12 Feb 2011

Morocco: The Fear of Couscous


I just realized that in my 2.5 years running I have never taken my dining groups to a Moroccan restaurant. That’s a shame since Moroccan cuisine is one of the top 5 world cuisines on my list. It took me some asking, reviewing, and sniffing around before I decided on Aicha in San Francisco, due to a very simple reason: I know Moroccan cuisine really well, and I won’t settle for less. One of my best friends in college is Moroccan, and I had my share of the best of the best homemade dishes from the hospitality of her, her sweet mother, and her large Moroccan circle. I’ve spent some weeks exploring the deeper part of Morocco, breaking breads with the locals, and eating the Berber dishes in the quiet isolated Saharan dessert.

I’m also harboring a strange habit of trying out Moroccan and sushi restaurants around the world, wherever an immigration stamp marks my passport. I believe that those two cuisines are exotic and peculiar enough that either someone loves them or hates them. It’s quite hard to say you are indifferent to couscous or raw fish. Some people cannot stomach one of those, and they wouldn’t dare to try even at gunpoint.

My most recent Moroccan tasting was in Luxembourg. As strange and exotic as it sounds, there is a logical path to this. Besides being known as the philatelic trading center, Luxembourg is known for its culinary, heavily influenced by the French cuisine. Modern French culinary art is seriously assimilated with Moroccan cuisine dated back from the French colonization of north Africa, namely Morocco and Algeria being a few of the largest colonies. I saw a natural connection leading my way to the purple and golden Royal Palm door that evening.

Couscous of Casablanca

Moroccan cuisine is not just about couscous, although couscous has become a national symbol of Morocco. Couscous done well is a heavenly blessing, couscous done poorly is as tasty as the salty dry sand from your beach flip flops. I was on a mission that evening. I had to convince a German friend who has tasted poor couscous, out of all places… in Paris, to give the miniature wheat balls a second chance. The couscous he tried a couple summers ago tasted precisely like the sandy droppings from his beach towel. Lo and behold, anybody deserves a second chance, even a bowl of couscous. Served besides a plate of grilled meats, vegetable stew, and a generous serving of harissa, the couscous set was utterly lovely and flawless.

I took careful consideration before deciding on Aicha for our first Moroccan experience. It is hard to find an authentic place that focuses on the food without all the gimmicks with the belly dancers and the kaabah interior. A few gimmicky places I’ve been to all have fallen short of my expectation. And then one day on my way back to my car I found Aicha tucked away humbly. I pressed my nose against the glass window, and somehow I could smell those aromas I’ve been looking for since I left my heart on top of the Arabian dromedary that took me across the sand dunes.

In my past life I could easily be a Moroccan, that’s how much I love the cuisine and the culture. The green olive picture of our home page was taken in Morocco. I think now you know…

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