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RE-ENVISION is an ongoing series of research memos produced by our associates at Appetite. We trace the cultural genealogies of food from around the world to challenge commonly held beliefs about origin and authenticity. 

The officially-named national dish of Morocco, tajine is a hearty warm stew served in its namesake, a conical pot in which it is cooked. The word tajine itself traces its etymological history to a Persian word meaning “large pan.”1 A typical tajine includes some kind of meat, usually lamb, with vegetables, onions (chopped or pureed), and lots of spices like saffron, cumin, coriander, ginger, red pepper, cinnamon, and ra’s el-hanout, a traditional Morroccan spice blend.2 Tajine is also traditionally served with khobz, a flatbread used as cutlery to scoop and eat the stew,3 and qadra, a yellow sauce made with saffron and a salted, clarified, and aged butter called smen.4 Nowadays, tajine is also frequently served with french fries.5

The use of these spices is a reflection of the region’s history of colonization and its role in the spice trade. Saffron originated in Greece,6 cumin in Western Asia,7 coriander in the eastern Mediterranean or Asia Minor,8 ginger in southern China,9 red pepper in the Americas before being introduced to Europe,10 and cinnamon in southwest India.11

To cook the tajine, all raw ingredients are added to the tajine pot, a unique appliance that traps steam and returns it to the dish as it cooks.12 This is key as the regions where tajine is popular are also water-scarce, so the use of this water-efficient method helps conserve resources.13

After the ingredients are assembled, the tajine is dropped off at one of Morocco’s many communal ovens. Since many Moroccan homes do not have individual ovens, communal ovens (faraan) in each neighborhood or medina serve the entire community.14 Residents also drop off bread to be baked, often leaving it with a special indentation or stamp to distinguish it from the others at pick-up.15 These ovens also serve an ecological and financial need; they save energy and money on fuel, and help avoid heating up homes during summer. Communal ovens also frequently border communal bath-houses to help heat the water.16 Thus, the faraan is an important community institution. It facilitates information-sharing among families, both explicitly as a gathering site and implicitly in the public display of what one is cooking, and hence acts as a social equalizer.17

The practice of using communal ovens dates back to the ancient Romans18 and continued until World War II when new technological inventions began to replace traditional ovens.19 Ancient Romans also used a similar practice of bronze stamps to identify their bread.20 In the 15th and 16th centuries, communal ovens were controlled by feudal lords21 in France and Italy.22

The origins of the tajine are linked to Berbers of the Maghreb region, which runs across the Atlas Mountains and coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.23 Harun al Rashid, a late eighth-century ruler of the Islamic Empire, is known to have enjoyed the dish,24 and it is first mentioned in writing in the famous book One Thousand and One Nights.25 Tajine-like pots are also thought to have been used in the Roman Empire starting around the 1st century CE.26

The tajine as a dish has been influenced by the various inhabitants and colonizers of the North African region.27 The Arab invasion introduced new spices, nuts, and dried fruits, which were later incorporated in the date and lamb tajines. Olives and citrus fruits came with the Moors, and Jewish Moors brought new cooking techniques, too. The Ottoman Empire introduced kebabs and then the French brought their culture of cafes, pastries, and wine, all of which influence the tajine today.28

There are two varieties of the tajine, known as the qidra style and muqawlli style. The former uses smen, Arabian fermented and clarified butter, to coat the surface of the pot, whereas the latter uses olive oil.29 Tajine-like pots are found throughout the region. In North Africa, the tajine pot is small and shallow, whereas in the Middle Eastern desert Bedouin cultures, the tajine is larger and deeper.30 Tajines are also a part of the Sephardic Jewish tradition. The Sephardic tajine, somewhat similar to the Ashkenazi tzimmes, features a meat stew cooked with onion, dried fruit, and honey, with flavor profiles that avoid acids so that it is neither sweet nor sour.31

Simply put, the tajine is emblematic of an incredible cultural convergence that took place in North Africa. It has evolved under various historical influences and impositions to become the dish it is today, one that illustrates the importance of community and resourceful innovation to Moroccan culture and cuisine.

Annotated Bibliography

Ettenberg, Jodi. “Origins of Food We Love: Moroccan Tagine.” G Adventures Blog. Accessed December 11, 2019.

Food writer Jodi Ettenberg writes in this piece about the origin of the tajine. She writes both about when the tajine became popular, as well as some of its earliest textual references. She also discusses some of the tajine’s cultural analogues across time and place.

