One of my favorite sandwiches pulls from a memory of going to Morocco. Anyone who has been to Marrakesh’s Jemaa El-Fna (“Congregation of the Dead”), might remember the food foremost, even more than the spooky name. At night the square comes alive with food vendors, once the snake charmers, performing monkeys, and strolling water vendors — a vestige of when Marrakesh was a desert oasis — have departed. There are stalls selling fruits, steaming bowls of harira soup, roasted sheep heads, snails in broth, and sweet semolina pastries.
But the late-night snacks I remember most were the sandwiches made from a small, round, pillow of a bread called khobz. As dawn approached, the most popular of these sandwiches featured a boiled egg that the vendor peeled and then smashed into the middle of the bread with his fist. Aside from a sprinkle of salt, there was no other seasoning. Then at night, the favored sandwich featured either roasted or stewed lamb.
New York City is sadly deficient in Moroccan restaurants, for reasons I’ve never quite understood. Yes, we have a few, but they tend to narrowly focus on couscous and tajines. There were none that I could find selling the longed-for sandwiches — until I scanned the menu at Queen Sheeba, a Yemeni place I later reviewed. Hidden away at the bottom of the menu, I spotted “meat ball (Moroccan style) in hero bread” ($6).
The round bread it came on wasn’t exactly khobz — in fact it bore a passing resemblance to a kaiser roll — but it served the purpose. The filling was transcendent: lamb meatballs mushed into the bread in a sauce of cilantro and onions, tasting mildly of cumin and more strongly of powdered coriander. The flavors covered the spectrum from mild to sharp, with the taste of the halal lamb always on top.
The sandwich was so good that it was nearly impossible to eat it slowly, and a friend and I each tore through one half. For a moment, at least, it transported us to Marrakesh, with all its sights, sounds, and smells — minus the snake charmers, though. 317 W. 141st Street, between Eighth and Edgecombe avenues, Harlem
It was my intention to celebrate the sandwich when I started this column early last year by finding as many tasty examples as possible. The emphasis was on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I have done this weekly, and periodically presented round-ups of the ones I consider best.