Why is North African Cuisine so Popular?

Over the past few centuries, travelers, migrants, and invaders alike have influenced the taste of North African cuisine as we know it today. Couscous, a beloved staple, was brought in by the Berbers (an ethnic group native to North and West Africa), and Arabs brought in spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger in the 7th century.

From the New World (known as America today) came the potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and chili peppers, which are found in most dishes. In the present day, the most popular North African dishes come from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. All contribute to the unique, distinctive flavor that is North African cuisine.

Keesha's Kitchen North African Market Tajine MoroccoMoroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is undoubtedly the most inventive amongst the five. The star of this cuisine is the use of aromatic spices such as ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, and paprika, and most dishes are a delightful blend of sweet and savory, such as lamb with prunes or chicken with apricot. Honey, nuts (such as pistachios and almonds), and fruits (dates and lemons) also contribute greatly to flavor.

Couscous is considered to be this country’s staple dish, and it can be enjoyed in numerous ways: combined into salads, used as a starchy base for grilled meats, or eaten as a side dish. Tagine is a traditional savory stew made by combining meat, vegetables, dried fruit, and warm spices, cooked slowly in a tagine earthenware pot (where the name came from). This is usually eaten with a side of couscous or bread. Other traditional dishes include the Tangia Marrakechia and the Beef Prune Tagine. Check out the links to get the step-by-step recipes!

Keesha's Kitchen Moroccan Chicken Tigh TagineTunisian Cuisine

Ask anyone about Tunisian cuisine, and they’d probably tell you about harissa, the ubiquitous spicy table condiment. Harissa is a homemade pepper paste made from chili peppers, garlic, coriander, and caraway seed, ground using a mortar and pestle, and stored inside the fridge for longevity.

This paste will surely add a kick to whatever it is incorporated to, which is most Tunisian dishes. Like the Moroccan cuisine, Tunisia has its very own dish called tagine, but these two dishes could not be any more different. Firstly, it’s not a stew. It is instead a type of egg pie, made with meat and vegetables (much like the classic omelette or Italian frittata).

Tunisian cuisine is also famous for its pastry, the most popular of which is called brik. Brik consists of eggs, potatoes, and cheese wrapped around a thin pastry dough, folded into a small packet, and deep fried to golden perfection. This is served with a generous dollop of harissa. The eggs can also be replaced with seafood or chicken.

Keesha's Kitchen North African Cuisine Morocco Food Market Traditional SpicesLibyan Cuisine

Some people would say that in contrast to Tunisian and Moroccan cuisine, the Libyan cuisine pales in comparison. There aren’t an abundance of restaurants outside of the main towns.

The national dish in the country is called bazin, which is bread made from barley flour (or whole-wheat flour as an alternative), pepper, and olive oil, boiled in water and beaten with a stick called magraf (which is used specifically for this purpose). After this forms a dough, this is then baked or steamed. This bread is formed into a dome or pyramid, served in a well of hot stew made from tomato sauce, potatoes, and mutton, and garnished with hard boiled eggs. It is paste-like in texture.

Alcohol has been banned in Libya since 1969, but people would brew their own concoctions at home. The most popular of this is called moonshine. Libyan sweet tea is also widely popular. It is a thick beverage served in a small glass cup with boiled peanuts or almonds.

Keesha's Kitchen North African Cuisine Moroccan Food TajineEgyptian Cuisine

Egypt’s culinary traditions date back more than 5000 years ago to the time of the pharaohs. Since then, cultures that traveled in this country, like the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and the French, have heavily influenced the cuisine.

Of course, you’ve probably heard about the famous Egyptian kebabs and falafel that are widely available today. However, there are several other dishes that are important to the culture of Egypt.

Molokhia soup, Egypt’s national dish, can be seen depicted on ancient tomb paintings and has been interpreted as a meal good enough only for the royalty. In present day, this soup has become a staple in Egyptian restaurants as well as the local household.

It is a healthy, low calorie dish made from the finely minced leaves of a molokhia plant (which can be fresh or frozen), mixed in with a broth and your choice of meat (such as chicken or rabbit, or seafood), topped with sauteed garlic and a squeeze of lemon, and served with pita bread or rice.

Also, did you know that bread is normally used as a utensil in addition to providing carbohydrates to the Egyptian dish? Bread is normally used to wrap up kebabs and falafel or to dip in thick sauces to prevent the hands from getting greasy. Keesha's Kitchen North African Doubara Algerian FoodAlgerian Cuisine

This is known as the cuisine that brought couscous to the world. Many centuries ago, couscous was given to the country’s poorest as a tradition. It is made from steamed semolina (a type of wheat) and served with a stew of meat and various vegetables. Different ingredients are added depending on the region for texture and flavor. Another traditional Algerian dish is Doubara - click the link to check out the full recipe.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are known to fast from sunrise (suhur) to sunset (iftar). These fastings are broken by the traditional Algerian soups called chorba, harira, djarii, and tchicha, all made from vegetables, meat, and spices. Soups are popular during this month as people who observe fasting can’t seem to have the energy for big meals.