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.