The rise of the sandwich: Casablanca
Sandwich style: Moroccan
Signature sandwiches: Moroccan Chicken, Spicy Shrimp
In the beginning, when God created Haebangcheon, the neighborhood was a formless void. Then God said, “Let there be Casablanca,” and there was Casablanca.
Casablanca is every expat’s secret spot — the place you recommend when someone asks if you know of any good restaurants. They go, and then Casablanca becomes their secret spot, and so on. Why? Well, first, it’s because Casablanca has some seriously delicious, seriously different sandwiches. (I wrote in 2011 that Casablanca’s Moroccan Chicken sandwich is the best in the city — that is still true.) Second, it’s because Wahid Naciri, the face and proprietor of Casablanca, makes everyone who walks in feel special. Spend a few minutes in the restaurant on a weekday evening and you will see — he knows just about everyone who walks in and by his shop, and waves and calls out to all of them.
Naciri, who runs the shop with his brother, Karim, brought to Seoul what few others have — a really, truly different sandwich. There are a few things about the Moroccan Chicken that set it apart from other sandwiches. First and most important is the “maakouda,” which can inadequately be described as fried mashed potato balls. The maakouda is crisp and golden brown on the outside, with the wonderful, soft texture of mashed potatoes on the inside. Second is the marinade that the pieces of chicken breast sit in before they are cooked. Naciri uses preserved lemon, that is, lemons that have been pickled in a mixture of salt and their own juices, to give the chicken a unique zest. The crunchy, toasted bread Naciri uses is from a Syrian bakery in Itaewon. The sandwich is also dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Like many of the sandwiches in this story, the Moroccan Chicken sandwich combines taste and texture well: the crunch of the bread, the firmness of the chicken breast, the softness and richness of the maakouda, the tartness of the preserved lemon.
Casablanca has other sandwiches as well — one with lamb, one with egg. The other one I tried for this story is the Spicy Shrimp. It’s similar to the Moroccan Chicken, but instead of chicken breast, the sandwich is filled with spicy shrimp in a light red sauce.
An HBC mainstay, the eating area recently got a facelift. The dining space is slightly larger, and Moroccan prints now hang on the wall under the light of star-shaped lamps. They’ve added staff too, but the Naciri brothers are still there every evening to greet their loyal patrons.
Casablanca is located on Haebangchon’s main street, between the CU Mart and Phillies. To get to Haebangchon, walk out Noksapyeong Station, exit 2. Walk about 200 meters, veering left when you come to the traffic lights. Casablanca is another 200 meters or so on the left.
☎ (02) 797-8367