The Sweet Taste of Pigeon Pie

Moroccans like their sweets—even when they’re supposed to be savory.

The sweet-and-meat combination crackles in pastilla, pronounced “bastiya,” a fragrant, spicy pie of poultry laced with sugar, ground almonds, and sweet onions and wrapped in golden layers of warka, a pastry so thin it’s translucent before baking.

When the Moors fled Spain beginning in the 15th century, they likely brought an early pastilla to Morocco. Today, the delicacy reaches its apex in the imperial city of Fez, where a squab pastilla serves as an early course, sliced and shared, at a sumptuous celebration.

Unless you’re lucky enough to attend a local wedding, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the pigeon pie. However, with 24 hours’ notice, the Dar Hatim restaurant will make a pigeon pastilla big enough to share. Otherwise, a personal-size chicken pastilla is always on the menu, made by the owner’s wife and his mother.

You can better imagine pastilla being offered by a pasha at La Medina, a stately old riad with colorful tilework. Here, the pastilla follows a parade of cooked Moroccan salads such as spicy eggplant with tomatoes.

When you’ve had your fill of fowl, try the seafood pastilla (made with swordfish, shrimp, and calamari) at the Fez Café, a rare garden restaurant in this crowded, ancient city.

This piece, written by Nicole Cotroneo Jolly, appeared in the October 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.