Briouat, Harira and the Couscous Royale at Al Fassia in Guéliz

There’s really no blue like Majorelle Blue, or HEX code #6050dc to be more precise. We visited the birthplace of this blue, the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, and took our time to really take it in, staring at the Cubic villa surrounded by neatly manicured gardens, cactus orchards and bamboo groves, its walls painted the deepest blue I think either of us have ever witnessed. Splashes of this blue appear all throughout the garden – in eartheware pots placed thoughtfully across the park, in the border of fountains and frog-filled lily ponds, in columns and mosaic tiles and other architectural features of the many stunning structures found here. At the end of our tour, we had a hard time saying goodbye to this blue, so we took a can of official Jardin Majorelle: Majorelle Blue paint with us to use on some surface of our home.

Our visit to the Jardin Majorelle also forced us out of the confines of our beloved medina to venture northwest to a more residential area of the Red City. As the very western and cosmopolitan Guéliz neighborhood was just nearby, we booked for lunch at a restaurant there named Al Fassia, highly recommended by a Moroccan colleague. Since 1985, this women-owned-and-operated restaurant has been dishing out Moroccan classics from Fez to a largely local clientele. We were made to feel welcome and comfortable as soon as we arrived and were seated in their elegant dining room, furnished with cushion-lined banquettes and tables dressed with crisp white linen. Our table faced floor-to-ceiling windows through which a breezy courtyard planted with lush green ferns was visible. Clean window blinds blocked out just enough of the sunshine pouring in.

The menu was easy to navigate and the service was quite fast; the dishes were served with a smile and attention to detail. We ordered an assortment of briouates, Moroccan phyllo pastries stuffed with rice, minced meat, fish, vegetables, spinach and cheese. My favorites were the triangle-shaped spinach and the cigar-shaped minced meat brioutes, especially delicious when dipped into a bit of bright red and super spicy harissa.
We also ordered what turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the trip, a zesty and quite robustly seasoned soup called harira. The name “harira” is actually derived from the Arabic word for “silk,” in reference to the wonderful texture of the broth, which is thickened with either eggs or a roux. Tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas are stewed with plenty of turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, red chillies and ginger, resulting in a wonderful combination of sweet, savory and sour flavors. This dish, especially popular during Ramadan, is served with some fresh lemon to squeeze on, as well as some sweet dates and chebakia (a rose-shaped pastry, deep fried and coated in syrup) to snack on as a side. The sweetness of the honey, the floral touches of the orange blossom water and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds in this pastry complement the rich flavors of the soup perfectly. Delicious.

In Morocco, couscous is always a feast and the Couscous Royale at Al Fassia is no exception. The mass of tiny semolina grains was masterfully prepared, perfectly fluffy in texture but also quite quick to form firm lumps upon contact with sauce, soaking up all the flavor. The bed of couscous was topped with a generous mound of vegetables, including sweet carrots, juicy zucchini, slippery leaves of cabbage, some earthy turnips, onion, nutty chickpeas, plump and sweet raisins and – my favorite – a hearty chunk of sweet acorn squash, all stewed, probably for quite some time, in a magical broth and packed with the flavor of the latter. There was also meat. Fall-off-the-bone tender bits of lamb and pieces of white- and dark-meat chicken, all perfectly seasoned. As if that wasn’t enough, there were two very long brochettes, one with marinated chicken breast and another with savory lamb meat.

 

This lavish plate was served with a side of caramelized onion and sweet raisin sauce, a small ramekin of harissa for spice and a large white bowl full of magic: the golden broth in which the ingredients were cooked, which I would’ve happily taken a swim in. This broth, so incredibly layered in flavor and containing the sweet-sour-salty essence of so many complimentary ingredients was there to sprinkle over the couscous, which we did, quite liberally.

We arrived to Al Fassia very hungry and left with an appetite totally satiated, ready to walk it off during our tour of the Menara Gardens that afternoon. For traditional Moroccan dishes, masterfully executed, I’m definitely adding Al Fassia to my list of Marrakech reco’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s