Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 – Millennium memories from Morocco… in Paris!

The date: Sunday, December 19th 1999.
The time: Around 10pm.
The place: Casablanca, Morocco.

My sister and I are arriving after a long day of travel from Singapore for her and a short but crazy day travelling from Paris for me. We’re tired. We’re booked on Explore’s Imperial Cities and Deserts trip over the “millennium holidays” at Amanda’s insistence. A few months earlier, our conversation had gone something like this:

A: I want to go to Morocco at Christmas and have found the perfect trip so we’re not two single girls wandering around Morocco on our own.
M: How much is it?
A: (says price – I can’t remember now but for a poor English teacher in Paris, it seemed a lot)
M: Oh that’s a bit much.
A: I’ll pay half.
M: Done.

Sisterly love at its best!

I had never been on a “group trip” before then, though Amanda had. She insisted that it would not be full of losers (I guess in my mind I had thought of a bunch of people following a tour guide carrying an umbrella saying “This way please..”) and I chose to believe her. In any case, even if we didn’t like anyone else on the trip, we would have each other, right?

Have to say that evening in Casablanca (btw, it’s NOT the romantic town you are picturing, it’s actually a quite run of the mill Moroccan city), things did not bode well. As we alighted from the bus (actually, not the mini bus we were expecting – a gigantic 42 seater (for just 20 of us) in bright banana yellow. Way to go to stand out as the tourists…), the first thing we hear is a loutish (what I thought was) American voice (male) calling down to us “Bon-JOOR ladies.”. Me and Amanda (and I know that’s grammatically incorrect, but that’s what we say in my house just to bug my dad, the grammar police) look at each other and roll our eyes and go “LOSER!” to each other in the way only sisters can.

The next morning at breakfast, the same voice was to be heard loudly claiming the only pot of coffee at the table and we were again not impressed. Fortunately, since I speak fluent French, I made my way into the kitchen and found another, triumphantly passing the owner of the voice brandishing my pot of coffee.

And that, my friends was my first introduction to Neil. Fortunately for him, I was able to excuse his initial bad behaviour to discover he is actually an extremely fun travel companion.

(gosh – doesn’t he look like a baby there??)

Not the most auspicious of meetings, true, but things did get much better from then on (duh – obviously!). Neil, Amanda and I made fast friends with another Australian on the trip, Tami who arrived with a 4L bottle of Bailey’s in her luggage (back in the days when you could carry that much) and sat at the back of the bus with us and kept us entertained with her constant stream of one-liners. She even shared some of her Baileys!

I mean how can you NOT love the woman who brought a whole bunch of Y2K paraphernalia for the trip? LOVE those glasses! We are still friends to this day!

Here we all are, bonding over a delicious meal that included the bonus Dalek-type heater who joined us at the table.

(btw, these pictures are scanned from non-digital ones, hence the quality. It was 1999, people, and digital cameras were few and far between).

We made fast friends as we all (except Amanda who lived in Singapore) purchased the traditional Moroccan djellaba which Neil and I still wear every Hallowe’en as we sit on our porch and hand out candy:

(that’s me)

We also enjoyed some wonderful meals together:

(yes, there was a team scarf purchase too)

And in a very memorable New Year’s Day adventure, we headed out in a calèche (horse and carriage) to the drive through McDonalds for our first meal of the new millennium (as you do..) where we were delighted to see the “McRamadan” menu (yes, it was called that) on offer, though not for us:

And the next 10 years, as they say, is history. Eight months after that trip, I found myself in Toronto teaching French as a Second Language in what was the most giant leap of faith I have ever taken (and probably inducing many sleepless nights for mum and dad). Fortunately, it paid off!

Right then, so what’s all this got to do with Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24?

Well, as many of you know, we are in Paris this Christmas in a nod to my “Hey, I moved to Toronto from Paris to be with you mister, let’s make sure we go back to visit it often” mentality.

It’s true, I miss Paris. Sorry but I can’t pretend otherwise. I wouldn’t however, have my life any other way – I have a wonderful job, great friends, a house that sometime in the next thousand years we might be able to call our own, a beautiful cat and, of course Mr “Bon-JOOR ladies” himself, Neil. Life is good.

