February 21, 2004
One wonderful advantage of Marseille’s polyethnic population is a wide array of authentic ethnic eateries. Roi de Couscous, "King of Couscous," specializes in the Moroccan dish couscous, offering a dozen or so varieties. The restaurant is a small, tiled, candlelit place, really a storefront, on a main thoroughfare a few blocks north of the Vieux Port. Ambiance is rather limited, but it’s still a reasonably pleasant place. Still recovering from jet-lag a day after my arrival, I presented myself for dinner as soon as they opened at 7:00pm and had the restaurant to myself, as the urban French mostly dine after 8:00.
Couscous (rhymes with "goose-goose") is a round semolina pasta so tiny it is smaller than rice. It is steamed and served with a brothy stew, which always contains vegetables and usually meat of one or more varieties such as beef, lamb, chicken, or sausage. The stews are aromatic and herby, usually with some heat. If you don’t like spicy-hot food, you can usually arrange for the harissa, the chili sauce which is a component of many couscous dishes, to be served on the side rather than mixed in so you can control how hot your dinner is. The pasta usually arrives in a mound on a soup plate, with a small pot of stew served alongside. You lay some furrows into the pasta with the big serving spoon, spoon some broth over the top, and then serve yourself some of the chunks of stew along one side of the plate.
My lamb and vegetable couscous was excellent, with tender chunks of lamb and big pieces of vegetables with a soft but not mushy texture. The broth was flavorful and just pleasantly spicy, not enough to cause discomfort. I had crème caramel for dessert, the perfect cooling finish to a spicy meal. Service was relatively brisk for a French restaurant, where meals properly take hours, but as I was dining alone and the restaurant was empty, this was understandable and not really unwelcome. The waiter was pleasant if rather quiet.
From journal Sunny, Spicy Marseille