So said Fouad when I asked him if the reddish chile seed-laden paste was harissa. He chuckled. A little dab on my tongue told me it was ground up fresh chiles and preserved lemon, salty, intense, definitely spicy.
Later, as the pastilla was served, he pointed at the plate of powdered sugar.
“This is cocaine.”
Another big grin.
What’s with all the clowning around? He definitely had a refreshing sense of humor.
Fouad was confident that I would thank him when he picked my wife and me up from our riad to have dinner at his restaurant. He said it was a two-hour drive when it was only 15 minutes. We walked into Fes’ old medina near the tanneries (our noses told us) and up into a dark, narrow alley, which we’d never have found on our own. Once we walked through the front door, it was another world, a beautifully decorated dar and restaurant with linens and silverware.
Karima Bouaa’s pastilla (Restaurant Dar Hatim) was a tour de force, head and shoulders above the pastilla I had the day before, also in the medina.
The filling for pastilla of shredded chicken, almonds, egg, cinnamon, sugar and herbs was moist, savory, just a touch sweet and the phyllo dough casing was shatteringly crispy and oil-free. Unlike most pastillas, ours were not dusted with sugar or cinnamon. But we did have ‘coke.’ If I ever have this dish again, it will be compared to hers.
“You’re a lucky man,” we beamed after we polished off every last morsel.
“No, no, she’s lucky to have me,” he chuckled only a few feet away from where she stood. “I make her laugh all the time.” Karima just smiled. Seriously.