When the call for 24, 24, 24 proposals came out, I got to thinking about the date and it rang a bell. December 19…. I looked back in the calendar and voilà – it was going to be the 10th anniversary of our first meeting. What could we possibly to to commerate this historic moment? Well, my first thought was to fly down to Casablanca from Paris but a) well, that would have cost a pretty penny and b) after a trans-Atlantic flight I was pretty sure we wouldn’t really feel like heading back to the airport as soon as we arrived in Paris. So it was going to have to be Moroccan food in Paris.

I got onto the lovely Mathilde to check that my memory was serving me correctly and that some of the best Moroccan food in Paris was to be found at Le 404, literally a hop, skip and a jump from the apartment we were going to be renting. A quick email to Véronique, of French Cooking for Dummies and our reservations were made. Gotta love the blogosphere for making friends who will help you out! Thanks ladies!

I planned to surprise Neil with a meal at “Le 404”, arguable the best Moroccan restaurant in Paris. The New York Times describes it as “true desert decadence”, while Cityvox says it’s “a charming little dive”. A wonderful representation of multi-faceted Morocco, then! In my nearly 6 years’ living in Paris, I never made it there, so what better reason than the 10th anniversary of our meeting?

Le 404 only has two seatings per night – 8pm and 10pm. Since I knew we would be jetlagged and exhausted from the leadup the the trip, I opted for the 8pm seating. The restaurant is fairly small and intimate but not in an intimidating way. Everyone sits pretty close to each other but somehow it doesn’t seem that way, and it’s not even that noisy. The décor is sublime!

Lots of candles and atmospheric lighting… including lots of shadows to make photos quite challenging so again, apologies. I’m just trying to recreate the experience for you!

We started with some spicy olives and some sweet beets.

Neil ordered some Algerian wine…

and we were highly amused to see this visual warning on the back..

We ordered my favourite eau pétillante…

For starters, we chose taboulé maison:

and Briouat de fromage, menthe et pommes de terre:

and inside…

This was spectacular. Cheesey with a touch of mint and light flaky pastry. A gooey mouthful of deliciousness.

Some rustic bread appeared with our main courses:

Our beautiful dinner plates..

First up, tajine de poulet, citrons confits et olives

This was such a great dish. The preserved lemons (teeny tiny little things) really made this a standout. As in Morocco, the meat was all on the bone but had obviously been braising so long that the meat simply fell off the bone. Heavenly!

We also ordered tajine d’agneau, petits pois et artichauts:

We were dubious (well, Neil was) about the peas but this really worked too. The lamb was very tender and didn’t overpower the vegetables – fragrant and hearty without being too heavy.

Next up, tajine d’agneau, pruneaux et raisins secs:

This was Morocco on a plate – the almonds, raisins and prunes are so typical of the dishes we ate when we were there (though the random hard boiled egg was a bit of an intruder). Again, the lamb was tender and moist, obviously having been braised for a good amount of time. Braising is such a great technique that we so often forget about in the kitchen.

At this point, we were pleasantly full but not at all feeling like we had over eaten. I chose to have small bites of each dish separately to savour each one’s particular flavours.

So it was the perfect amount. But you know how at the end of a great meal, you just need a little mouthful of sweetness? (No? Well clearly you don’t hang around me or my mum!). Unlike in Morocco, we did not have endless supplies of Kinder Surprises (I think I had one every day I was there!). We didn’t want a huge dessert, even to share, so we opted for pâtisseries marocaines:

These were the perfect end to the meal. Almond-honey-sesame flavours provided just the thing to round off a near-perfect meal.

With a mint tea, of course!

So there you have it. 10 years after our first meeting, we shared a wonderful meal reminiscent (though so much more refined) of the wonderful food we discovered in Morocco. Thanks to Foodbuzz and Visa Signature for the opportunity to celebrate a special date in a most appropriate way. A wonderful start to our vacation 🙂

PS: Neil’s French has definitely improved since then…

2 thoughts on “Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 – Millennium memories from Morocco… in Paris!”

