North Africa is a region that is rich in history and culture. It was home to powerful Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, was one of two exit points for populations that migrated from Africa to various parts of the world and later became home to powerful civilizations such as the Romans, Arabs, Greeks and Phoenicians.
The culture of North Africa is predominantly Arab due to historical Middle Eastern influence over the region. The cuisine of the region is also reflective of the spicy, tasty and eclectic cuisine of the Middle East. Here are dishes to try when visiting any of the following North African countries:
Algerian cuisine reflects the country’s rich cultural history, drawing influences from the Berbers, Arabs, Turks, Romans, the French and the Spanish.
Dishes are spicy, eclectic and hearty, with the national dish being couscous.
Couscous, which is steamed semolina, is the perfect accompaniment to stews and meat dishes. Another popular dish is mechoui, which is a traditional North African dish comprising of spiced meat that is roasted over a fire. It is mainly prepared for large gatherings.
For a light but filling meal, Algerians love the traditional soup dish called harira. It is made of lamb that is simmered with vegetables, spices and herbs.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love having some makroudh, a traditional Algerian dessert which is deep fried semolina dipped in honey and stuffed with date or almond stuffing. It goes very well with coffee.
The preferred drink over coffee or fruit juices is mint tea. When drinking coffee, it is often served strong, so it is accompanied by a glass of water.
Egyptian cuisine is tasty yet simple, not relying heavily on spices as is the expectation with North African cuisine. It relies heavily on vegetables and legumes rather than meats largely because vegetables are easily accessible from the country’s Nile Valley and delta.
Bread is the main accompaniment of meals and is considered as the backbone of Egyptian cuisine. A staple food in Egyptian cuisine is ful mudammas and ta’meya, or Egyptian falafel, which is made out of crushed fava beans that are mixed and made into a paste before being fried.
If you visit the coastal regions, expect to have a tasty dish called sayadeya, which is a seafood dish. It’s made with white fish, traditionally bass, bluefish or mullet, and is cooked with rice and an onion or tomato sauce before being baked in a tagine or similar earthenware.
If you want to go back to Pharaonic times, then a must-have dish is besarah. It’s a vegetarian dish that’s made with parsley, dill, leek, crushed fava beans, onions, green bell pepper or hot chilli pepper and fresh green coriander. Spices used include dry coriander, dry mulukhiyah, cumin, salt and pepper. When cooked, it turns into a green, creamy paste-like dip, and is usually eaten with baladi bread.
Libyan cuisine is rich in history and flavour, drawing influences from North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. Libyans take their food very seriously, often saying that one must eat well.
Main ingredients in dishes include olive oil, palm dates, grains and milk.
Bazin is the main starch that accompanies meals. It is made with wheat flour and a little plain flour, which is boiled in salted water to make a hard dough, and then formed into a rounded, smooth dome. It is accompanied by a sauce made from onions, lamb meat, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fenugreek, sweet paprika and tomato paste. Potatoes and boiled eggs are added, and the dish is served with lemon and fresh or pickled chili peppers known as amsyar.
Other popular dishes include tajine, which is spiced lamb with a tomato and paprika sauce and shorba, which is lamb and vegetable soup with mint and tomato paste. Couscous is also widely eaten.
Moroccan cuisine is rich in flavor and history, drawing influences from Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian, Berber cuisine and Sub-Saharian cuisine with a little bit of European influence.
Staples in Moroccan dishes include lots of fruits and vegetables as the country produces them in abundance, as well as beef, goat, mutton, lamb, chicken and seafood. A wide variety of spices are used in dishes, and North Africa’s famous staple couscous is very popular in the country’s cuisine. Also known as seksu, couscous is steamed over a stew of meat and vegetables and garnished with a sweet raisin preserve, or with a bowl of buttermilk as per the Berber tradition.
What you’ll see in restaurants and homes are tagines, which are clay cooking pots with conical lids that are used to cook a wide variety of dishes. You’ll enjoy a kefta tagine, which is beef or lamb mince with garlic, fresh coriander and parsley, cinnamon and ground coriander that is rolled into balls and cooked in a tomato and onion sauce.
A popular street food to try in the famous Djemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech is makouda, which are little deep-fried potato balls that are dipped into spicy harissa sauce.
Mint tea, which is also known as ‘Moroccan whisky’, is the drink of choice. It is usually heavily sweetened with sugar chipped off a sugar cone.
Even though Sudanese cuisine varies from region to region, it is overall influenced by the country’s various ethnic groups as well as by Egyptian, Yemeni, Indian, and Ethiopian cuisine.
The staple of Sudanese cuisine is kisra, which is s a special type of bread that is made from durra or corn. It is the main accompaniment of stews. Another accompaniment for stews is a porridge called asseeda, which is made from wheat flour or corn.
Popular stews include waika, bussaara and sabaroag, which are mainly made from dried meat, dried onions, spices and peanut butter, with milk and yoghurt as additional options. Another popular stew is miris, which is made from sheep’s fat, onions and dried okra.
Soups are also important dishes in Sudanese cuisine, with popular ones being kawari’, which is made of cattle or sheep hoofs, vegetables and spices, as well as elmussalammiya, which is made with liver, flour, dates and spices.
In Northern Sudan, wheat flour is an important staple in dishes as per the tradition of the ancient Nubians. The main dish made from wheat is called gourrassa, and it is baked in a circular shape. In the east, the most popular dish is the moukhbaza, which is made of banana paste, whereas in the west, a porridge called aseeda dukhun and a stew called sharmout abiyad, made with dry meat, is the signature dish.
In the south, where there is an abundance of rivers, lakes and swamps, fish is the main ingredient of food. A popular dish is a stew called kajaik, and it is accompanied by aseeda made from sorghum.
For drinks, the Sudanese enjoy sweet coffee that is often spiced with ginger or cinnamon, or fruit and herbal teas such as kakaday, also known as hibiscus tea.
Tunisian cuisine is best described as fiery and diverse, drawing influences from the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Spanish, Turkish, Italians, French, and the native Punics-Berber people.
Staples in Tunisian cooking include olive oil, spices, seafood and lamb. The country’s most signature dish is brik, which is a deep-fried pastry that is filled with egg, parsley and tuna, or minced lamb, beef or vegetables. Once the filling has been decided, the pastry is folded into a triangle and garnished with lemon juice.
Like most North African countries, couscous is a staple in every day dishes. The starch is usually accompanied by lamb and vegetables, and sometimes with chicken.
A hearty Tunisian salad usually consists of raw chopped tomato, onion and cucumber, with the optional additions of beans, egg and tuna. It is topped off with olive oil and lemon.
A popular meaty dish is kefta, which is made from minced lamb or minced meat, onion and various spices. It is made into little balls and fried, and is served with tomato sauce and a carrot salad.
Saharawi cuisine is heavily influenced by Arab, Berber and Spanish cuisine as the country was colonized by Spain and is still largely under the control of Morocco. The Saharawi largely draw their cultural food influences from the nomad Berbers that inhabited the territory for millennia.
Couscous is a major staple, and is often accompanied by goat, camel and lamb. A popular traditional dish is meifrisa, which is a stew consisting of rabbit, lamb or camel meat, onion and garlic. It is served with unleavened bread cooked in the sand.
After a meal, the Saharawi enjoy tea, which is not only enjoyed as a beverage but is also a way of socializing with family and friends. It is called atai, and making tea follows a 3-step ritual consisting of pouring the first cup which is likened to be bitter like life, the second cup which is sweet like love and the third cup which is soft like death.
So, if you’re visiting any of these North African countries, prepare your taste buds for a spicy and awesome culinary experience 🙂