The Cuisine of North Africa

947 words | 4 page(s)

The continent of Africa is known for having a rich cultural history in terms of food. There are certain foods that are common to the particular parts of Africa. One region, specifically, is North Africa. North Africa is perhaps one of the most extensively covered regions when talking about food primarily because a variety of ingredients used to cook dishes were brought to the region by migrants from other countries and continents. McCann (2010) writes that “food as a topic in African history adds taste and texture to events and personalities” (2). Essentially, the flavor of food and the overall dynamics of the culture are intertwined where discussion on one cannot happen without the other.

History of North African Cuisine
According to Saveur, the cuisine of North Africa integrates many different culinary traditions including that of the Arabs and Europeans (1). This allows for an extensive amount of dishes to be prepared and also for similar ingredients to be used. One of the most common ingredients used in North African cuisine is olive oil, particularly since olives are a part of the harvesting in the region (McCann). With the usage of olive oil, this gives North African cuisine a different type of taste when examined against other dishes from the region. When looking at the historical aspects surrounding North African cuisine, most accounts trace it back to “Egypt over 3000 years ago.” During the first century, many diverse groups including the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Berbers brought certain foods into the region. These foods included sausages, wheat, semolina, and couscous. Couscous is often considered a staple dish in the region. In addition to this, many of the frequently made desserts were brought into the region by the Ottoman Empire (“North Africa”). Given this, there is not necessarily one staple dish of the region.

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Ingredients & North African Cuisine
In addition to olive oil being a commonly used item in North African cuisine, spices play an essential role. North Africa (2011) adds that the dishes of North Africa are very spice because of the use of ginger, cumin and paprika as well as spice mixtures. The mixtures are as popular as the spices. The spice mixtures that are typically used are ras el hanout, which is a mix of cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, pepper and cardamom; one known as baharat, which is a mixture of paprika, black pepper, cumin, nutmeg and allspice; as well as harissa, which is a chili sauce comprised of coriander, chili powder and caraway (1). The spices are contributed to dishes that encompass meat primarily and also used as seasonings for the vegetable dishes. North Africans are known for eating seafood, beef, goat and lamb in terms of meat.

Preparation for many of the dishes are done different depending on the country. The reason for this is unknown, but certain dishes may taste differently in the country of Algeria versus Egypt or Ethiopia despite the fact that all of these countries are located in the Northern part of Africa. Since many of the countries have similarities in the dishes they make, this has ultimately allowed for name changes depending upon the country. For example, a dish known as coucha in Tunisia is referred to as tangia in Morocco in spite of the fact that they are the same dish and cooked the same way with the same ingredients (McCann). McCann (2010) continues by stating that the distinctive attributes of North African cooking have provided chefs with a certain degree of prominence and considerable recognition (8).

Famous Chefs
Perhaps the most famous chef that is of North African descent is Marcus Samuelsson. A key attribute of Samuelsson’s cooking is his incorporation of North African ingredients into the cooking. Samuelsson, an Ethiopian, adds that “food is often viewed through a strong spiritual lens” (Marcus Samuelsson) and this reason alone has substantially influenced how he cooks, what he cooks and an overall passion for cuisine itself. Samuelsson considers cooking an art form and revels in adding different combinations of North African spices into his cooking. Building and establishing a restaurant in Harlem, New York known as the Red Rooster, Samuelsson is able to celebrate the historical nature of North Africa combined with the adventurous aspects of contemporary cuisine creation.

Red Rooster is often referred to as a legendary neighborhood establishment that encompasses an inviting atmosphere and embraces not only the inclusiveness of Harlem, but that of North African aspects (Red Rooster Harlem). This connects the incorporation of different cultures into the cuisine in that Marcus Samuelsson’s culinary lessons and cooking pedigree has allowed him to do what North Africans have been doing since the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Berbers brought foods into the region in the first century. In addition to Samuelsson, there are countless other chefs who have impacted the world of culinary delicacies. One is Mourad Mazouz whose Momo restaurant perfects the art of Algerian cuisine in the heart of London. Although not as infamous as Samuelsson, Mazouz similarly incorporates a variety of ingredients into the cooking at Momo thereby creating wonderful and flavorful dishes.

North African Cuisine is one of the most in-depth types of food within the continent of Africa. The region has received a considerable amount of ingredients that have not only impacted how the dishes taste, but the overall cultural aspects. As McCann (2010) writes, the cooking of Africa has become synonymous with the culture (2) and never more is this statement made clear than with North African cuisine.

  • Marcus Samuelsson. 2014. Web. 9 June 2014. .
  • McCann, James C. Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010. Print.
  • “North Africa.” Food of North Africa – North African Cuisine, 2011. Web. 9 June 2014. .
  • “North African Dishes.” Saveur 2014: Web. 9 June 2014. .
  • “Red Rooster Harlem.” 2014. Web. 9 June 2014. .

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