La Mamma

La Mamma

Back in the nineteen sixties, many foreigners lived in Rabat. The city was much smaller than it is today, which, of course, can be said about all Moroccan cities. Since the French ruled from Rabat during the Protectorate, and the newly independent government of Morocco kept the city as its capital, there were embassies and aid missions and cultural organizations, and the city was interesting and pleasant.

Pan American Airways flew to the Rabat-Salé Airport from New York City. The U.S. gave up its Strategic Air Command base at Berrechid and had vacated all its bases by 1963, but when Peace Corps arrived in Morocco, the Casablanca Nouaceur airport was still under construction. Early Peace Corps programs used the New York-Rabat flights. Those flights, on Boeing 707s, often stopped in the Azores and Lisbon.

The 707 that brought Morocco X volunteers to Morocco. Taken at a mid-Atlantic stop in the Azores.

The airport in Salé was conveniently close to Rabat, but it had a major drawback. Close to the Atlantic, the airfield was subject to dense fogs that interfered with landings. Eventually most international flights were moved to Nouaceur, which was inland away from the coastal fogs, and, in addition, had longer runways.

While Pan Am flew to Rabat, the flight crews often rested there overnight. You would see them at restaurants around the ville nouvelle, and one of their favorites was La Mamma, a restaurant and bar that served pizza. Not expensive and conveniently located just off Mohammed V, Peace Corps staff and volunteers also frequented the place.

Avenue Mohammed V looking north toward the PTT. The medina begins a bit farther north.

In those days, inexpensive restaurant food was not hard to come by. Most of it was French, with three courses, often a salade niçoise, a piece of meat or filet of fish, and fruit or flan for desert. Jour et Nuit was near the Peace Corps office, and you could get a quick bite there. If you wanted something a bit more upscale, Le Père Louis, behind the Balima Hotel, offered a nicer atmosphere, with the proprietor managing from a desk near the door as was the old custom in France.

I only ate at La Mamma a few times, but I still remember the last time vividly. It was in the summer of 1970, and I was with a date. In those days, La Mamma sometimes had entertainment, and on that night, there was a guitarist singing Brassens, the sand along. Brassens was already an icon in France, and most French knew at least some of his songs. The pizza maker threw dough into the air in time to the beat of the music. The waiters danced around, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. On that hot summer night, the atmosphere was festive and fun, and the pizzeria resembled a boîte à chanson far more than a restaurant. Though I spent a fair amount of time in Rabat after that, I don’t recall ever having  returned to La Mamma.

La Mamma is still there, 50 years later, and, if the Internet food reviews are credible, still serves decent fare in a pleasant atmosphere. You probably won’t hear Brassens if you eat there, but if I returned, I would certainly strain to catch the echoes.

Author: Dave

Retired. Formerly school librarian, social studies teacher, and urban planner.

4 thoughts on “La Mamma”

  1. Great piece. Your vignettes bring a flavour of the times and make for interesting reading. I hadn’t really cottoned on to how old fashioned even the planes look from the 60s-70s – love that photo. Air travel was something really special in those days and more akin to a top drawer hotel squashed into a tin can. That shiny plane brings it all back. The proprietor of the eatery at a desk by the door too, with Brassens in the background. What an image! How did the date go by the way?

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    1. Yes, when I first flew as a teen, it was on a Lockheed Electra, a turboprop. 707s were the first successful passenger jets in the States, and just coming into service. Out in Seattle, a Boeing test pilot put one into a roll at an airshow, and flew upside down for a bit, not very high over Puget Sound, which drove the Boeing brass who attended absolutely nuts.

      If you are old enough to have followed pop music in the sixties, you may know that La Mamma was Charles Aznavour’s first million seller hit. Translated into many languages, the song was a bit hit all over Europe, and in the States, three or four different pop vocalists sang it. I like Aznavour. He’s no Brassens, but no one else is either. When I was studying French at Laval University in Quebec City, I lived with a group of other young bachelors in the suburb of Ste. Foy. Though mostly students, one was a young RCAF officer, in love with a French Canadian girl. I think Aznavour played there, because I remember her describing him in concert as “…petit, mais il bouge.”

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  2. La Mamma was the epitome of cool in Rabat circa 1970. It was an intimate place with a buzz and atmosphere, plus amazing pizzas. Part of what made it special was the abstract tile mosaic wall on one side of the dining area with a thin sheet of water rippling down its colorful surface.

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