Saturday, May 20, 2006

Basteeya at Aziza

As any good Tunisian citizen, I'm stubbornly convinced that ours is the best of North African cuisine. More importantly, like many other Tunisians, I am somewhat inclined to believe that those Morroccans are just plain crazy with their sweet & savory mixtures. I prefer the intensely spiced tomato-based sauces with lots of garlic and onions.

Shattering these prejudices, I've eaten twice now at San Francisco's Aziza. Some of the best Morroccan food I've ever eaten is prepared by the somewhat amusingly named chef Mourad Lahlou (which translates to Mourad the sweet one).

There I discovered the basteeya. It arrives piping hot, a buttery phyllo pie filled with saffron braised chicken, ground spiced almonds and a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon. (The dish is typically made with pigeon, but as I haven't tried that version, I was quite content with the chicken).

The ground nuts and sweet crispy phyllo make this dish taste a lot like baklawa or other middle eastern sweet desserts. The spiced warm ground chicken is at first surprising but then incredibly satisfying and richly savory. The combination is divine.

I was told that couscous was considered by Morroccans to be the peasant food whereas basteeya showed a more elevated social status. Based on this specimen alone (and compared to Morroccan, but not to Tunisian, couscous), I would have to agree.


Byte64 said...

Hi Sara,
we must share some common tastes about food and blog templates, because i just one month ago i went to Aziza following the advice of a friend of mine and i had that wonderful basteeya too.
I also ordered some delightful sardines as a starter, then i had the cous cous with lamb, chicken and prawns (if i remember well...).

Greetings from Italy

Sara said...

Flavio, thanks for the note!! Wasn't Aziza delicious? I do love the sardines I've had there as well. Cheers!

Byte64 said...

you need to take some time off and write down a couple of recipes for preparing the cous-cous Tunisian style!

A moroccan friend of mine taught me how to prepare a gorgeous "sultan" cous cous, the other recipes i know come from a book i bought last year.
I prepared once a cous-cous with fish more or less according to the sicilian style (if you'll ever have the opportunity to go to Sicily, you must visit San Vito Lo Capo, a town famous for its fish cuscus).

So, i wait for your suggestions!

Sara said...

It's a deal! When I get back from Cyprus (and back into my kitchen) I promise you I will make a big Tunisian couscous, take tons of photos and hook you up with a recipe :)

What kind should I make, chicken? lamb? beef? fish? vegetarian??

Byte64 said...

uhm, Sara, i'm undecided, what if i take all of them? ;-)

enjoy your stay in Cyprus!

awaiting impatiently your feedback...