Friendo, Daniela. “The Tajine: Morocco’s Pride & Passion.” Epicure & Culture (blog), August 5, 2015.

This article describes the composition of the tajine itself, including traditional ingredients, eating customs, and accompaniments. It also outlines some of the history of Tajine. It deals especially with the history of the Maghreb region and the conquerors/colonizers of the Berbers, demonstrating how this history influenced tajine today.

Lenderking, E. P. Tanjia Marrakchia: Culinary Adventure at Dar Les Cigogues. Lulu Press, Inc, 2013.

This is a cookbook of Moroccan cuisine. It goes into more detail about some of the traditional aspects of tajine, like pairing it with qadra and the use of smen. This is especially interesting as the use of smen versus olive oil distinguishes different regional iterations of tajine.

Read, Johanna. “What’s That Smell? Morocco’s Communal Ovens.”, July 13, 2016.

Johanna Read writes for Paste magazine in this article about communal ovens in Morocco. She explains why communal ovens have persisted in this region, as well as the routine practices of using the oven itself. Lastly, she discusses some of the social impacts of communal ovens, especially the way in which they act as social equalizers.

moyo. “Tagines – The Soulful Flavour Of Morocco,” March 16, 2018.

Moyo is a restaurant group that specializes in showcasing traditional African cuisine. This article describes tajine, focusing on its history and evolution over time. The article also describes the tajine pot itself and how the pot functions to make the dish.

Written by Sofia Gardenswartz. 


1 “Moroccan Tajine,” ThreePotters, accessed December 11, 2019,

2 Ibid

3 Daniela Friendo, “The Tajine: Morocco’s Pride & Passion,” Epicure & Culture (blog), August 5, 2015,

4 E. P. Lenderking, Tanjia Marrakchia: Culinary Adventure at Dar Les Cigogues (Lulu Press, Inc, 2013).

5 “Tajine,” in Wikipedia, December 6, 2019,

6 “Spice Pages: Saffron (Crocus Sativus),” accessed December 11, 2019,

7 “Spice Pages: Cumin Seeds (Cuminum Cyminum, Jeera),” accessed December 11, 2019,

8 “Spice Pages: Coriander Seeds and Cilantro Herb (Coriandrum Sativum),” accessed December 11, 2019,

9 “Spice Pages: Ginger (Zingiber Officinale),” accessed December 11, 2019,

10 “Red Pepper,” Spice Advice, accessed December 11, 2019,

11 “Spice Pages: Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum),” accessed December 11, 2019,

12 “The Origin of Tagine,” Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro, accessed December 11, 2019,

13 “Water and Sanitation | Morocco | U.S. Agency for International Development,” May 7, 2019,

14 Johanna Read, “What’s That Smell? Morocco’s Communal Ovens,”, July 13, 2016,

15 Mikelle Hembree, “Communal Ovens in Morocco – Baking Bread As a Community,” City Nibbler, accessed December 11, 2019,

16 Read, “What’s That Smell?”

17 Joan Nathan, “A Moroccan Oven That’s Open to All,” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y., June 13, 2007, sec. F.
18 Gabi Logan, “Publicly-Accessible Bread Ovens Return to Rome,” Text, ITALY Magazine, August 31, 2012,

19 Kristy Mucci, “Ancient Romans Branded Their Bread to Punish Fraudulent Bakers | Saveur,” accessed December 11, 2019,

20 Mucci.

21  Sarah Baird, “The Centuries-Old Form of Public Cooking That’s Making a Comeback,” Food52, 00:00 400AD,

22 “History of Community Ovens – Community Brick Oven,” accessed December 11, 2019,

23 Reed Wester-Ebbinghaus, “Berbers,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, accessed December 11, 2019,

24 Jodi Ettenberg, “Origins of Food We Love: Moroccan Tagine,” G Adventures Blog, accessed December 11, 2019,; “Tagines – The Soulful Flavour Of Morocco,” Moyo (blog), March 16, 2018,

25 “Moroccan Tajine”; “Tagines – The Soulful Flavour Of Morocco”; Ettenberg, “Origins of Food We Love.”

26 “Bread Oven History,” accessed December 11, 2019,

27 Nargisse Benkabbou, “The Origins of Moroccan Food,” My Moroccan Food, accessed December 11, 2019,

28 “Tagines – The Soulful Flavour Of Morocco.”

29 Ibid

30 “Moroccan Tajine.”

31 “Tzimmes Meets Tajine: Sumptuous Stews for the New Year,” accessed December 12, 2019,