  1. Here are the 35 comments that did not import from Blogger…

    penny aka jeroxie said…
    That is a lovely and romantic story. I am sure there will be many more years. All the food looks and sound fantastic . 
Have a great holiday my dear!
    December 20, 2009 7:37 AM

    Joan Nova said…
    Loved taking this reminiscing journey to Morocco and Paris with you. That restaurant looks atmospherically fantastic. Happy Anniversary.
    December 20, 2009 9:39 AM

    The Best Family said…
    i think this might be one of my favorite posts of yours ever. the romantic story, the sweet babyfaced pictures of mr. neil (oh, i am so going to use that bonJOOR, ladies line!), the lovely looking moroccan food, the gorgeous dinnerware – all of it perfect. happy anniversary and happy vacation!
    December 20, 2009 11:12 AM

    April Cavin said…
    Great post! Happy anniversary!
    December 20, 2009 11:44 AM

    high low said…
    Happy Anniversary Mardi and Neil! What a perfect way to celebrate and thank you for your post – It’s almost like we’re in Morocco/Paris with you! Have a wonderful trip!
    December 20, 2009 11:57 AM

    Megan Gordon said…
    Love this and can’t believe your memory…I don’t remember much from last week 🙂 Happy Anniversary and enjoy your trip!
    December 20, 2009 12:06 PM

    pierre said…
    thnaks for the journey : here it is so cold !! PIerre
    December 20, 2009 2:29 PM

    lk (Healthy Delicious) said…
    best. 24, 24, 24. EVER!! Love it! And I was dying at your story of how you met Neil. Too cute. Happy anniversary!
    December 20, 2009 3:16 PM

    Simply Life said…
    I went to Morocco once and loved it! What a great memory!
    December 20, 2009 3:51 PM

    Julie @savvyeats said…
    This is so amazing! How sweet that you were able to ‘recreate’ such an important anniversary (and arrange it in another country, no less)!
    December 20, 2009 4:01 PM

    jen laceda said…
    yes, yes, I remember the time when digital cameras were thousands of dollars and we carried film cameras. I met my husband in 2000 also so I know how 10 years with the right man feels. Congrats and may you have more anniversaries to celebrate!!!
    December 20, 2009 5:40 PM

    lindsaymeyer said…
    Great 24, 24, 24 post! Hope you’re having a wonderful time in Paris. You’re quite the busy lady this year! Eat plenty of pastries and drink champagne!
    December 20, 2009 6:17 PM

    Viviane Bauquet Farre / Food and Style said…
    What a feast! Thank you for this inspiring and delicious post… ça me donne l’eau à la bouche!!!

Happy holidays et bon voyage… 🙂
    December 20, 2009 7:38 PM

    mum M said…
    Thank you, Mardi for filling me in on how you actually met Neil.
What a romantic meal you organized. It made me cry to see you three in Morocco, and yes, Neil does have a youngish look about him, but hey, 
He has just spent ten years with you!
    December 20, 2009 8:54 PM

    Fresh Local and Best said…
    This looks like an AMAZING dinner! Thanks for bringing us along so that we can share in your experience of Moroccan cuisine.
    December 20, 2009 10:42 PM

    Conor @ HoldtheBeef said…
    This is such a good post, Mardi. Your sister and you sound just like my sister and I, we’ve done the simultaneous “loser” more times that I care to remember ;)

I love the shot of the olives under the dappled light.
    December 21, 2009 2:20 AM

    Tami said…
    Oh Mardi, it brought a tear to my eye reliving the memories of our fantastic time in Morocco and the wonderful new friends I found. Wish I were there with you both now (Amanada too) to celebrate. Happy holidays and what GORGEOUS plates……. (You forgot a photo of Smiley!!)
    December 21, 2009 4:46 AM

    DianasaurDishes said…
    What beautiful memories and such a special experience to relive them!
    December 21, 2009 5:02 AM

