Food in North Africa: Guide & Recipes
I North African Cuisine Facts and History
North Africa consists of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Western Sahara the entire region being next to the Mediterranean Sea. There is an old saying in Morocco that shows just how important food and meal time is in North Africa. The saying states that “Where there is food, there is no talking”. Thus, in sign of respect for the food that God provided, people in North Africa do not talk when eating, as a general habit. Concerning food, North Africa has a diverse cuisine, just like its people and geographical regions. Some of the oldest dishes date back to the times of the ancient Egyptians, Egypt being once one of the most evolved and powerful kingdoms in the world.
In the 1st century, North Africa started having sausages, brought in by the Phoenicians. Wheat and semolina was introduced by the Carthaginians, which lead to the production of couscous, by the Berbers. Even if olives and olive oils are considered to be a mark of the Roman Empire, these two reached North Africa before the Romans came here. In the 7th century, the spice diversity grew in North Africa, because the Arabs brought in nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and others. The Ottoman Turks also contributed to this cuisine, introducing bakery products and sweet pastries. And from the New World, North Africans got tomatoes, potatoes, chili peppers and zucchini.
II North African Cuisine Menu
The breakfast in North Africa is a rather quick one, consisting in eggs, braised in tomato and pepper sauce, called Shakshuka, pancakes or crapes, bread, dairy products, and tea. Cheese, butter, jam, honey, served with flatbread, and coffee, are also foods that are served in the morning. But you will also see salads or cooked dishes, such as falafel in Egypt, or haleem in Iran, which is porridge made with wheat and meat, spiced with cinnamon.
In North Africa, lunch is one of the most important meals of the day, usually served in the afternoon. Salads made from fresh vegetables, or grilled ones, are a popular dish for lunch. The salads are made out of a diversity of veggies, such as tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, even carrots, finished with olive oil, citrus juice or vinegar. To this, couscous or flatbread is added, as staple foods. But it is also common to add yogurt or cheese made out of sweet sheep milk, also as staple.
Because the breakfast is usually light, as most people hurry to work while the temperatures are not too high, many prefer to have snacks on the go. They consist in sesame bread rings, or various other types of salty or sweet bread. Sandwiches are also common, made with cheese, tomatoes, salad, and even some hot spices. Fruits, like apples and plums, and melons in the summer, are refreshing snacks. Nuts and seeds are also appreciated snacks, selling usually along any road, being a tasty and nutritious snack anyone can nibble on.
For dinner, the dishes can be similar with the ones served at lunch, this meal being served around six or seven in the evening, although there are parts when dinner is served around eight, or even nine. Except the cases in which there are guests in the house, dinners in North Africa are rather light. They consist in serving soup, porridges based on milk and semolina, rice, or pasta, or meatballs served in tomato sauce. Tea is also often served at dinner, with pancakes seasoned with honey, butter or olive oil, with fritters or sweet pastries. For families that live in the country side, dinner is the most important meal of the day, as they work at farms or the land during the day, and they don’t have time to grab lunch properly.
This part of the cuisine was highly influenced by the Ottoman Turks, so as desserts, pastries soaked in sweet syrup, sprinkled with nuts, are common desserts. Yeasted crêpes, cooked on one side, served with butter and honey, is another lovely dessert. Semolina is also used for making dough for desserts, which is fried and soaked in honey-based syrup, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Pancakes are also made, and cakes, using semolina and coconut, are prepared for celebrations or special days. Baklavas are one of the favorite desserts in North Africa.
As mentioned before, tea is highly appreciated in North Africa, especially mint tea, served for dinner or in the afternoon, to accompany a quick snack. Coffee is also consumed here, together with juices made out of fruits. Concerning alcoholic drinks, palm trees are used, as they juices are left to ferment and make something similar to wine.
Ramadan lasts for a month, when Muslim people cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. After the sun sets, the meals are similar to what the westerns have for Christmas, being plentiful dishes and luxurious foods. Soup, sweet veal with prunes, stew with meatballs, meals with chicken or rabbit meat, chickpeas, olives, eggs, salads, and a large variety of fruits, served as dessert.
If the family is not Muslim, Christmas is celebrated pretty much like anywhere else, with dinners served with the family. Generous meals containing stews with meat, roasts, salads and desserts, usually fancy cakes, made with coconut and rose water.
• New Year
In the North Africa, the Islamic New Year receives much more attention than the Christian one. After a short period of fast, the dishes served are chicken with thin noodles, or couscous with mutton. In some parts, sweet dishes are preferred, so raisins or prunes as added. “Green” dishes are also served, prepared from plants that are similar to spinach, because they symbolize prosperity in the new year.
III Most Popular Dishes:
• Couscous with various vegetables, and even raisins added;
• Méchoui, lamb or sheep split-roasted on the barbeque;
• Brik – tuna, egg, onion and parsley;
• Tajine – a baked frittata, or slow-cooked stew, with various ingredients, depending on the area;
IV Most Used Ingredients:
Meat / Fish: lamb or sheep;
Veggies: onions, tomatoes, peppers, lentils, chickpeas, and olives;
Fruits: bananas, coconut, apples, plums;
Other: olive oil, semolina, couscous;
V Street Food
What to eat when you travel to North Africa?
If you are on the go through North Africa, you will easily notice a lot of food stalls everywhere. When you are hungry, you can easily enjoy some kebab, a dish made with pieces of meat, chicken, beef or lamb, and vegetables, wrapped in flat bread. Plantain snacks can also be found, which are deep-fried plantains seasoned with chili pepper powder and coarse salt. Kefta is also available, which is a dish made out of seasoned ground meatballs. And you may also find bulgur pilaf quite a lot, being a highly appreciated North African street food, made with bulgur, made out of wheat, vegetable broth, onions, olive oil, garlic, green chili peppers, cinnamon, saffron, raisins, pine nuts, parsley and salt.
Are you from North Africa? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on North African ethnic food.