Kan Zaman: Moroccan-Lebanese fusion food found in Chinatown

Written by: 
Leiani Brown
Kan Zaman, a Moroccan-Lebanese restaurant in downtown Honolulu, combines the personalities, cooking styles, and home cuisines of its two head chefs and co-owners, Kamal Jemmari of Morocco and Youssef Dakroub of Lebanon. The restaurant’s name, Arabic for “once upon a time,” was chosen because, “It’s the beginning of a beautiful story: We started out as neighbors [selling tacos], and here we are now,” Jemmari said. Jemmari and Dakroub opened Kan Zaman two and a half years ago in 2013 after customers repeatedly suggested the idea. When they ran taco trucks, Jemmari said, “[Youssef and I] would park next to each other in Kaka’ako, and we became friends. And our customers would ask, ‘A Lebanese chef and a Moroccan chef? How come you guys are making tacos?’” As the friendship between the two chefs progressed, the idea of pooling their talents to form a restaurant transformed from customer teasing into reality. “We learned more about each other when we had the taco trucks, and we would spend a lot of time together. I saw how he cooked,” said Jemmari. “I had no doubt this would work.” Dakroub said, “I knew this food was going to be something new for people to accept and to understand, but I was ready to take that risk. We didn’t know how people were going to respond.” Dakroub was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, and Jemmari in Marrakech, Morocco. Kan Zaman’s menu ranges from Jemmari’s personal favorite, lamb tajine, to Dakroub’s beef kebab and lamb couscous. The menu was developed through a series of trial and error when the restaurant first opened, according to Jemmari. “We always try to make sure that whatever food we serve is classical–what we grew up having,” said Jemmari. “We don’t want to change that. It took a while to make the menu because we were experimenting, and all the dishes are new to our guests.” The menu was also new for the cooks they were training, Jemmari said. They had to learn Dakroub’s Lebanese menu and style of cooking. Now, both Jemmari and Dakroub agreed they have found a menu they like. However, Dakroub said he sometimes likes to tailor the menu to the guests, specifically those experiencing Middle Eastern cuisine for the first time. “I try to ask them to know what they like or where they’re from,” said Dakroub, “and put something together for them, but I always make sure to add rice.” Their repeat customers fuel the restaurant, said Jemmari. Many friends and guests have helped by offering input, leading to a new location which, according to Jemmari, will open by July next year. “The reason for this is the demand,” said Jemmari. “People drive from all over the island, friends bring friends, a lot of people really push us. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for others.” Both Jemmari and Dakroub said their favorite aspect of running Kan Zaman is seeing their guests enjoy eating at their restaurant in Chinatown. “Our goal is to provide good food, to make all our guests happy and to take care of our employees,” said Jemmari. “My favorite, favorite part is to talk to our guests, to engage with them and to see them happy. We don’t just want them to buy, pay, and then leave. We want them to have the whole experience.” For more information, visit http://kanzamanhawaii.com Check out the other Chinatown restaurants Ke Alaka'i has featured: Ethiopian and French-Latin. Uploaded Jan. 26, 2016