Cutting into a pigeon b’stilla (savoury-sweet pie made with fine pastry) releases heady aromas of cinnamon, allspice and ginger that engulf the table. This famous dish, known for its unexpected melding of sweet and salty flavours and its perfectly balanced smooth and crisp textures, is an example of everything that is wonderful about Moroccan cuisine – meltingly tender meat, aromatic and flavourful ingredients, and presentation that is theatrical and gorgeous.
Even atheists find foodie religion in Marrakesh, where the dishes keep coming until you protest "Alhamdullilah", or "Praise be to God". Imagine breakfasting on beghrir, pancakes with a spongy crumpet texture drizzled with cactus flower honey; lavishly lunching on mechoui, slow- roasted almond-stuffed lamb served with cumin, olives and khoobz (bread); and after several laps of the souqs, mustering an appetite for a savoury, seasonal tagine (claypot stew).
Here are the top ten reasons why foodies should drop what they are doing and head to Morocco.
They have hand-picked Spain's favourite ingredients
Like many Fassi dishes, b'stilla has its roots in Andalusia - it was from that part of Spain that ingredients such as olives, nuts, almonds, oranges and plums came and where the savoury-sweet technique was forged. These ingredients and many others have been absorbed into the national cuisine, enriching favourites such as couscous (fluffy semolina served with slow-simmered beef, chicken or vegetables; traditionally served on Fridays), m'choui (spiced roast lamb), harira (a thick, often lamb-based, pulse soup flavoured with tomato, onion, parsley and coriander and finished with a squeeze of lemon), tajines (slow-cooked, highly flavoured stews of meats, veg and/or fruit cooked in conical earthenware pots over coals) and kefta (spiced minced lamb served as kebabs or in tajines).
You do not have to leave the vegetarians at home
Vegetarian versions of Moroccan dishes are not uncommon; the traditional first course of a huge array of cooked salads is almost always vegetarian. You will be able to sample of all of these dishes and many others.
Cheap eats are on the streets
Make sure you sample some of the street food, too - snail soup, brochettes (kebabs) and kefta sandwiches are delicious and dangerous in equal parts (consider yourself warned), but roasted corn and freshly baked doughnuts, Moroccan pancakes and pastries stuffed with khlia (strips of mutton preserved in fat) are safe and oh-so-tasty. Also fabulous are b'sara (broad-bean purée with cumin, olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika) slathered on freshly baked khoobz (flat bread), and the delicate cornes de gazelle (horn-shaped pastry filled with almond paste, dipped in orange water and dusted with sugar).
To accompany your meals, there are plenty of tipples on offer. Freshly squeezed aseer limoon (orange juice) is available everywhere, as is sweet and scented thé b'na na (mint tea) and qahwa (coffee). Moroccan coffee is strong, short and served with spices; it can be ordered with sugar (wa sukkar), or without (bla sukkar); if you want a French-style cup, ask for café noir (black) or café au lait (with milk).
You will want a glass of Sav Blanc with that
Though Morocco is a Muslim country, there is an excellent range of local wine to choose from. A legacy of the French Mandate, the country's vineyards (60% of which are located around Meknès and Fez) produce extremely quaffable vintages from 14 Appellations d'Origine Garantie (AOG) and one Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AC). Stand-out products include Médaillon Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon; Les Coteaux de L'Atlas 1er Cru Rouge and Blanc; S de Siroua Cabernet Sauvignon, rosé and Syrah; and Le Val d'Argan's El-Mogador red and white. Note that poor transport and cellaring of wine here can mean that the spoil rate is relatively high - if you encounter a spoiled bottle do not be afraid to send it back. The local lager is Flag Special, and you can also sometimes also order Casablanca.
Few things make Marrakshis happier than to see guests eat with gusto, so go on, do your part for international relations and have dessert. Leave room for kaab el-ghazal (crescent-shaped "gazelle's horn" cookies stuffed with almond paste and laced with orange-flower water) or dessert bastilla (layers of flaky pastry with cream and toasted nuts).
If you are a fanatical foodie you might like to do a cookery course while you are in Fez. The affable Lahcen Beqqi runs half-day classes from the kitchen of Riad Tafi lalet in the medina - he will take you shopping in the Ville Nouvelle's Central Market first and then cook a delicious lunch for you while you watch and (very occasionally) assist. The excellent chefs at Riad Souafine and Roumana both run classes in Fez that are more hands-on.
Marrakesh does it better
In the Nouvelle Ville, you can join Marrakesh's rising middle class for pizza at Catanzaro and Niagara or barbecue at sidewalk restaurants along Rue ibn Aicha. Fashionable Marrakshis prefer restaurants that do double duty as discos.
Do not ask what is on the menu in a riad
For superb home-style cooking, try a riad, where meals are made to order by the in-house dada (cook). Adventurous eaters tuck into steaming bowls of snails or sheep's-head stew at thronged stalls in the Djemaa el-Fna or Ben Youssef Food Stall Qissaria.
For a big night out, Marrakesh has some fantastic Moroccan, Mediterranean and fusion restaurants - but also many tourist-trap "palace restaurants". If your footsteps echo, your waiter is sheepishly costumed like Aladdin and there is a stage set up for a laser-light show, do not expect authentic cuisine.
The article 'Lonely Planet's top 10 ways to devour Moroccan cuisine' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.