It’s not that I don’t enjoy a rerun of a great meal at a beloved restaurant. I do. It’s not that I cry when a first-time experience at a restaurant isn’t as breakthrough as I’d hoped it be. Nope, I don’t cry (most of the times.) I appreciate it all, but I live for that extraordinary discovery that sprouts up every now and then. Two weeks of a food discovery winter, and the corners of my smile will gradually start to droop, the excitement in my chomping cheeks fades to a discoloured hue, and the core of my food-loving heart starts going limp at the thought of another meal gone, another opportunity to discover something new lost. My body switches into sustenance mode, eating to live rather than my usual hedonistic modus operandi. I repeat, I’m grateful for every morsel of food on my plate [hello mom. I know you’re vehemently disagreeing at that declaration.], but the sunshine of my life is really those food discoveries where there are chunks of surprise and ethnic wonder that have rooted themselves on my dinner plate.
Thank God the Moroccans gave me my dose of savoury sunshine last week.
I think I’ve barked enough times about why you have to treat your tastebuds to this row of streets in Deira called Hor Al Anz. Maybe I should include that hidden area on my food tours and drag people out there because it would be SO worth it. Look at this steaming hot savory chicken bastilla I had at the Marakesh Restaurant [that is called ‘pelletized’ on the menu for some unfathomable reason.]
Look at it. CLOSELY. Do you see the chewy-crispy pastry skin blush with powdered sugar and cinnamon? Do you see the swab of chickeny strands inside the pie? Do you see the layer of brown sugar (and was it almonds?) under the chicken stuffing? Do you see that piping hot morsel that I savagely forked away from the pie, before Alex discreetly moved the plate away from me, sliced the pie down the centre and parted the halves open so I could photograph it more respectably for my civilized readers?If you’ve never tasted Chicken Bastilla from Morocco before, this whole mixture of sweet and savory sounds pretty ridiculous. But you’ve got to try it. If you can enjoy sweet and sour chicken, or chocolate mole enchiladas, or sweet mango curried prawns, you can definitely try this. And God it’s good. The flavors synchronize in a way that you’d just never expect of chicken and sugar.
I’ve tried a flakier, crispier sample of bastille pastry from Almaz by Momo once at Taste of Dubai. I remember that pastry being more delicate than the one at Marakesh, which of course comes at the price of eating at a fancy pants place at the top of the Mall of the Emirates. But for a more down-to-earth rugged experience that’s equally fulfilling, the kinds that nourish my decidedly unglam taste buds without obliterating my live savings, Marakesh is perfect.
The salad section of the menu was quite…intriguing. If you enjoy proof-reading, this one’s for you. Enjoy.
We got a carrot salad (even though the mystical ‘Let us pepper fried’ salad may arguably have far greater potential to revolutionize our perception of salads altogether.) And it was a shockingly good carrot salad at that. Boiled discs of carrot, with some sort of heavily cooked-down leafy green—maybe coriander, maybe parsley?—and tons of lemony acidic flavor.
I honestly didn’t care to dissect every last spice in that salad at the time, it knocked me out with this crazy tangy punch, more so because I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular out of a boring old carrot salad. But since that meal, my personal Google search engine has dredged up multiple Moroccan carrot salad recipes. I’ve read ingredient lists containing cumin, paprika, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne and lemon, and I’d reckon it really would take all that to make carrots the celebrities of a salad.
For a weekday lunch, that bastilla with our side of carrot salad would have been an ideal light meal for two.
But when you’re the frying pan on a foodie discovery mission…you don’t have light meals.
Sooooo, we dipped bread topped with crunchy microscopic semolina into a saucer of fiery red sauce…
…munched on olives, and then proceeded to order a tagine, because anyone who walks out from a Moroccan restaurant without tasting a tagine should be…stared down at so harshly that they sheepishly turn around and walk right back in to order the sacred dish.
Now the last time, I ordered a chicken tagine at Marakesh’s next door neighbour, Wajda Moroccain Restaurant. But I realize now that chicken tagines don’t really do justice to the conical claypot cooking technique. If you’re going to slow cook a dish to the point that all the fleshy fibres melt into gooey strands of pulpy meat, then chicken really isn’t best choice. The best choice is what we had at Marakesh: lamb with caramelized onions and a generous heap of sweet zbib (raisins) that had swelled into plump pellets of sweetness.
There was probably more hefty bone than meat in the tagine, but gluttons would be silenced if they saw how smoothly the meat slips off the bone, how the slivers of cartilage emulate butter, and how every forkful drips with primal lamb juices as you separate a chunk from its meaty siblings.
Would you imagine that there was brain tagine? Yep, I know it sounds crazy, and I promise I will order it and tell you all about it at some point. There was also a tagine with meat and prunes, one with the shin of beef, and another with kofta. I have yet to try the couscous too, and the other dishes like Rafisa or Meat Mbakhar that were alien to me. I’m hopping with excitement to go back and figure out what they are. Oh did I mention they serve spleen and barbecued heart too? […on that note, I’ve just lost every veggie reader I ever had. And maybe a couple of disgusted non-veggie ones too. Come back please, don’t go! I didn’t try those dishes!]
I might have walked into Marakesh with taste buds that were somewhat worn out and withered for lack of any new flavour-busting excitement. But four days after unearthing this restaurant, I still feel vibrant and alive and well-watered with the magic of an incredible food discovery.
[Pssst…thanks to Alex for lending me his tummy on this expedition!]
Marakesh Moroccan Restaurant
Behind Canadian Hospital, Hor Al Anz, Deira
Phone: +971 (4) 2654110