Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Flying Carpet, a guest post for MarocMama

I traveled to Morocco in fall 2008, and spent two and a half weeks with a tour group exploring this beautiful, culture-rich country. This trip was one of the primary reasons that I started this blog, so I could keep my friends and family up to date with what we were seeing, doing, and of course eating.  When I got into Twitter about a year later, one of the users I came across was @MarocMama, who blogs under the same name. She is an American married to a Moroccan, and they live with their children in Wisconsin. She's a prolific social media user and blogger (great Moroccan resources on her blog!), and we've had occasional Twitter conversations, but have never met in person.

MarocMama became aware of The Flying Carpet, a Moroccan-inspired food trailer that had opened here in Austin by Moroccan-born Abdu and his American wife, Maria. MarocMama asked me many moons ago if I would be willing to write a guest post for her blog on them. (I have written about them before for my blog, which you can see here.) Of course! And with apologizes to her, it's taken me forever to get back to TFC. One of my coworker friends is a cousin to Maria, so I've gotten to know her and Abdu a little bit, and they are great people. We've been trying to juggle the schedules of four of us from work who wanted to go, with TFC's schedule. We've had several dates picked, going back to June (maybe even May...), but something would come up and we'd reschedule, and then Abdu was called back to Morocco when his grandmother passed, and now with the Texas heat, they've limited the days they are open. It's almost been a comedy of errors, but we have persevered, and went this past week. Ahhhhh.

The Flying Carpet, a Moroccan foods trailer, has been open a little more than a year, and in a crowded food trailer scene in Austin, they stand out. They've been about the only constant presence at the food court on South Congress and Gibson Streets, in the heart of the trendy SoCo area. Fortunately, TFC has been able to move under the canopy of a live oak tree, for at 7:45 pm when we arrived, it was still in the low to mid 90s. Abdu was flying solo that night, and he had one customer sitting on the "patio".
The trailer has it's homey touches, from the plants to the Moroccan lanterns to the painted sign with images of the Moroccan skyline above the trailer. (I was able to recognize the Hassan mosque, in Casablanca, one of the top five largest mosques in the world, as the image on the far right!) Their menu satisfies meat eaters and vegetarians, and they can even do some vegan dishes. Austin is a town with a LOT of vegetarian diners, so I don't think a food establishment could survive if it didn't at least try to cater to that population.
I was set on having The Moroccan again, their version of a burger. They take fresh ground beef, and form it kefta-style (think: small fat cigars), and grill it on the flat top, served with a fried egg that's really more of a scrambled egg (fine by me, I have issues with runny yolks!).
But after looking more closely at some newer menu items, I asked Abdu about the La Dajaj Maghrebi, a marinated chicken dish wrapped in flat bread, and he easily convinced me to try it. My friend, and cousin-in-law to Abdu, had the Sleek Vegetarian, an eggplant and falafel wrap. We also got an order of fries, just so we could have a device to get their yummy L'afrique sauce into our mouths! It's a tangy, slightly spicy (from harissa, I presume) concoction that is good on just about everything! They should bottle and sell that stuff!

My chicken wrap was delicious! Everything was so fresh, and even in the horrible heat we're experiencing, not a piece of lettuce was wilting (they have refrigeration in the trailer, but no AC). The chicken is marinated in a combination of onions, cilantro, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, ginger, and lemon juice, and was cooked perfectly in the trailer -- still juicy, not dried out. The thin fries are always perfect, not a bit greasy. My friend also loved her vegetarian wrap.
For dessert, we had the dates stuffed with almond butter, and sprinkled with sea salt. Totally divine! And while dates are something you see in multitudes (and multiple varieties) all over Morocco, this little dessert is not a typical Moroccan dish -- but it works extremely well. The sweetness from the dates, the savory (with some sweetness) from the almond butter, and the salty all play very nicely together.
After a small flurry of customers, Abdu came and sat with us. He puts it best when he says "If it's not made well, I don't want to eat it". The Flying Carpet doesn't take shortcuts; they work hard to present outstanding food. Everything is made fresh to order. Abdu and I have both experienced trailers that cheat a little bit, like using canned ingredients instead of fresh. I am sure that makes it easier, especially for working in a trailer, but it doesn't translate to a quality product. The Flying Carpet was also recently featured on a Cooking Channel episode of Eden Eats, which has brought in some new business for them since the show's airing in July. (Reruns in September, so look for it!)
If you're here in Austin, please stop by and check out my friends at The Flying Carpet! MarocMama, maybe you should start a Moroccan trailer in Wisconsin -- The Flying Carpet has set a great precedent!