Tucked away in the lush neighborhood of Futakotamagawa in Tokyo, is a gem of a Moroccan restaurant where authentic Mediterranean flavors may be discovered. Le Maghreb, which means “guiding light”, is 13 years old and is helmed by a Moroccan who has been in Japan for more than two decades. He also opened another restaurant of the same name in the upscale Nishi-Azabu district 4 years ago. One-fifth of the clientele is Muslim; even though the food is Halal, alcohol is still on the menu.
Moroccan cuisine is rich, heavy, and full of fragrant spices. Fans of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods but strangers to North African cuisine, we couldn’t wait to get a first-hand experience of exotic Marrakech. Less than 5 minutes away from the station, the restaurant is nestled in the middle of a couple of alleyways lined with restaurants. The exterior was unassuming and looked like a quaint bistro. There was a sign that said “Belly Dance Show every Friday at 9pm!”; that would be a nice accompaniment to dessert. Shisha or hookah, water pipes for smoking flavored tobacco, are also available.
Upon entering, we were greeted with Moroccan earthenware, crockery and trinkets that were for sale. They were really pretty! The interior was decorated in true Moroccan fashion, with veil drapes, star lights, lantern lamps of stained mosaic glass, Persian print cushions and carpets, as well as frames with Arabic words on all the walls. The chefs were bustling behind the counter, where the kitchen was. One of the orders to another table went by us; it was an earthen pot that had a cone hat for a kid and looked absolutely intriguing! As we found out later, that dish is called a tajine, which is a stew of North African origin and is named after the oddly shaped pot it is cooked in. Steam condenses on the lid and drips back down the cone to the pot. Minimal water is needed in cooking and as such, this cooking method is pragmatic for areas where water is relatively scarce.
And now on to the food! We were almost growling in anticipation of the delicious meats in spices and nuts and fruit that would soon be within reach. Our blood orange juices arrived in flutes, and tasted like they came from an imported juice box. The starter was a trio of marinated octopus and tomatoes, hummus (chickpea dip), and zaalouk (roasted eggplant and pepper dip) with toasted flat bread.
The flavors were good: nutty, earthy and homely. Next up were the chicken and lamb kebabs, which were definitely the highlight of the meal. They were flame grilled to juicy, smoky perfection. The flavors of the meat and spices entwined in an explosive embrace. My inner animal was teased and it wanted more! The seafood couscous had a hearty helping of frutti di mare in a tomato-based sauce. Beautiful waves of ocean flavors were crashing against my palate.
We skipped dessert, but overall it was a truly warming glimpse of authentic Moroccan cuisine that stimulates, tantalizes and dances all over the taste buds!
Le Maghreb Moroccan Restaurant*Automatic translation