Archive for the 'Morocco' Category

La Maison Arabe, Marrakech

La Maison Arabe is nestled within Marrakech’s medieval Medina under the shadow of the Bab Doukkala Mosque and though little known now, it was once proclaimed by critics as one of the greatest restaurants in the world. This is the charming short story of its rise, regression and restoration.

Parisiennes, Susanne Larochette-Sebillon and her mother, had been holidaying in Marrakech in 1939 when WWII broke out. They were suddenly stranded, unable to return to France. The family, who owned Le Sebillon, a restaurant back in Paris, managed to get just enough money out of France to afford a riad in Marrakech’s old Arab quarter.

At that time, the ‘restaurant’ concept did not yet exist in Morocco, “I invented the restaurant in Marrakech. Before me there were no restaurants,” Madame Suzy has modestly claimed. However, as female foreigners who did not understand the language nor know the cuisine, they needed help. This help came in the form of Rhadija, a harem slave to the pasha of Marrakech, Si Thami el Glaoui. Luckily for the Larochettes, the pasha was a patron of Le Sebillon, so he was willing to hand them over Rhadija as a teacher, stipulating only that she return to his household to cook special feasts. Thus in 1947, complete with cook, their home became La Maison Arabe.

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Bô & Zin, Marrakech

A short stretch outside the city walls of Marrakech, on the road to l’Ourika valley, sits Bô & Zin. One needs a taxi and a guide to get there; the first, because of the distance and the second, because one would certainly not find it unless they knew exactly where it was. Though upon the main road, one of Marrakech’s most exciting nightspots is concealed within an ochre-red brick walled bunker. From without, like most Moroccan riads/restaurants/buildings in general, it is nothing to behold, but from within, it is contemporary, capacious and chic.

 

Actually it is more than capacious, it is colossal: there is room for around 400 guests spread between a pergola (fitting 50-70), a bar (50-80), two verandas (40 each), an interior lounge (70-90) and a garden (100-120). Inside, there is a laid-back cool emanating from plush sofas, fireplaces, candles and dim lighting. The mood changes as, walking through the more rustic verandas filled with bamboo cane armchairs, white linen liveried furniture and large earthenware pottery, one reaches the exotic gardens. Out here, on one side is a long bar, on the other the dining area and in between a litter of torches, tents and braziers.

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Dar Marjana, Marrakech

We hesitated when an elderly gentleman, dressed in dusty robes, asked us to follow him down into what resembled far too closely a dark, decrepit and disused mineshaft. Following strangers into shadowy caves is pretty much a major no no in itself, but in Marrakech, with every other person desperate to help show the way to this place or that, one must be doubly vigilant. Mercifully, at the mouth of the murky passage, our guide then lit a gas lantern he had found, thus enabling us to see down the pass and descry Dar Marjana’s front door. We decided that this fellow was kosher after all…and followed.

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