If you visit Morocco during the Holy month of Ramadan, you'll find devout Muslims breaking their fast with Harira, a traditional soup and starter. That soup, along with more hearty dishes can now be found at Ajbani, a new Moroccan restaurant in the heart of Plaza Midwood — next to Three Amigos off Central Avenue.
Owner Hamza Seqqat, originally from Fes, Morocco, praises the international neighborhood and hopes to add to its cultural gems. Currently enrolled in an MBA program at UNC-Charlotte and manning his new biz, Seqqat finds comfort from his busy schedule through the flavors of his homeland.
"There's a whole experience to eating Moroccan food," says Seqqat. "It's very aromatic and given the time and effort that it takes to cook an authentic Moroccan dish, you have to be extremely passionate about it."
Creative Loafing: Chef Craig Linthicum comes from a background in vegan/vegetarian food, specifically through his work at Nourish — a local, organic, vegan/vegetarian food delivery service. In what ways has his experience influenced the menu?
Hamza Seqqat: Craig [Linthicum] graduated from Johnson & Wales University and he's done a lot of studying about Moroccan foods and the history and where they came from. He was able to bring a lot of his experience [from Nourish], so that we have some vegan options on the menu. There are actually quite a few vegetarian/vegan dishes. That's something that's interesting about Moroccan food is that it's usually based around the vegetable, not the meat itself. The meat is an add on, so by taking away the meat, you're not taking away from the experience. The other thing is that we very rarely use dairy in Moroccan food, so going vegetarian meant going vegan for us.
What's the balance like in terms of authentic Moroccan food and dishes that have been tweaked?
Craig [Linthicum] has done a great job at keeping the authentic side of it. He's also refined some recipes to keep them traditional, but make them more appealing and familiar to people who are just being introduced to Moroccan food. We also used advice from my family - especially my mom - back home in Morocco in order to keep things authentic. On the menu, some of the items will be 100 percent authentic, as in something you would find on a table if you ate with a Moroccan family, and some will be a little more refined.
Tell me about the main staples of Moroccan food. Also, what's your own favorite dish on the menu?
The two main Moroccan dishes are your couscous and tagine. The national Moroccan dish is vegetable couscous and some people add beef, lamb or chicken. We're actually going to have a few options. But my personal favorite is the rubbed chicken and apricot couscous. It's a boneless chicken rubbed in Moroccan spices and it's served with carrots, zucchini and sweet potato over couscous.