The Best Taco in Morocco? Hell, Yeah!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because taking chances with what you put in your mouth might be a chance worth taking.
By Austin Bodetti
- The French make tacos, a food typically associated with Mexico. But maybe not so surprisingly, so do Moroccans.
- Hassan Galaluna, home of the best taco in Morocco, is open during the pandemic, but show up wearing a mask.
What, you may be wondering, is a young man with a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies to do with his life?
This is a question my family asks me every day. One answer, it would seem, is to write an article extolling the virtues of French tacos — not just any French tacos, mind you, but the best French tacos in Morocco.
You see, when I moved to Morocco last fall as a Fulbright scholar, I had every intention of being an autonomous, functional human being. One aspect of that plan was cooking for myself, but it quickly became clear that this project was more likely to result in my fiery death than an edible meal.
I decided to divide the story of my life into two parts: pre-taco and post-taco.
And so it was that I found myself wandering the streets of Rabat, the Moroccan capital, one evening in November 2019 as I began my nightly search for dinner. I must have passed thousands of so-called “snacks” — the Moroccan term for a fast-food joint — but one in particular caught my attention. On the corner of Moulay Abdulaziz Street, I saw a bright green awning emblazoned with the name “Hassan Galaluna.”
If I had learned anything during the countless trips my dad made me take with him to Home Depot, it was how to appreciate a good awning. I knew where I was going to eat that night. See, by then, I had spent two months learning Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, in addition to the four years of Modern Standard Arabic that I took in college. It was finally time to put an education priced at tens of thousands of dollars to the test.
“I would like to food,” I shouted at the man behind the cash register.
Unimpressed by my masterful command of his language, the cashier handed me a menu. It was laminated, which struck me as a little tacky. Furthermore, half the items on the menu were dishes that the Hassan Galaluna had labeled “tacos” but that most certainly were not.
But I had heard whisperings of the so-called “French taco” from other American expatriates in Rabat soon after I arrived. My friends painted it as a cuisine that might lead to feelings of desire or disgust, depending on how offended you were that it bore not even the slightest resemblance to a taco.
According to my sources, the French taco was not something that could be described, even in a hilarious OZY article. It had to be experienced. And now? Now I finally had a chance to try it.
“Want,” I said as I pointed to one of the taco pictures, flapping the menu around for emphasis. The cashier passed my order to the chef, who served me within a few minutes.
What sat before me was less a taco than a panini-pressed burrito that had been stuffed with beef, cheese, fries and a sweet dressing mysteriously dubbed “Algerian sauce.” While the Algerian people are not typically known for their taco sauces, I owed it to the Fulbright Program’s spirit of cultural exchange to give them and the French taco a chance.
It was then that I decided to divide the story of my life into two parts: pre-taco and post-taco.
No meal, I knew, could ever bring me greater joy. I hadn’t experienced that feeling since 2014, when I moved out of my dad’s house and he finally couldn’t take me to Home Depot anymore.
No, this beautiful taco moment wasn’t even marred by me spilling Algerian sauce all over the menu, at which point the necessity of the lamination became clear.
I didn’t even want to go back to my apartment. The Hassan Galaluna was my home now.
Over the following weeks and months, I returned to the Hassan Galaluna so frequently that I befriended its entire staff and, most importantly, learned the name of the culinary god behind the grill: Hassan.
This could get a little confusing. Not only did I already know several Hassans, but he also shared a name with the neighborhood where he worked and I lived — “Hassan” or “Rabat Hassan,” depending on which poorly written travel article you consult.
“Is the restaurant named after you or the neighborhood?” I asked Hassan one day.
“I have no idea,” he replied. Hassan was a man of mystery.
But the two of us had now developed a routine: We struck up a conversation whenever I walked in, and, after I exhausted my 2.7 pre-canned Darija phrases, I would order one of the half-dozen tacos on offer — shawarma if I felt like living a little, chicken if I wanted the illusion of being healthy.
A single but extremely filling taco, which came with an order of fries and a pair of dipping sauces, cost as little as $2 or $3, not counting my and Hassan’s priceless friendship. Affordability was also one of the two biggest factors that kept me coming back to the Hassan Galaluna. The other was that I would probably die if I attempted making my own food again.
The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the Fulbright Program, forcing me to leave Hassan and return to the U.S. this March. My heart, however, remains at the Hassan Galaluna, whose menus are now, presumably, free of sauce stains.
But don’t worry, Hassan: Once the pandemic is over, I’ll be right back at your restaurant. Maybe I’ll even make you a taco this time — if I were you, though, I wouldn’t eat it.
- Austin Bodetti, OZY Author Contact Austin Bodetti