You take a step in and the aroma of cumin, saffron, and cinnamon hit your face. Another step and you see exquisitely crafted Moroccan tea cups and ornate designs hanging from the walls.
Perhaps you stepped in on a Saturday night. Before you know it, you’re belly dancing with the other guests and jamming to some traditional Moroccan orchestral beats.
Where is this place? It’s Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine, located in Alameda, California.
Mechanics to Munchies
Born and raised in Morocco, restaurant owner Fatima Belkhalfia completed her university degree and worked in microelectronics in the coastal North African country.
After getting married, she and her husband Jonathan came to the US where she became a chef at a Jewish Moroccan restaurant and cooked at a Jewish university.
Belkhalfia says that she “wanted to give authentic Moroccan cuisine” to the Bay area. “It was my husband’s idea… he said ‘you’re a good cook just go for it.’” And she went for it indeed!
However, starting the restaurant was no easy task. “This place had no customers for 2 years. It was empty, and I started from zero,” she explains.
When discussing the love she has for her customers, Belkhalfia says, “I brought in customers with the love of Moroccan food. I made sure customers felt comfortable and happy in my space.”
Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine also attracted food enthusiasts with its signature home-cooked taste. “I prepare food like my mom and my grandma used to cook,” details Belkhalfia. “I do it the Moroccan way.”
For The People
Authenticity is the utmost priority for Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine.
“It’s all homemade…I cut all my vegetables…I use homemade ghee (clarified butter) and homemade preserved lemon (a Moroccan staple)…I’m trying to make it as Moroccan as possible,” says the talented chef. Belkhalfia also makes sure the spices and seasonings used in all the dishes are 100% Moroccan.
Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan all-purpose seasoning made of cardamom, cloves, and 10 other spices, is imported from Morocco. Belkhalfia enjoys going to Morocco and bringing back spices to use in her food. “When people like my food, it’s like I’m honoring my country,” she explains.
The thing that keeps Fatima Belkhalfia motivated is her customers. “Because of them I keep going, and they’re so nice and polite. I have a lot of respect for my customers. I’m not after profit, when they’re happy when they eat my food, I am happy.”
Fun is also a top priority at Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine, and the restaurant staff wants to make their customer experience as enjoyable as possible.
“We have belly dancing every Saturday night, and people love it. We do weddings, weddings of all races and backgrounds, it’s a lot of fun. I love my customers so much,” Balkhalfia emphasizes.
The first hit of Coronavirus in the Bay area was very unexpected, and its effects remain a challenge for many small businesses. “We were doing good. People love our food and everything, it’s just when the pandemic started…we’re crossing our fingers”, says Belkhalfia. “It affected the business a lot.”
Still, Belkhalfia remains optimistic and resilient through these difficult times. And until the restaurant can return to normal operations, the owner-chef and her staff are offering outdoor dining, takeout, and curbside pickup.