In Fez, A (Green) Papaya Grows

Anan Sorsutham introduces the conservative medina--and the local soil—to authentic Thai ingredients

Maison Moi Anan, Fez

What happens when a young, creative, highly energetic chef from the north of Thailand finds himself in the heart of the Fez medina - a place with a reputation for valuing tradition above innovation, and that happens to utterly lack the most essential ingredients for his native cuisine? He plants a garden, of course. And then, he fertilizes it—literally—with a very Thai seasoning.

When Anan Sorsutham opened restaurant Maison Moi Anan in Fez a few years ago, he caused quite a stir by bringing authentic flavours of South East Asia to the medina's riddle of narrow streets, where any cuisine besides Moroccan or French was virtually unknown. Now he’s going even further. After years of finding it impossible to achieve the dazzlingly fresh flavours he desires with local ingredients (he was forced to import staples from Paris or Thailand), Sorsutham has planted a small garden near the restaurant, where he grows taro, lemon grass, kafir lime, Thai aubergines, holy basil, papaya, bananas and prik kee noo (otherwise known as mouse shit chillies). Combining those very un-Moroccan ingredients with others from the local souk, he can finally recreate the distinctive flavours of his native home.

In other words, the flavours and techniques of one place are infiltrating the other. One recent dish, for example, pays homage to his mother. “She taught me to eat chilli leaves, and I really wanted to do something with them here,” Sorsutham says. “So I sauté them together with morning glory – also grown in the garden – and pair it with John Dory, which is excellent in Morocco, topped with nahm phrik pad.” The combination of tender, flaky white fish with the bitter chilli leaves and the nutty, garlicky, sear of nahm prik pad has the kind of bright, clean flavours that would make the street food vendors of Bangkok proud.

One bit of this cultural mashup is not only redefining what terroir means in Morocco, but literally improving it as well. Sorsutham makes his own nam pla—the pungent fermented fish sauce that is an essential in Thai cuisine—from sardines, Morocco’s favorite fish. But he doesn’t use it only as seasoning. By mixing a dash of the sauce, an egg, and water in plastic bottles, and leaving the concoction in the sun to ferment, he creates an organic fertilizer that, he says, has worked wonders in improving what is a very “dusty soil that is not much good for growing vegetables.” Which is good news for a restaurant now serving some of the best—and, for Fez, the most innovative—food in the city.

--by Tara Stevens

12forward by White Guide lists 12 eateries in each chosen city that represent the very forefront of gastronomy.

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