Darkoum – Agadir’s Moorish Restaurant
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
In Morocco, every large city has a number of restaurants specializing in Moroccan food which is served amid Moorish-Andalusian décor – a world of colourful inlaid tiled walls and pillars, plaster filigreed ceilings and exquisite Moorish arches. While diners feast on one of the tastiest cuisines in the globe, orchestras paying the tunes of Moorish Spain and dancers sensually swaying brings to mind the Arabian Nights. As their customers are made content by the culinary delights accompanied by exotic entertainment, the colourful days of long ago seem to come to life.
Such was my fantasy when I sat spellbound in Darkoum Restaurant located on Ave. du Général Kettani in the heart of Agadir, Morocco’s tourist city par excellence. After I returned to North America, that dream experience was never far from my thoughts. A few years later when I returned to Agadir, I was still entranced with Darkoum’s magical atmosphere. To me, it was a captivating world of beauty and culinary delight.
Ahmed Bouzinni, the restaurant’s manager greeted me as I entered with a warm welcoming smile which he had for every customer. After I informed him that I wanted to write an article about Darkoum, he was pleased and gave me the freedom to talk to his staff and was himself very helpful.
When I asked him about his chef, he called from the kitchen and introduced me to Aisha Bil Khayat, a shy and modest woman. According to Mr. Bouzinni, under her supervision, day after day, the kitchen staff produce gourmet delights which equal the top foods produced in the restaurants of Agadir.
Aisha said that the most popular, and her favourite dish also was the type of couscous she prepared. She went on to say that she would cook this dish for me and if I like it, later in the evening she would give me the ingredients.
Waiting for my couscous, I sipped on a drink and watched the entertainment. Music was by tape. The Moorish-Andalusian orchestra which had intrigued me during my last visit had been let go. Ahmed said that the tourists had not appreciated the medieval music of Arab Spain. Rather, they wanted more of the swaying dancers. The sensuous movements and beauty of the women entertainers, emphasized by the background of arches, colourful tiles, and delicate filigree, were much more appealing to the European visitors. “I try to please my clients”, Ahmed smiled.
Darkoum, in Arabic means ‘your home’, and this is how the staff wants their customers to feel. In Morocco, you cannot feel at home unless you are served the authentic food of that country. Hence, the restaurant offers as the main dishes; harira, a rich soup; bastilla, a flaky chicken pie; couscous, Morocco’s top dish; tajine, a baked vegetable meat and vegetable stew; and almond based Moroccan pastry. You can order any of these a la carte, enjoy the entertainment and leave. However, to really know and appreciate Darkoum’s cuisine, a visitor should order the daily meal. One can have a choice of seven salads, followed by bastille and either couscous or tajine and, for dessert, fresh fruits. Wine is available and I was lucky to have enjoyed my dinner entertained by Moroccan folklore.
During my visit, a waiter dressed in imposing Moroccan attire set before me a huge platter of couscous. Its invigorating aroma, delectable taste and the captivating dancers gave me a feeling of contentment. It was as if a dream world had become a reality.
After I had finished my tasty repast and the entertainers had departed, Aisha gave me her couscous ingredients and, except for the seasonings, the quantities. She said that each cook should season the couscous to their taste. Hence, the amounts I have indicated are my own. They can be increased or decreased. Aisha claimed that the blending of the vegetable juices in the cooking, more than the spices she uses, gives her couscous its culinary appeal.
Serves 8 to 12
A couscousière or a double boiler with a perforated top is needed.
1-pound (454 g.) couscous
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1-pound (454 g.) lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
Pinch of pure saffron
1 small bunch parsley or fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 -pound (225 g.) onions, chopped
3/4 -pound (340 g.) tomatoes, chopped
6 cups water
1/2 -pound (225 g.) carrots, scraped and quartered lengthwise, then cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 -pound (225 g.) turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch thickness
1/2 -pound (225 g.) zucchini, cut unpeeled into 1/2 -inch x 1-inch x 2-inch pieces
1/2 -pound (225 g.) pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch x 1-inch x 2-inch pieces
1/2 -pound (225 g.) chopped cabbage
1/2 -pound (225 g.) green beans or broad beans
5 tablespoons butter
Soak the couscous in warm water for a few seconds, then quickly drain and place in the top part of the couscousière or double boiler. Break up the lumps in the couscous and set aside.
In the bottom part of the couscousière or double boiler, heat the oil and add the lamb, salt, pepper, ginger, saffron, parsley or coriander, onions and tomatoes, then stir-fry for 10 minutes over medium heat.
Add the water and bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
Add the vegetables and bring to a boil, then fit the top part with couscous to the bottom part with the stew and seal the two parts together with a flour impregnated piece of cloth. (Should be sealed only if steam is escaping between the two parts.)
Cook for a further 40 minutes, stirring the couscous every few minutes to make sure the kernels do not stick together, then stir the butter into the couscous.
Place the couscous on a platter pyramid style, then make a wide deep well in the middle.
With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and vegetables and place in the well, then place the remaining sauce in a bowl and serve with the couscous, each person adding sauce to taste.
Aisha decorated the top of the meat and vegetables with boiled chickpeas and raisins. Also, she served a hot sauce as a side dish. However, she said that these extras are not needed.