Traditional Moroccan food, with an emphasis on the classics, served up in stylish and comfortable surrounds. By Brett Davis, photo and video by Jonny Edbrooke.
Moroccan food is one that eludes an easy definition. This is because it hails from a country criss-crossed by ancient trading routes, and over the centuries it has absorbed and adapted influences from around the region. However, it is typically understood to be a combination of Berber, Arabic, Andalusian (south-western Spain) and Mediterranean.
At Casablanca restaurant on Le Thanh Ton in the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, all of these elements come together to create a very authentic experience. The menu is built around the Moroccan staples of tajine and couscous dishes, but there is also a good selection of tapas and appetizers.
If you are looking for a few sharing plates with friends, then the gambas pil pil, spicy fresh prawns tossed with fragrant garlic, is a great place to start. The seafood paella seasoned with saffron and fresh lemon, and the Spanish tortilla – a sort of original take on the traditional potato, egg and onion dish – provide the nod towards Andalusia.
A traditional Moroccan meal usually begins with a course of hot and cold salads. On the menu these are ably represented by zalouk, a warm salad of aubergine and tomatoes; and Berber salad, a chilled combination of cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
You can choose to have your couscous topped with either fish or chicken, or you can opt for the royale, a mighty combo of Merguez sausage, chicken and lamb. There is also what is called pastille, which is either chicken or vegetables and marinated fruit wrapped up in delicate pockets of baked puff pastry.
The main event, though, is really the tajine, the earthenware dish with the tall, tapered lid. Tajine dishes are typically a combination of meats and vegetables. A personal favourite is the lamb, braised and seasoned with ras el hanout, the classic Moroccan spice mix made up of 27 different spices. You can also choose chicken, kefta (minced lamb balls), seafood, rabbit or vegetable. All are very worthy, and the mixture of spices, sauce and slow-cooked ingredients makes for a very hearty and satisfying meal.
Casablanca also brew their own blonde ale which is very light and refreshing, as is the Moroccan mint tea or lemon tea infused with honey.
The service and atmosphere at Casablanca (there are numerous black and white prints on the walls from the famous Humphrey Bogart film of the same name) are both top notch, making this an all-round enjoyable dining experience.