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2 Couscous with vegetablesAlgeria is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The fertile and mountainous northern region is home to the olive tree, cork oak, and vast evergreen forests where boars and jackals roam. Fig, agave, and various palm trees grow in the warmer areas. The grape vine is native to the coastal plain. Central Algeria consists of the High Plateaus that contain salt marshes and dry or shallow salt lakes. Berbers were first to create couscous , Algeria's national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Algeria ranked among the top ten importers of grain (such as wheat and barley) in the world, according to
Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon from the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Islam continues to influence almost every aspect of an Algerian's life, including the diet.
Olives (and olive oil) and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine around this time.
In the early 1800s, Algerians were driven off their own lands and forced to surrender their crops and farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including their well-known loaves of bread and the establishment of sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian culture. Traditional Algerian cuisine, a colorful combination of Berber, Turkish, French, and Arab tastes, can be either extremely mild or packed with flavorful seasonings. Ginger, saffron, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, and mint are essential in any Algerian pantry.


Typical Algeria Breakfast

Baghrir – The baghrir is a spongy semolina pancake that originated in the tribal Amazigh culture and is now popular throughout North Africa. The baghrir batter is made with yeast and rises in the pan to create hundreds of tiny holes; the more holes, the better. The hot pancake is then thoroughly doused with honey and sprinkled with almonds and softened raisins.
Sfenj – If you prefer to take your breakfast deep fried, you’ll want to opt for a sfenj or two (or three), a kind of robust, puffy dough ring. Although they’re often described as donuts, sfenj have more of a crunch and a spring to them than American donuts and are actually closer in taste and texture to particularly fat Spanish churros. You can dust them in sugar or dip them in honey but either way the result is wickedly moreish.
Coffee– Algerian coffee comes strong and thick. It is often flavored with ground cardamom, or more rarely with orange blossom water called mazhar, which crops up time and again in all areas of Algerian cooking. Even now, wherever I am in the world, the smell of mazhar always takes me right back to Algeria.
Typical French breakfast– bread & jam and butter, croissant & milk and coffee and maybe some cereals and traditional sweets along the way.

Essentials and Main Meals

4 OsbaneCouscous – Of course you already know what couscous is. Or so you might think. But let’s get a few things straight. If you can buy it in a plastic pot from a supermarket or cafe, mixed with a few sad chunks of olive and pepper and the odd raisin, then it’s not couscous. If you can tip the dried, flavored grains from a packet, cover it with hot water from the kettle, leave for five minutes and then “fluff with a fork”, then it’s not couscous. And if it arrives in an airplane meal tray and is so dense it can actually be sliced, then, Air France, it’s definitely not couscous. Real couscous is steamed slowly and repeatedly over a pot of hot stew and rubbed between oiled palms in between each steaming session to separate each and every fluffy grain. The result is feather-light and delicately seasoned, the ideal accompaniment to soak up the juices of a rich vegetable, chicken or meat stew. Look out for different kinds of couscous grain, from fat berkoukes pasta to tasty barley couscous.
Mechoui – This dish consists of an entire lamb, ever so slowly spit roasted over an open fire. Algerian lamb tends to be more muttony than many people are used to, in other words, you really know you’re eating lamb and not any other kind of red meat. When cooked well, the skin is crispy and crackling while the meat falls away from the bone and melts in your mouth with a buttery fullness. Be prepared to serve yourself buffet-style by pulling morsels from the bone by hand.
Merguez – These spicy lamb sausages are one of few Algerian foods that can be bought outside of the country in both restaurants or in the shops and that closely resemble the real deal. Some merguez have ground beef mixed into the lamb, but something they all have in common is a good helping of cumin and spicy harissa.
Tagine – In Morocco, a tagine is a thick stew of meat, chicken, or fish and vegetables slow-cooked to succulence in an earthen conical pot. In Tunisia, on the other hand, a tagine more closely resembles an egg-based vegetable and meat frittata. Trapped between the two, Algeria takes the middle ground and uses the same name for both kinds of the dish and many other interpretations in between. As a result, it can be tricky to know what you’re getting when you order a tagine in Algeria, but it’s probably safest to assume that you’ll be getting the stew kind (unless you’re in Eastern Algeria).
Pasta – Before you try your first Algerian pasta dish, try to forget everything you know about its better-known Italian cousin from across the Mediterranean. Rather than being boiled in salt water, Algerian pasta is generally steamed atop a broth in the same way as couscous, so that it soaks up the flavors of the sauce during the cooking process. You’ll find that the dishes vary a lot from region to region, but they tend to be served with a chicken or meat broth along with chickpeas and boiled egg. There are also many variations of the pasta itself, such as trida (a wafer-like square confetti), dwida (similar to angel hair vermicelli) and tlitli (like orzo or large grains of rice), to name just a few you might come across.
Bouzellouf – Bouzellouf is a dainty sounding name for a not entirely dainty dish consisting of a sheep’s head and feet. The head is roasted on an open fire and then usually split down the middle, exposing half a brain, half a tongue and one whole eye for your enjoyment. I once read somewhere that the idea that some Algerians eat everything including the sheep’s eye in a bouzellouf is pure mythology. Well take it from someone who’s seen it first hand – it isn’t, so tuck in!
Kourdass – These little bundles of flavor consist of sections of lamb tripe stuffed with chunks of spiced meat, lace fat, lung, and intestines, which are hung outside in the sun until good and dry. I was once staying in a house where the cook, after deciding to make an early start on stewing the kourdass for lunch, roused the anger of the other residents who had been awoken by the smell alone and had run shouting to the kitchen, perhaps suspecting they were under some kind of chemical attack. It certainly has a potent and definitively sheepy aroma. But I am assured that if you can get it close enough to your mouth to eat it, it makes for a delicious if salty delicacy.
Osbane – Algeria’s answer to the Scottish haggis, osbane is another dish that makes use of parts of the sheep that often go to waste in other regions of the world. The osbane is a sheep stomach packed tight with spiced lung, liver, intestines and a handful of chickpeas and then boiled into submission over several hours in a tomato-based sauce. When cooked it slices like butter and is best enjoyed with a hunk of fresh bread to soak up the flavorsome sauce.


