch of the shell outside. And what’s not fun about getting your sweets with your dinner?
Funkiness: 2.5 / 5. Maybe I’m a jaded weird eater, but pigeon’s really not all the weird. Right? I mean, the French eat it.