Chinatown's new Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine, Kan Zaman

Not long ago, two chefs peddled tacos from their food trucks. They fell in love (platonically), And together, they opened Kan Zaman to serve the food they missed from their home countries.

Clockwise from top left: taktouka, baba ganoush, shish kabob, harissa, vegetarian couscous.

Vegetarian couscous and, in the teapot, Moroccan mint tea.

Photos: Steve Czerniak

Chinatown’s newest restaurant, Kan Zaman, serves up Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine. Why food from Morocco and Lebanon, two countries with as much distance between them as San Francisco and New York? Because that’s where owners Kamal Jemmari and Youssef Dakroub are from. The two met running the food trucks Shogunai Tacos and Extreme Tacos, respectively. They often parked next to each other, and asked each other in turn: “Why is a Lebanese guy making tacos?” and “Why is a Moroccan guy making tacos?” With their food trucks, they were following the latest trend, but with Kan Zaman, they’re going back to their roots.

Kan Zaman, which means “once upon a time” or “like the old days,” speaks to Jemmari’s nostalgia for his home in Marrakech, Morrocco. He first came to Hawaii to help open Soul de Cuba; he’s now been here for nine years. In Kan Zaman’s kitchen, “when we make the lamb (for tagine) in the morning, the smell makes me think of my mother,” he says. “Here, we copy what we grew up eating.” And that’s why, he says, the chicken tagine has fries on top and olives on the side, because that’s how he knows the dish.

Food preparations are unfussy and homey, but the warm spices—such as cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, smoked paprika—give it a touch of exoticism that makes dining at Kan Zaman feel like a trip halfway around the world. The setting, too, takes you out of Chinatown, the restaurant interior saturated in red and blue and stamped with geometric patterns, the outside courtyard atmospheric the way Indigo once was.

Highlights are the taktouka, like a cold stew of tomatoes, bell peppers and garlic; baba ganoush, eggplant charcoal grilled, lending a smokiness to this smooth dip; vegetarian couscous with pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas; and shish kabob, cinnamon-spiced cubes of beef served alongside tabouleh, hummus and pita. Definitely get a side of harissa, spicy and bright with preserved lemon, which Jemmari says is just “how my mom makes it.”

Kan Zaman, 1028 Nuuanu Ave., 554-3847,