5 BreadKhobz dar – Literally “homemade bread”, khobz dar is a bit of a peculiar name since most of Algeria’s breads are still traditionally baked in the home and the name actually refers to a specific kind of fluffy semolina bread. The soft crust and sweet edge give this bread the air of a brioche, whilst its spongy texture make it the bread of choice for dipping into stews and soups.
Kesra – There are two kinds of kesra, a thick and a thin kind, but both are round and flat and made from a dense semolina dough. Although their solid nature means they’re not so great for sopping up the juices from your tagine, it does make them perfect for shoveling up large scoops of dip.
Khobz sha’ir – If you’re feeling the weight of all those carbs, try to get your hands on some of Algeria’s traditional barley bread for a change. It’s another heavy flatbread, cooked on a clay pan rather than baked in the oven, and while you can enjoy it along with a saucy main dish, it has enough of its own personality to be simply dipped in olive oil or honey.


6 CakesQalb ellouz – This dessert is a favorite during the month of Ramadan, when daytime fasting creates the perfect excuse for indulging in sticky, artery-clogging cakes as soon as the sun goes down. A sandwich of syrupy semolina is split with a filling of ground almonds and cinnamon, all infused with the heavy scent of orange blossom water.
Rfiss – Rfiss is another of those tricky Algerian dishes that causes more confusion than it solves, since it is actually a collection of several entirely distinct desserts that share what appears to be the same name. Rfiss tounsi will get you a small crunchy date and semolina cookie, while rfiss in the north-central areas of the country might be an entirely unrelated dish of shredded pancakes soaked in syrup. A personal favorite is constantine rfiss, made from crushed, steamed semolina biscuits and copious quantities of ground almonds and orange blossom water and is far too easy to eat. But in the end it doesn’t really matter which one arrives, since they’re all tasty in their own way.
Tamina – If semolina pudding fell out of favor outside Algeria a good 50 years ago, doomed to be forever remembered as a cloying school dinner staple, that’s because frankly we were doing it wrong, as one mouthful of tamina will tell you. Algeria combines some of its often repeated ingredients (toasted semolina, butter, honey and more honey) and serves up the ultimate comfort food. Eat it while still warm for an oozing pool of honeyed goodness, or wait until it cools for sturdier dessert.
Fruit – Fortunately, for those who aren’t keen to eat themselves into a sugar coma from which they may never recover, there are a few dessert options that make the most of Algeria’s wonderful fresh fruit. Slices of fresh orange soaked in juice tinged with orange blossom water, early fresh figs, and countless varieties of dates each with their own unique character are all on the menu.
Cakes – Once, as I was flying out of Algiers with a large box of assorted patisserie on my lap, the plane I was on began to vibrate alarmingly, and the captain announced in urgent tones that we’d be heading immediately back to the airport for an emergency landing. Yet as I pictured what I felt certain was my imminent demise, my first and only thought was “Oh! What a shame the cakes won’t get eaten!” That is how good Algerian cakes are. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and dates flavored with orange blossom and rose water and wrapped, twisted and layered in every combination you can imagine. Take some time to find the one that suits you, because there will be at least one.


french breakfastCoffee– Algerian coffee comes strong and thick. It is often flavored with ground cardamom, or more rarely with orange blossom water called mazhar, which crops up time and again in all areas of Algerian cooking. Even now, wherever I am in the world, the smell of mazhar always takes me right back to Algeria.
Mint tea – If you’ve ever drunk Moroccan mint tea, then you’ve drunk Algerian mint tea as it’s all one and the same. It’s worth knowing though that cafes catering to tourists often use less mint and compensate by adding more sugar, resulting in a bland and sickly syrup. True mint tea can be smelled across the room before you even see it and retains a slightly bitter edge.
Selecto – Algerian Selecto soda looks for all the world like a cola drink, which makes drinking it for the first time a bit of a shock to the senses. In fact, in spite of being cola brown, Selecto is apparently apple flavored, although it doesn’t taste much like apple either. Whatever the flavor, drinking Selecto is just as authentically Algerian as drinking mint tea, even if it feels slightly less exotic.
Lben and Rayeb– Outside of Algeria, “curdled” and “fermented” are two concepts that many people prefer to keep away from their milk, yet Algerian rayeb is a celebration of exactly that. There’s no denying that it’s an acquired taste – something like sour Greek yoghurt with a fizzy edge, if you’re wondering but don’t write it off before you’ve tried it. After all, some people like it! But if you don’t have the time to learn to love rayeb you might prefer to start off with lben which is a similar drink but is only curdled, not fermented, so it can be easier to get along with.
Alcoholic drinks– back in the 40s and 50s Algeria dominated the wine market being the fourth biggest producer and the biggest exporter (mainly to france) in the whole world, during the 70s wine was the second main source of income for Algerians right after oil and gas, that is obviously not the case right now, yet Algeria still produces over 500 hectoliters of alcohol per year a leading position in north Africa, an industry of more than 3 billion dollars, 70 factories and over 50000 emplees, which for a country where alcohol is banned is quite significant, gris dalgerie(medea), tempranillo(Algiers), le carignan(mosaganam), chatea mansourah(tlemcen)…