Tucked away in the hidden alleyways of District 10 lies Casablanca; an oasis of calm and peace hidden amongst the relentless hustle and bustle of Saigon. The small, unassuming restaurant boasts a warm and welcoming atmosphere coupled with some of the best Moroccan dishes I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Granted I’ve only tried Moroccan food once before, but it was quite the experience to live up to.
Saturday night was a wet and gloomy evening, I was half tempted to stay tucked up in a blanket with a hot chocolate and an episode of Miranda. Realistically though, if I did that every time it rained in HCMC, I’d never leave the house. I’d read about Casablanca in an issue of ‘The Word’ and I was sold the moment I saw the title ‘the only Moroccan restaurant in Saigon’. Ever partial to a good spoonful of couscous (and after millions of sloppy and gruel-esque attempts to make it myself), I decided to give it a try.
Riahi, the head chef, welcomed Tom and I into his completely empty restaurant. Clearly other Saigoneers had opted for the more sensible plan of staying indoors. The lack of social atmosphere didn’t faze me though; I was far too busy obsessing over the man’s fez (move over chef toque!) and wondering what I’d look like wearing it. I’ve never really been a hat person in truth, and after 2 wines I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to ask for a try. Woe is me.
Nonetheless, we were seated and I had chance to take in my surroundings. Casablanca boasts a very homely vibe; cushions, quilts and furs (some nicer than others; I did have a momentary “there’s a dead dog lying next to me” panic attack) scattered everywhere. And in every corner hung traditional African tunics. The thing that really caught my eye though was a large traditional silver tea pot in the corner on a matching platter surrounded by shot-glasses decorated in tribal markings. I spent a number of minutes sizing it up to see if it’d fit in my handbag. Again, don’t judge, I just thought it’d look lovely in my new kitchen.
The menu was simple (4 options per course), which was a welcome change to the overwhelming novels you’re usually presented with in most restaurants in Vietnam. We opted for the olive and dips appetizer to share (definitely could’ve had one each though). Then for a main I had a couscous and chicken dish with some divine slow roasted vegetables and Tom opted for the clay-pot beef Kofta. Both of which were absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious.
But it was dessert where things really started kicking. I ordered the ‘Stuffed Gazelle Horns’ (My limited knowledge of Moroccan cuisine did have me fooled for a while that I’d be presented with a real gazelle stuffed horn … not embarrassed about that … one little bit … at all). These little pastry numbers were just heaven on the tongue; light and citrusy with a hint of almonds and accompanied by mint tea (served in none other than the infamous silver teapot!). After the tea pouring ceremony – a slightly OTT performance by our waiter – I got to taste the best tea I have probably ever had in my life. And I’m from the land of tea. It certainly gave Tetley a run for their money.
Riahi re-emerged, fez still in place, and presented us with our bill; I was a little ashamed at the audible gasp that escaped my mouth when I saw the total of just over 1,00,000vnd, but I was quick to slap my hand for being shocked at a price total of £30 for a 3 course meal for two, 2 glasses of wine and 2 pints of beer. Vietnam is great. I don’t know why people don’t venture out this way more often. I don’t think I’m going to readjust well when I finally move back to London …
So all in all, a very successful evening out and one I highly recommend. And after a quick look on TripAdvisor it would appear that I’m not alone. Go give Riahi a visit and please do yourself a favour and ask to try on the fez. It really will save you from a lifetime of regret.
58/9 Thanh Thai Street, Ward 12, District 10, HCMC