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Interview of Supporter Stores ILOLI

Japanese taste loved in Morocco

Casablanca / Morocco

A marriage of Japanese and French cuisine highly acclaimed in the Middle East and North Africa

Casablanca, with a population of about 3.3 million, is Morocco's largest commercial city and has many Japanese restaurants. ILOLI is one of them and has long been a favorite of local people. Since 2015, it has been a regular on La LISTE*'s 1,000 best restaurants in the world rankings, and in 2022, it was chosen as one of 50 best restaurants in the Middle East & North Africa (The Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants Academy**). The restaurant's name was inspired by the image of irori, a Japanese sunken hearth where customers and restaurant staff gather. The name is sometimes mistaken for Italian because of its spelling. The interior is in a modern Japanese style using wood and stones. The kitchen can be seen over the counter, and there are also a terrace and seats upstairs.

ILOLI features fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean prepared in a Japanese style with French cooking techniques. The owner-chef Yusuke Furukawa, who has led the restaurants’ 40 employees since its opening in 2013, and his wife, Noëlle BOUAYAD say the restaurant's focus is a fusion of Japanese and foreign food cultures and local production for local consumption. They have actively promoted cultural exchanges in other fields than food, organizing food tasting tours to Japan and concerts featuring Okinawan musicians. They are also proactive in adopting new business trends. When I first visited the restaurant, I was surprised to see that customers can order food on the menu using QR codes. In the age living with COVID-19, this is a good idea to reduce contact with others.

Local customers with discerning palates support the restaurant

The menu includes appetizers and main dishes made with local ingredients, as well as Japanese-style dishes such as sushi, gyoza dumplings, and rice bowls with various toppings. Popular dishes include carpaccio of locally caught tuna, truffle soy sauce, and seafood ramen noodles made in-house. The chef’s choice are ebi shinjo, shrimp dumplings in broth carefully prepared with kombu (kelp) and dried bonito flakes, and seafood salad. The chef says, “For Moroccan customers with discerning palates who are used to eating traditional Moroccan cuisine such as tagines and couscous, as well as French and Spanish cuisine, delicate flavors of kombu dashi (broth) and kobujime (fish slices sandwitched between kelp) may be new to them. The advantage of using Japanese ingredients is that our customers can discover new tastes.”

The restaurant has been highly praised by customers, with such comments as “authentic taste following the tastes of French three-star restaurants,” “I feel like traveling abroad,” and “open-style kichen is new (not found in local restaurants).” Most of the customers are in their 40s and 50s, and 90% of them are Morroccans mainly from Casablanca. There are also foreign customers from France, Japan, and other places. Seventy percent of the customers come here privately, and during lunch hours, there are many businessmen.

Difficulty in procuring Japanese food ingredients

Althogh Morocco is very close to Europe, where Japanese food ingredients are becoming more and more popular, such ingredients are almost unavailable here, and Chef Furukawa have difficulties in procuring them every day. There are some ingredients that come in through France, but the prices are too high for professional use. He therefore has to make Japanese seasonings and find and grow alternative vegetables locally, going through endless hardships to offer Japanese flavors in Morocco. He says he needs myoga, lotus root, burdock root, yam, and wasabi, and miso and fish sauce as seasonings. There are many other items he wants, including Japanese rice, and nori seaweed.

High expectations for the promotion of Japanese brand alcoholic beverages

Morocco is a Muslim country but is tolerant toward alcohol. The country has long produced and consumed red and white wine and “Casablanca” brand beer. Casablanca, the commercial capital of Morocco, the international tourist city of Marrakech, the ancient city of Fez, and the international commercial port of Tangier on the Strait of Gibraltar have many tourists and businesspeople, mainly from Europe and the United States. In these cities, alcoholic beverages are served in some restaurants. ILOLI offers wine (French, Moroccan, Italian, Spanish, and Californian), whiskey, beer, and other beverages, and its yuzu-based cocktail is popular. Japanese brand whiskey and sake are also on the drink menu, although the variety is limited. Chef Furukawa says, “I think that Japanese alcoholic beverages, including beer, will be accepted in this region. Like food, import of alcoholic beverages is not easy, but we hope to increase our product lineup in the future.

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