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Moroccan magic in Beijing eatery

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-05-07 07:51:35

Moroccan magic in Beijing eatery

Moroccan Badr Benjelloun, at his Cuju Moroccan Bistrot and Rummery in a Beijing hutong, is an energetic ambassador for his country's cuisine. [Photo/China Daily]

Restaurants serving cuisines from this North African country tend to be small and intimate in China, but they are big on taste, Mike Peters reports.

Roaming through a spice market in Tangier or Fez is simultaneously a trip to the familiar and the exotic. You know the aromas, but the signs may be a puzzle without translation. But before long, you have a whole new vocabulary: qarfa (cinnamon), kamoun (cumin), skinjbir (ginger), felfla soudania (cayenne pepper) ... and so on.

It's spices that turn ordinary grains and meats and fruits into something amazing in Morocco. Influenced by the country's interactions with many other peoples for centuries, the cuisine is a mix of Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cooking. Fans delight in the fresh ingredients and health nature of popular dishes: The blog My Fitness Pal, for example, trumpets the fact that its savory Silk Road Moroccan Chicken Stew packs a mere 280 calories.

"Mom's couscous underway," Beijing entrepreneur Badr Benjelloun recently posted on WeChat soon after arriving back home for a short holiday. "It's Friday in Casablanca, so get ready for a food coma!"

Benjelloun has spent the last 20 years living in other countries, including China since 2004. His Cuju Moroccan Bistrot and Rummery in a Beijing hutong has a loyal following for its short but simple menu with tart-edged tagines, a savory burger replete with caramelized onions and Moroccan spices, the robust merguez (sausage) that shines in several dishes, and couscous like his mama makes.

The "keep it simple, stupid" approach he's adopted is nowhere more apparent than in the Kalamata olive plate that's a popular appetizer at Cuju and his latest venture, Caravan, which recently opened with Moroccan food and live music.

Benjelloun is an energetic ambassador for his country's cuisine, but he is hardly alone. The prolific American author Paula Wolfert's nine cookbooks include two on Moroccan cuisine, both winners of James Beard awards, and she's appeared on the Martha Stewart Show to demonstrate cooking in clay for an immense TV audience in the United States.

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