Top Ten Wellington Ethnic Dishes

David Burton Dominion Post (December 2009)

Since the flavours and textures of a truly great dish linger in your mind long after it has been eaten, choosing the top 20 ethnic dishes [in Wellington] was easy; I simply had to sit back and let the memories flood in … however, narrowing that top 20 down to just 10 proved a rather more difficult process.

[My] Top Ten combines well-known favourites such as roti chenai … with great unknowns such as [the Marrakech Café] Bastella.

Although not as famous as everyday couscous or tagines, Bastella sits at the apex of Moroccan cooking. It’s a weird but wonderful sugar and cinnamon-sprinkled pigeon pie, encased in crackly layers of crisply cooked waraka, which is Morocco’s somewhat thicker version of Greek filo. Requiring luxurious amounts of saffron and ground almonds, not to mention a degree of technical skill to cook beaten egg just enough to amalgamate the filling into a wonderfully velvety consistency, it’s no wonder that Bastella is a festive dish in Morocco, not usually attempted by home cooks but left to the caste of professional women caterers in Marrakech, one of whom happens to be mother of Abdel Eladraoui, chef patron of Marrakech Café at Greta Point.

Abdel’s mum used to bake Bastella for weddings in Marrakech, and, appropriately, it is her recipe that Abdel cooks for us at Marrakech Café. Abdel … uses sheets of Chinese wonton wrapping paper, whereas formerly he laboriously started from scratch [with] flour and water and stretched the waraka pastry wafer-thin by hand. It seems I am to blame for this: having raved about Abdel’s Bastella in my Dominion Post restaurant column last year, business took off to such an extent that there was no more room to keep making waraka in [his] little kitchen. Today Abdel averages 25 individual pies a day.

Abdel uses chicken instead of pigeon, which I know from experiencing Bastella in Tangiers makes for a rather whiffy, gamey final result, probably not to the taste of your average Kiwi diner. Besides, Bastella has evolved into a category of dishes rather than a single recipe in Morocco, and variations abound with fish and chicken.

Abdel serves the usual couscous and tagines, but is ever open to experimenting with new dishes, and the Wellington trained chef puts them on his blackboard specials menu to gauge the public reaction.  [This] bustling little café [is] full of cosmopolitan, well-travelled folk, many of whom work not so far away at Weta.