Moroccan culture: couscous Fridays and Moroccan eating manners

On Fridays I look forward to having couscous. In Morocco, families typically have couscous on Fridays, the holy day in Islam. (Though in Morocco the weekend is Saturday and Sunday because of the influence of the French protectorate. It is like this is in the rest of North Africa but not in the Middle East. In the Middle East the weekend is Friday and Saturday.) Men usually go to pray at the mosque at noon on Fridays and extended families come together to eat couscous for lunch.

Kids couscous in host family in Fez

Couscous is semolina. In the United States there is couscous and it normally comes in a package and is pre-steamed and dried. You just have to add water and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I actually didn’t love couscous in the US. I preferred pasta or rice. Here in Morocco, where couscous is the national dish, couscous is more delicious than in the US. I think it is because Moroccans handmake their own couscous. They sprinkle water on the semolina and roll it with their hands until it forms pellets and dry it. I have seen it drying on top of plastic rugs on the streets of my CBT community in Fez and it is beautiful!

I have seen couscous cooked by steaming in my host families in Fez and Marrakesh. I have not yet helped with couscous because I have worked every Friday morning but I plan to study it with my host family at my permanent site. The vegetables and meat are also steamed at the same time. There is a special pot called kiskas where the couscous is steamed in a pot on top of another pot of vegetables and meat and it absorbs the flavors. My host family in Fez does not use kiskas but my family in Marrakesh does.


The couscous is served in a big communal dish. I don’t know if I have said it before but in Morocco, food is served in communal dishes. I was instructed at the beginning of my PC service to only eat from the section in front of me in the communal dish. It is rude to get food from other peoples portions. Also Moroccans do not use utensils! This took some adjustment because in the US it is almost the opposite though I had been exposed to these eating manners in Turkey and Palestine. Moroccans use hubz (bread) to pick up the food. It took me a while to learn. I don’t think I got it until a month in! Hahaha! Some foods are still difficult to pick up with it like lentils and peas. When lentils and peas have been served, I end up eating lots of bread! Hahaha! Also in Morocco it is improper to eat with your left hand. The left hand is considered dirty and for things like going to the bathroom and cleaning in the shower or hamman (public bath). So when I have to eat with hubz I only eat with my right hand! My left hand on my lap or behind my back. Though for couscous, Moroccans eat with spoons or their hands. I have only seen my Grandmothers eat the couscous with their hands. They somehow roll the couscous and small pieces of vegetables and meat in a ball in their hands! When I leave Morocco, I hope to become an expert on this.

The couscous is placed in the communal dish first and second the meat is arranged at the center and the vegetables are put over it. The meat is the prize after you get through all of the vegetables. As a guest, you wait for the meat to be put in the section in front of you by your host. This is the way that most food is arranged in communal dishes. The meat I have enjoyed during my couscous Fridays in Morocco are beef or chicken and the vegetables are carrots, potatoes, cabbage, zucchini, and squash. I wonder if this will change by season. The couscous is topped with onions and chickpeas.

arranging meat and vegetables

I very much look forward to many more couscous Fridays during my PC service! Also after I learn how to make couscous Moroccan style I plan on making it for my friends and family in the US and Spain.


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