While in Hong Kong, Italian born Ambra Meda makes the decision to eat Moroccan food cooked by a Nepalese chef. It doesn’t get more international than that.
By Ambra Meda
While we stroll up and down Elgin Street, the heart of Soho in Hong Kong, a little mist whitens the air, cocooning the groups of people gathered outside the clubs in an enthralling atmosphere.
Suddenly a sound barges in. Shouts are coming from the opposite sidewalk: an Asian Elvis Priesley is playing guitar with a funny character who sings along his notes.
“Come on over”, he screams as he meets our gaze. “Wanna try Moroccoan food?”
Just what we were looking for. “What should we get?” “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. With our special Lamb Tagine you are not going to complain.” Confident, convinced. He earns our faith.
We enter the jammed dining hall decorated with a Middle Eastern flair. First thing we notice is the smell. Not an aroma of soups, meat or spices. But a fruity, inviting perfume of hookah, whose light incense flavors the air with peach and apple.
When the “singer” provides us the only free table in the room, we realize he’s the owner, Hero Wakim. His energy is like a magnet: “Zeze!”, he barks out to his assistant, “close the curtain, lower the music, more water!” Then, with an affable smile, he looks at us: “Welcome to Le Souk.” “What a cool name!” “It’s the name for ‘the market place’ in cities across North Africa, a melting pot of people, sounds and flavors. Our cuisine is the same: a mix of dishes from Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon”.
We start our approach to these culinary traditions with a plate of Lebanese Hummus.
Chickpeas and Tahini paste puree, seasoned with fresh lemon juice and virgin olive oil, comes at our table topped with fresh parsley, sweet paprika and a side of white flour and whole wheat pita.
We spread the sauce over the warm, feathery bread. Delicious.
As we lay our forks on the table, Hero’s back. In a few words he summarizes his story.
After moving from Egypt with his brother Dody eleven years ago, they have led Soho’s food scene with their restaurants: Sahara, Antipasto, and Le Souk, opened in 2010.
In the middle of our conversation, our entree arrives. Tender cubes of lamb slowly cooked a “Tagine”, a Moroccoan clay box, served with dried apricots, prunes and glazed Kalamata olives.
The sweet fattiness and pungency of the meat echo the honeyed taste of the fruit and the sliced almonds on top. Heavenly. Besides, the braised potatoes that enrich the stew have absorbed all the flavor of the soup, made with tomato and lamb broth. Their dry starchiness creates a floury consistency that wraps all the ingredients in a perfect blend.
“Sweet, huh?”, Hero asks while hustling with some bottles of wine. “Unreal” we answer delighted. “Spice it up with Harisa“, he says leaving a saucer on our table. “Be careful though, it’s hot”, he points out before disappearing again.
We cautiously dip the edge of our forks in this red chili dressing, a blend of olive oil, ginger, lemon, cumin salt and pepper. Our eyes squint, our mouths contort. Spicy indeed.
Hero watches the scene from behind the counter. “You might need some of this”, he says handing us a bowl of lukewarm, inviting Cous Cous.
The dish is so amazing that we eat it plain. Steamed semolina, flavored with juicy raisins and seasoned with butter. Not a single grain of this doughy side is left over.
“Our compliments to the chef!” we praise, “he must be Egyptian too, right?” “Actually – Hero smiles – he is from Nepal, but he has worked in a Moroccoan restaurant for 15 years”.
Well, if he can cook like this, it doesn’t matter where he’s from. If anything, it helps making Le Souk a melting pot in the true sense of the word.
Le Souk G/F. 4 Staunton St. SoHo, Hong Kong Tel. +852 2522 2128