Tuesday, May 21, 2013
In 1956 my favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, made a movie with Doris Day. It was called The Man Who Knew Too Little. And part of it took place in a restaurant in Marrakech called Dar Essalam. Now, that isn't enough to entice most of you to visit this very hard to find restaurant. That previous sentence doesn't actually need to be there because most places are impossible to navigate to as I believe the locals rip the road signs off the road so that they can "help" you find your way and then stick out a hand wanting you to pay them for that service. Anyway, that's another topic, one that heats up my body temperature and forces beads of sweat to form on my brow. I must of spent $30 "tipping" people whom I never asked for directions just so they'd leave me and my wife alone.
Eventually, we arrived at our chosen restaurant for the evening. A brisk hand interjected between me and what I guessed was some kind of employee sitting on a chair smoking. The young man said, "give me whatever you like." So, I gave him the little change I had in my pocket. It was about $3. "This is nothing!" He shouted, his hand outstretched once more. "What do you mean, I could of taken a taxi from where we were (just off the Jemaa el-Fnaa) for that much!" I said, clearly unhappy about yet another person telling me I didn't give them enough money when I didn't exactly agree to be guided anywhere. "Taxis don't come down here." My new friend told me. "It's not enough!" And then I told a slight fib, "Well, that's all I have." "Ok, ok, fine." And with that, he left me alone.
Calming down we were brought to our table in one of the ultra plush dining rooms. As usual, my wife and I were the only people in the room. Being American, I still cannot help arriving to dinner early. But it kind of works out because I can take photos without German men in Birkenstocks and knee high socks in them, or the other American's who, just because they are in North Africa decide to go to Macy's and buy outfits that are all brown, usually with cutaway trousers and paper light scarfs that serve almost no purpose, but make them look like they've just gone walk-about in the Sahara.
Because we were the only diners, the waiter, who was one of the best waiters we have ever had, very funny, kept checking on us. Every minute or so he would come out and say, "Are you ready to order?" "No, just another few minutes." And with a giant smile he'd say, "Yes, ok. No rush. Please. Whenever you are ready I am ready." And then a minute later he'd come back and say, "Ok, what can I get you please?" This went on for about 45 minutes until I forced my wife into deciding on what to get.
Not long after we ordered my wife's Moroccan salads came out. A selection of six different vegetables. Not really a salad as the menu stated, but more like a taste of what can be created when you make something the day before and then slightly reheat it and put it on a small plate. Most of them were very tasty; the lentils and aubergine were my favorites. My selection of Briouates, which are similar to Somosas, a filling, in this case Cheese, or mixed Veg, got my taste buds partially exited, but didn't really do much to forward Dar Essalam's cause.
During our meal a woman got on stage with a platter full of lit candles and a tea pot. She danced and twirled and spun. It was pretty spectacular, and I never go in for those sorts of things. When the main course arrived our waiter placed mine down and said, "Fish right?" I said, "Um, no I ordered the lamb Tagina." "No fish?" "No, I answered, trying to keep calm." And with that he lifted up the lid on the Tagine to reveal an empty container and then started laughing furiously! A joke I thought he made up and proudly displayed to only his close personal favorites in the restaurant. Until I saw every single other waiter doing the exact same thing! Still, it was funny and added to the entertainment for the night. He did the same thing to my wife and once again gave a gut busting laugh. Gotta give him credit! My Lamb Tagina, which is cooked in a large earthenware pot and then served into the bottom of a tagine, was very nice. Not excellent. Not even quite good. It was decent combinations of the flavors, well presented to me, cooked well. My wife's Beef Tagine was the same. A very nice dish, with meat that was tender and flavorful. But it wasn't excellent. But we really didn't come to Dar Essalam for excellent food. We went there to be a part of history. To be in one of the oldest restaurants in Marrakech, dining where one of the great actors dined while making a movie directed by one of the best directors of all time. All along we were treated to live music, dancing girls, dancing men and throngs of tourists in, "My dad visited Marrakech and all I got was this crummy shirt"... shirt.
Dessert I'm not even going to cover, because as you can see from my photo, I had Oranges with Cinnamon. Let's just leave it there.
It's a great place to visit. Just don't expect to be taken to gastronomic Nirvana. Go. Enjoy a nice meal. Enjoy the entertainment and the 20"x30" photo of Jimmy Stewart eating in the restaurant while filming the movie. And then go to Le Foundouk (will be blogging that soon) the next day for an exceptional Moroccan meal.
If you want to see my actual professional photography please click here.