(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Walking into Kasbah is akin to taking a holiday to an exotic locale. The interior is bathed in soothing shades of blue and white, with beautiful Moroccan tiles lining the floor and colourful Moroccan mosaic lamps providing a dim glow to the surrounds. In the daytime, the space is dappled with sunlight, which lends it a dreamy, lazy afternoon vibe.
Named after the old citadels of North Africa, Kasbah is a haven for north African cuisine. Opened a few months ago by Algerian native Emir Benabid, the restaurant aims to introduce the Maghrebi cuisines of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to Malaysians.
“When I came here, I noticed that there was no restaurant that represents North African culture. There are many Mediterranean restaurants but it’s more Turkish, Italian or French food, not really north African. That’s why my idea was to set up such a restaurant. I want to show Malaysians what my food is like,” says Emir.
Emir first came to Malaysia a few years ago as a tourist and says he “just fell in love with the country”. Two years later, he returned and now lives here. In setting up Kasbah, he worked with his chef (he initially had a Tunisian chef but now has an Algerian one) as well as a French consultant to put together a menu that best represents the cuisine of the region he grew up in.
Given that there is a dearth of North African restaurants in Malaysia, it is highly plausible that you won’t know what you’re eating and the refrain “What is this?” is likely to be repeated ad nauseum. To get you more acquainted with North African food, here’s a crash course on what to expect.
For starters, definitely look into indulging in the many dips and salads on offer here (served with house-made bread). Like the Tunisian mechouia (RM12 or S$4), an olive oil-rich, pulpy offering that incorporates tomatoes, grilled capsicum and onions in what turns out to be a luscious mixture that is light but also conversely indulgent.
Then there is the Moroccan salad zaalouk (RM12), a smooth paste-like concoction that features grilled eggplants, tomato, onions, garlic, olive oil and cumin. The eggplant is creamy and rich, but the underlying note here is cumin, which permeates the dip with lovely spice-laden tones.
The Algerian carrot salad (RM10), meanwhile, offers carrots, garlic, lemon, honey and cumin and is a fresh, flavourful combination underscored by pliant carrots and the slight sweetness of honey.
Kasbah will soon be introducing a new menu and one of the highlights is slightly more well-known dips like hummus (RM14) and moutabal. The former is a Middle Eastern staple made of chickpeas – Kasbah’s version is smooth and satin-soft. The moutabal, on the other hand, is made of grilled eggplants, garlic, yogurt and lemon and is very creamy but has slightly bitter tinges to it, that may not endear it to everyone.
One of the show-stoppers on Kasbah’s menu is pastilla (RM12), otherwise called a Moroccan pie. While the traditional recipe calls for squab (young pigeon), modern iterations generally use chicken instead. The pie features a filo pastry enclosure stuffed with chicken, almonds, honey and cinnamon. The pastry is light and thin but holds its shape, and the filling is really delicious – meaty but interspersed with the nuttiness of the almonds and the sweetness of honey and cinnamon. It’s an unusual combination – chicken and nuts, but it works spectacularly well here.
Then there is harira (RM16), a Moroccan soup comprising lamb, vermicelli, chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and coriander that is traditionally eaten to break fast during Ramadan. Although it is labelled a soup, this concoction is slightly thick, almost like a more liquid version of dhal. In Kasbah’s version, the flavours of the lamb and chickpeas really come through and you’ll find yourself lulled and sated by this hearty broth.
Couscous is a North African semolina staple that has become increasingly popular all over the world. Kasbah’s couscous lamb (RM31) does this meal justice, with cous cous that is softly yielding but also features semolina kernels that still have a springy bounce. The lamb kebab in this meal adds a meaty element and the sauce ladled on it (which is made from vegetables and spices like ras el hanout) adds rich depth to this delicious, wholesome meal.
Kasbah also has an extensive array of Algerian-style tajines (a slow-cooked, savoury stew that dates back to the 9th century and is named after the earthenware pot that it is cooked in). Of these, the chicken lemon-confit (RM25) is probably the most interesting. The dish features lemons that are preserved in oil in a glass jar for two months before being used. As a result, the chicken is perfumed by the fragrance of the lemons and you’ll detect the bright, zesty flavours of this yellow delight in every mouthful.
The eatery provides complimentary harissa (a hot chilli pepper paste), which you can spoon liberally onto your meals if you have a penchant for fiery offerings. The harissa is delightful – piquant and with just the right spicy kick. In fact, response for the harissa has been so overwhelming that the eatery is planning to start selling them by the jarful!
End your meal here with one of the house-made sweets, like the Algerian basboussa (RM7), which is made with semolina and orange flower water (a signature element in Algerian desserts). The dessert has an underlying sweetness and a light texture that makes it extremely easy to eat. It’s a lot like a sugee cake, except for the addition of orange water, which gives it more depth.
As North African food is pretty foreign to most Malaysians, Emir says at the moment, the eatery gets more expatriate diners than locals. But he is heartened by the fact that the Malaysians who do come and try the food often come back for more. This, coupled with his desire to see more north African eateries in KL, has spurred Emir to open more outlets.
“We are planning to have more restaurants in two years, in tourist-centric areas like KLCC or Bukit Bintang. In Bukit Bintang, there are many Arab restaurants but not North African. And I think people will be happy to see that this kind of restaurant is now represented in Malaysia,” says Emir.
100, Lorong Maarof
59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2202 0206
Open: 11am to 11pm daily