Fusion From Afar

Jasmine brings Thai and Moroccan cuisines to Pike Place Market.

Food travels. Consider the story about Thai iced coffee: Sir Thomas Raffles, the famed empire builder and lieutenant-governor of Sumatra, introduced coffee and sugar cultivation to the East Indies in 1820, but the ubiquitous drink really came to Southeast Asia on the backs of French and American soldiers bearing rations of powdered milk and instant coffee. Vietnamese and, soon afterward, Thais and Cambodians mixed up the ingredients and made them their own. Moroccan mint tea falls in a similar category. It was likely introduced to Morocco during the Crimean War, as English ships were casting about for new ports. The Brits supplied the tea, and the Moroccans added sugar and sprigs of mint.

The twin libations have traveled to Jasmine, a cozy new restaurant in Pike Place Market. Fusion comes naturally to Jasmine because owner Kanniga Anderson is from Thailand and her partner, Zack Desafi, is from Morocco. They met while working at area restaurants, and often cooked for each other. When a spot behind Sister's Café became available, they grabbed it and opened Seattle's first Thai-Moroccan eatery.

On a recent afternoon, we found the little restaurant filling up with the Market's midday crowd and the house dispensing hot lunches in a hurry. Arab pop music wafted through the alley from a nearby Moroccan store. Tantalizing aromas of Thai curry and Moroccan chicken filled the air.

Anderson and Desafi run a no-frills operation with a prix-fixe menu for lunch and dinner—$6.50 buys any of a large choice of Thai specialties or one of four dishes on Jasmine's abbreviated but popular Moroccan menu: a salad, two kinds of couscous, or diaffa (a banquet-sized serving of meat and rice). You order at the counter, and food is delivered tableside.

Couscous, or steamed semolina, is a staple in North Africa, as rice is in Asia and pasta in Italy. My couscous t'fya, topped with honey, raisins, red onions, and peas, was sweet and mellow. It was served with juicy chunks of blackened chicken in a light tomato and garlic sauce. The garlic and tomato nicely cut the honey in the couscous. For those without a sweet tooth, Desafi also cooks a plain couscous in ginger sauce, topped with seasonal vegetables or chicken.

Anderson rounded up the usual Thai suspects: phad Thai, spicy chicken soup, and green and red curries. Thai curries originated in India and probably reached Southeast Asia on old maritime routes sailed by Indian ships. Unlike dry Indian masalas, Thai curry mixtures are wet pastes, accented by fresh stalks, herbs, and fruit, such as lemongrass, lime leaves, pineapple, and coconut juice. On a cold and wet Seattle day, we went with the veggie masaman, a hearty blend of tofu, potatoes, pineapple, and cashews cooked in a zesty coconut broth. Our extra order of panang beef, tender cuts of meat in a thicker coconut and spice mix, was as fiery as they come. The curry paste was smooth, and spiked liberally with bell peppers and basil.

We saved Jasmine's pièce de résistance for last and returned one leisurely day for the Moroccan diaffa. A diaffa is a banquet or dinner that, in the wrong hands, can degenerate into a multicourse gimmick, often with writhing belly dancers in attendance to feed you. A French belly dancer I remember once entertained such a banquet dressed in an edible corset festooned with gold and silver chocolate coins. Fusion!

There were no gimmicks at Jasmine, just succulent chicken and beef patties grilled on an open flame and served in a tomato and garlic sauce, along with a bed of fragrant jasmine rice garnished with raisins and almonds. The diaffa was laid out in one course. The serving was huge, the meat plump and tender, and the jasmine rice dreamily smooth and as perfect as Ingrid Bergman's smile in Casablanca.

We finished with cups of Thai iced coffee and Moroccan mint tea (both $1.98) and left satisfied with Jasmine's delicious grub and palatable prices. Finding Jasmine was like stumbling on a Saharan oasis or, for that matter, like claiming the choice spot on a Thai beach.

And since food travels so well, we didn't have to travel far for the experience.


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