The Unspoken Eating Rule Tourists In Morocco Should Follow In Order To Blend In

There are many great reasons to visit Morocco. You can explore the Sahara or the majestic Atlas Mountains or take time to relax on the country's wonderful sandy beaches. Fascinating cities like Fez, Tangier, and Marrakech are rich in culture and must-visits for history buffs. Then, there is the food; Moroccan cuisine is regarded as some of the world's finest, and sampling good local cooking is a tremendous way to enrich your experience and knowledge of the people. Should you manage to snag an invite to someone's home for dinner, however, there are rules of etiquette that you should be aware of before you sit down and tuck in.

One of the most important points involves handling food. While many people in Western countries think nothing of grabbing a burger, hot dog, or pizza slice with their mitts, they will usually reach for a knife and fork for most other dishes. That isn't always the case in parts of the world where it is common to ditch the cutlery and have at it with your hands. In India, it's traditional to mix rice and curry with your fingertips and pop the lot into your mouth; in Ethiopia, using bread to scoop up saucy dishes is the way to go; Indonesian diners will share a big tasty buffet with everyone getting their digits involved. All three of these culinary cultures have one thing in common, and the same goes for Morocco: You should only use your right hand for eating.

Why the right hand is the right hand in Morocco

In some cultures, eating with one's hands is thought to have practical and healthy benefits as well as religious and spiritual aspects. Ayurvedic teaching in India believes that each of the fingers is linked to one of the elements, and using all digits to interact with food increases the diner's connection to their meal. It is also considered more hygienic and social to share a meal with a hands-on approach. The sensory input of using fingers to eat is an important factor in Islamic countries like Morocco, where three digits is the preferred method to emulate the Prophet Muhammad. In both cases, the right hand is used for eating while the left is considered unclean, traditionally reserved for tasks involving the toilet and bodily hygiene.

This isn't much of an issue for most people as the large majority are right-handed, but it can take getting used to for left-handers. Nowadays, eating with your right hand is less likely to cause offense, and most Moroccans will make allowances for foreigners, but it is worth the effort to blend in and show appreciation and respect for your host's culture.

If you don't already, make sure that you wash your hands before and after a meal, and only use your left hand for passing items and holding your bread. Also, be sure to use only your thumb and forefingers; grabbing fistfuls of grub like a toddler is considered a mark of greediness.

Other table etiquette in Morocco

Home-cooked meals are often a communal activity enjoyed with family in a North African destination like Morocco, especially when you get out into more rural areas. As such, you should expect to sit with a group and share a large dish rather than concentrate on your own portion served up on a personal plate. Don't dive straight in, no matter how delicious the food looks; wait until the host utters "Bismillah" (in the name of Allah) before the meal commences.

Hands will likely be involved, and it goes without saying that you should wash first. You might even find that your host uses their fingers to select an especially good morsel to honor you as their guest. Don't be afraid to get involved, and make good use of the excellent Moroccan bread as a handy utensil for scooping and picking things up. Do be aware of other people's space; while you may be sharing, it is still bad manners to reach across another diner to take something. Stick to the area in front of you, and don't worry; your host will invariably ensure you get a taste of everything. Although it is said that the Prophet Muhammad licked his fingers after a meal and Muslim diners often follow suit, save it until everyone's done eating and use your bread or a napkin to wipe in the meantime. Lastly, if your hosts present you with a gift, you should always accept it.