New York – As the saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” And joining a group of young Moroccan professionals for a night on the town is definitely not something you will ever regret. In the second event of a series of social gatherings, which started with last month’s “Sushi Summit,” young Jewish professionals of assorted Ashkenazi and Sephardi backgrounds met their Moroccan counterparts for dinner at an inviting Moroccan restaurant Barbes. And in typical Middle Eastern fashion, they did not leave.
Barbes is set in a cozy, amiable atmosphere, with the gentle light of the lanterns, the happy hubbub of big groups and couples alike, and tasteful Moroccan décor. The relaxing atmosphere was enjoyable; there was no rush to finish quickly and leave. The conversation flowed naturally, and very shortly, we felt as if we had been hanging out forever. There were some newcomers and some familiar faces, and the group grew larger – about sixteen people this time.
We started the sumptuous meal with what actually turned out to be a traditional Moroccan breakfast—warm pita, olive oil, and sweetened Moroccan tea, which was poured by the waiters and the skilled “professionals” at the table with jaw-dropping dexterity. They held the tea glasses in one hand and the teapots high above, creating a waterfall of steaming tea without spilling a drop. The tea, steamed in the pot, tasted rich, soothing, and perfect. It is a go-to drink during such meals.
Anyone can end up drinking an infinite amount over good conversation without noticing it. Some ordered delightful appetizers, such as a flavorful seafood salad. While we waited for our main courses to arrive, we schemed future adventures and discussed food, Moroccan culture, various historical projects, our professions, current events and developments, and whatever else came to mind. We ended having a great time.
Some of us switched places around the room in order to interact with everyone equally, despite the large size of the group. We discovered that we have more in common with each other than we imagined. Then, the food arrived, and we dove into both the goodness of traditional Moroccan cuisine and the real “meat” of the discussion. I ordered a lamb tagine with sesame seeds and plums, which arrived in a beautiful clay pot and matching pyramidal cover. It was perfectly cooked. The meat melted in my mouth, and the soulful flavors transported me back to Morocco. And because I am a shameless foodie, I also tried a couple of the other traditional dishes that others ordered: a sea bass tagine with lemons and a pastilla, a thin, flaky pastry filled with chicken, almonds, and assorted Middle Eastern spices.
The sea bass tagine burst with flavors. Even those of us particularly sensitive to sour tastes imbibed the stew with fervor. And the pastilla was the closest that a main course can come to being a dessert. The dish itself is very complicated and time-consuming to make by hand, which is why so many of the Moroccans ordered it. The meal concluded with desserts on the house: creamy, milky, crunchy dessert pastillas with a touch of orange blossom (basically, heaven in your mouth); rich chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries; walnut-stuffed Mejdool dates that one of our Moroccan friends had brought. By the time it was all over, we were basically rolling out of there… but the night was still young, and our adventures were just beginning.
After exchanging information deftly scribbled on the paper tablecloths, many of us continued onwards to the nearby hookah lounge called Arabesque (conveniently owned by the owners of Barbes). We were seated in the back, in a gorgeous area that brings you right into a traditional tent atmosphere. We leaned back on assorted pillows, sipping glass after glass of tea, enjoying all the delights that the Middle East has to offer, and listening to the moving, electrifying music of Egypt and Morocco. Forget overcrowded, sweaty American nightclubs. If you want to have the time of your life, come to Arabesque and party like Moroccans! These guys know how to live the good life. We laughed, chatted, fell in and out of meditative trances, and danced like no one was watching. We also delighted in the “performances” of some of the other visitors, some guys who knew how to bust a move out on the floor.
At one point, the DJ performed a traditional Moroccan Jewish song, “Sidi H’Bibi,” by Salim Halali. It kept us all on our feet. I think even those in the room who had little familiarity with Jewish Moroccan culture enjoyed it immensely. It was joyous, upbeat, fun, and catchy. The DJ outdid himself, playing the keyboard, the oud (a traditional Arabic lute), and singing with a beautiful voice. This was definitely an unforgettable experience that not only stays with you, but urges to relive and repeat. Before we knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning. Though many of us reluctantly had to head home, the nightlife in Arabesque, as well as the connections we made that memorable evening, was still going strong. Of course, these adventures will continue; next month will surely bring in more great memories, connections, friendships, conversations, food, and of course, fun. Come join us and see what you have been missing