Moroccan food? Oh yes. After weeks of salivating on the Facebook page, Marhaban, Ulsan’s new Moroccan restaurant, has finally opened. And it was totally worth the wait—this is easily the best addition to Ulsan’s restaurant scene in a while.
It’s immediately obvious you’re in the right place–the building has Islamic arched doors and is decked out inside and out with Islamic art. Moroccan music replaces the usual LMFAO restaurant soundtrack. I’ve been twice since it opened and both times the restaurant was largely populated by Koreans, always a good sign for survival here. Let’s hope it’s not just the flavor of the week, Malhaban deserves to succeed.
We decided to order three dishes from the small, focused menu. The menu is in Korean, English, and Arabic so you’ll not have any trouble, plus at least two of the staff speak good English.
There’s couscous, lamb and chicken tajine, lamb and chicken bastila (a kind of meat pie with almonds and a thin, phyllo-like crust), beef kefta, tanjiya, roasted chicken, lamb skewers, roasted lamb and lamb chops. There’s one vegetarian couscous option as well. All the meals are a multi-part affair, including fantastic Moroccan tea, olives, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions with spices, some pickled vegetables, a small soup, your main course, and a chewy, flavorful bread that only superficially resembles pita.
We ordered beef kefta, lamb tajine, and tanjiya.
Kefta are meatballs, without any kind of filler to take away from the meatiness. These immediately hit you with the smell of cumin–this dish is very heavy on it, vaguely similar to a curry. The sauce is full of onions, rounded out with tomato and a bit of chili pepper. This was the only dish with any heat to it, though it still wasn’t spicy at all unless you shoveled a whole spoon of sauce in your face. Not that I would do that.
Lamb tajine is similar to a western lamb stew, with onions, garlic, and saffron cooked with potatoes, carrots, cucumber, and the large hunk of lamb that falls off the bone as soon as you touch it. The lamb is the star of this dish; the spices are subtle, letting the lamb flavor penetrate everything. Carrots that taste like lamb. Life doesn’t get better. Some of the bones are even big enough to scoop flavorful marrow from. It’s served in a tajine, a big clay pot with a conical top, and comes out still sizzling.
Finally, the tanjiya. Neither of us could really describe this dish, it’s amazing but the flavors aren’t easy to identify. By cheating and using google I’ve discovered that this makes use of a pickled lemon confit, which must account for the sweet, unidentifiable flavor that underlies the dish, along with a distinct taste of tumeric. Like the tajine, the lamb here is as tender as can be and full of flavor.
The pro way to eat is to tear this lovely bread up and scoop, using the bread as your utensil. We quickly demolished every scrap of food on the table, leaving only scattered bones and stories of gluttony.
At the end comes an assortment of Moroccan cookies. Nothing special really, but who cares? Look at that lamb again. My god, the lamb.
As I said, I’ve been here twice in a week and will probably be heading back soon. Malhaban is glorious, an excellent, authentic restaurant with a cuisine that’s hard to find even in the US, let alone Korea. This restaurant must succeed, it is your mission. Go and be amazed.
Marhaban is located right here: http://g.co/maps/fs9zk Take the 401, 307, 127, or any of the other thousand buses that go along Samsan-ro and get off at the big fish market stop, Nongsusanmul Sijang, between E-Mart and Lotte Department Store. Head north on the main road at the northeast corner of the market, almost to the river. Marhaban is on the left. They’re open from 11:30-3:00 for lunch, and 5:00-10:00 for dinner. Lunch will run you 15,000, dinners are 18,000 except for the roast lamb/lamb chops, which are 27,000. No lunch prices on weekends or holidays.
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