    Tami said…
    PS Mardi, I did celebrate in a kind of fashion. I’m now the proud owner of a tagine, acquired on the weekend. Morocco here I come!!
    December 21, 2009 6:24 AM

    janet said…
    Great story! My hubby and I met in high school, not a very interesting story;) Happy Anniversary.
    December 21, 2009 8:49 AM

    Diana Bauman said…
    What a beautiful story Mardi!
    December 21, 2009 9:05 AM

    Evelyne@Cheap Ethnic Eatz said…
    Ah that is so sweet and romantic, thank you for sharing! And the plates are gorgous! Sneek one away in your purse???
    December 21, 2009 9:59 AM

    oldwaystable said…
    Love the shadow picture in the beginning. Oldways went to Morocco around this time last year and no one will ever forget it.
    December 21, 2009 11:29 AM

    5 Star Foodie said…
    loved your story of the trip to Morocco and the dinner in Paris is fabulous! Happy anniversary!
    December 21, 2009 2:13 PM

    Tasty Eats At Home said…
    What a great story to go along with the post. I wish you the happiest of anniversaries – and that food looks great!
    December 21, 2009 3:31 PM

    CheapAppetite said…
    Good story:) I wish I could go to Morocco too, hehe. It’s such an interesting country with beautiful art. I love street food. The one picture you took of them looks great.
    December 21, 2009 11:02 PM

    MP said…
    So beautiful and so romantic!
    December 22, 2009 10:32 AM

    Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said…
    Thanks everyone for actually reading what seems like a really long post now that I am looking at it myself! I know you are all busy with holiday prep etc… so I truly appreciate it!

    Mum – you KNEW how I met Neil – I guess you forgot!

    Tami – wish you were here with Amanda to celebrate too!

    Evelyne – no plate acquired this time but I can’t promise that there isn’t a “real deal” Moroccan plate in my cupboard, courtesy of my Moroccan Secret Santa!!!
    December 22, 2009 2:00 PM

    Gail said…
    What a lovely post and great photos. The food looks and sounds amazing!
    December 22, 2009 5:39 PM

    Lynne said…
    Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. I don’t think we had the full story of the meeting before either. I always new Mr. N was a bit of a romantic!! Pictures are great Mardi……looking forward to the Christmas Eve post.
    December 22, 2009 5:59 PM

    Chez Us said…
    What a romantic story and a wonderful way to recelebrate a special meeting!! Thank you for sharing. By the way, the scanned in photos are lovely as well, I love the old look to them, adds even more romance. Enjoy your trip & keep sharing with us – we, too, miss Paris!
    December 24, 2009 8:50 AM

    Divina Pe said…
    Thanks for sharing your story. Love Morocco and want to visit it one day. I did study French for two semesters. I almost forgot everything I’ve learned. I should live in a French-speaking country or live near you. 😀
    December 24, 2009 11:46 AM

    myblissfulbites said…
    Isn’t it funny how some decisions, such as going on a trip with your sister, can change the rest of your life? This was a beautiful story, thank you for sharing. The food at your anniversary dinner looks amazing and those plates are incredible! Hope you have many more happy years together.
    December 26, 2009 12:52 PM

    French Cooking for Dummies said…
    What a wonderful post Mardi! I love the Neil and Humphrey Bogart picture! I hope you’re having a great time in Brittany and you’ll tell us all about it 😉
    December 28, 2009 6:58 AM

    Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said…
    Gail – thanks!

Lynne – errr… “romantic” ???

    Chez us – thanks for your sweet comments – the old photos DO look ok, don’t they?

Divina – yes, practice is the key to keeping a foreign language fresh…

My blissful bites – I know re: how one decision can alter the course of everything – it’s kind of crazy, huh?

    French Cooking – Brittany posts coming up in the next couple of weeks!
    January 5, 2010 5:31 AM

  2. Hi Mardi, I was checking out your post about the chicken pastilla and was indeed curious about how you met your hubby in Morocco so checked this out. What a lovely story! And how wonderful that you dined at the 404. I actually used to live on the same street, Rue des Gravilliers, and still go there from time to time when we have visitors. Those briouats with the cheese and mint are out of this world! It’s such a lovely place.


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