Traditional food in Algeria comes across as a fusion between African cuisine and Middle Eastern cuisine. The Middle Eastern influence is attributed to the Islamic traditions that made the locals think of what to prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The African influence is attributed to the ingredients abundant in the area. The fusion sometimes come across as so evident, some of the recipes almost looked the same if not for the additional ingredient or an ingredient omitted for the sake of adjusting the dish as a whole. With a list that includes even appetizers and drinks, which traditional food in Algeria should you try first? Read on and see which one catches your fancy.
1. Tajine Zitoune
Tajine Zitoune is an Algerian traditional food that’s always present on special occasions like Ramadan. It’s basically a chicken stew that is served hot with either saffron rice or bread on the side.
The exquisite dish is easy to prepare as well; the chicken is cooked in a bit of water with carrot, mushroom, olives, onion, bay leaves, thyme, turmeric, and saffron until the meat is tender. Then, the sauce is thickened by pouring in a mixture of lemon juice and flour and then topping with some chopped cilantro towards the end of cooking, creating a hearty dish to be enjoyed by the family.
2. Garantita (Algerian Chickpea Pie)
Garantita is another traditional Algerian food that is usually sold by street vendors and served with baguette or any type of bread and hot chili pepper paste called harissa. This chickpea pie dish is said to be influenced by Spain when the Spanish Empire invaded the western part of the country in the early 16th century.
The dish is prepared by thoroughly combining (often using a food processor) chickpea flour, water, oil, salt, and pepper to create a smooth batter. The mixture is then poured into a baking pan and cooked in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Sprinkle with cumin and olive oil on top and enjoy!
Rechta is a traditional noodle dish that is usually served during festive events like Ashura or Eid al Fitr. Although you can buy the thin and flat noodles in the grocery, one can easily make them at home by combining flour, salt, water, and ghee. Meanwhile, the sauce (marga) is made by stewing pieces of chicken with onions, garlic, chickpeas, turnips, potatoes, zucchini, oil, and a mixture of spices called ras el hanout. The dish is best enjoyed while hot.
One of the most popular Algerian foods is this flatbread called msemen. It is basically a layered flatbread that’s often served with tea or coffee for breakfast or afternoon snacks. While this traditional Algerian pancake is usually served with honey, it can also be enjoyed with savory stuffing of khlea (marinated and preserved lamb or beef strips), onions, and tomatoes.
The layered flatbread is made by mixing semolina flour, dry yeast, butter, water, salt, and sugar to make a smooth dough. The dough is then rolled as thin as possible and folded into squares or circles and cooked on a griddle until golden brown.
5. Chorba (Chicken chickpea tomato soup)
This is one dish the locals would often remember cooking every time the cold season sets in. But since it is viewed as a special dish, most locals would cook it as one of their featured dishes at the End of Ramadan feast. A dish that gets much of its taste from the sautéed onions, the chicken meat is cut into cubes, cooked with the chickpeas and the tomato paste, improving the flavor of the meat before pouring chicken stock to bring the chorba to a boil. Once served to the dining table, coriander is sprinkled on top of the soup for extra flavor.
Berkoukes’s list of ingredients are similar to chorba except that the chicken is not cut into cubes; ketchup is added instead of tomato sauce and quartered potato slices are poured along with 4 cups of water. The meat is not even removed from the bone, but included in the dish itself. The preferred ketchup to use in cooking is the sweetened variety. The chicken absorbs all of the flavors as the cook waits for the soup to boil. Since the amount of water varies, sometimes it becomes chicken chickpea tomato stew. The best versions are topped with a big chili upon serving.
7. Chakchouka (an 'almost' omelette)
Most versions of chakchouka are served using a skillet with a detachable handle fresh off the stove, topped with avocado tidbits and parsley leaves. A few cloves of onion and garlic - both minced to little bits - are sautéed in hot olive oil. Small slices of red bell pepper and potatoes are then added with tomato paste for the creamy base. To enhance the flavor, half a tablespoon of pimiento and half a tablespoon of paprika are added to the now smoking skillet. After half a minute, small circular spaces are made on the skillet to make way for the eggs. Each serving has an average of 2 to 3 eggs depending on how the cook would like the chakchouka presented.
8. Mhajeb (crepe wraps)
One of the favorite traditional dishes in Algeria is a wrap known locally as “mhajeb”, which is like crepe wraps, as seen in the level of thinness. The cooking starts with the dough spread like a rectangle on a skillet, and the filling spread in the middle. The sides are folded to wrap the filling and, once golden brown on one side, flipped over to brown the other side. This seals the crepe wrap. Each mhajeb is thinner than a slice of bread. Best enjoyed with hot tea.
9. Bourek (meat rolls)
Another food that gets compared occasionally to the Turks’ shawarma for its beef and cheese content is Bourek. The best versions use cream cheese for that extra-rich filling and flour wraps called “diouel”. The wrap is translucent enough to see the chopping board under it. Ground beef gets extra tasty with all of the spices, scrambled eggs, chopped parsley and diced courgette mixed in with the cream cheese before getting wrapped and fried. Algerians celebrating the End of Ramadan make it a point to include Bourek among their dishes served.
10. Thrida (Algerian pasta)
The term “pasta” is more applicable to the main ingredient in this dish, as the thrida pasta used is not in noodle form but flattened squares. Preparation focuses on having the cooked pasta mixed with the sauce and poured first on the serving platter, before topping it with cooked chicken, chickpeas and parsnip. Quartered hard-boiled eggs are garnished alongside the toppings for that perfect IG photo, before being eaten as a full meal.
11. Algerian cucumber and yogurt soup
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Before cucumber cold soup recipes proliferated on Pinterest, Algerians have enjoyed their traditional version of this creamy concoction of grated cucumber, yogurt and some spices for years. Despite the availability of microwavable versions of the spicy cucumber soup, some travelers would go out of their way to taste the Algerian version, since instead of heating the yogurt base, they would simply chill it the way locals in Algeria do. If chorba is the Algerian staple food for winter, the chilled cucumber and yogurt soup is the staple food for summer. Mint leaves and chili pepper powder are optional add-ons. Highly recommended for gluten-free enthusiasts.
12. Sahlab (flower drink)
While sahlab as a drink has reached Middle Eastern restaurants in cities as far of London, the traditional Middle Eastern drink still attracts converts in Algeria due to the availability of ingredients like orchid bulbs, orange blossom water and rose water. The orchid bulbs are then crushed and dissolved in milk to thicken the drink and flavored with either rose water or orange blossom water. Some versions use vanilla extract to flavor and cinnamon to sweeten. The luxurious versions are topped with cinnamon, crushed pistachios and a dash of sliced almonds. Best enjoyed as companion to your Algerian breakfast.
13. Etzai (mint tea)
Etzai is the ideal drink Algerians offer guests. It is also viewed as the centerpiece of Algerian hospitality since it is the most common drink offered. Some versions are flavored with lemon or other fruit juices that complement the mint leaves. Other versions are strictly traditional, so as no to compromise the health benefits that go with drinking mint tea. The best versions would have a little stem with two mint leaves attached to it soaked in hot liquid - supposedly water boiled with more mint leaves.
14. Banadura Salata B'Kizbara (tomato and coriander salad)
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Based on the ingredients and the preparation involved, this sounds more like a side dish. It’s also one of the few salads known for being spicy. Instead of the dried-and-bottled chili powder variety, it gets its hot-and-spicy factor from red hot chili peppers, chopped fine enough to remove the seeds. This is then thrown into the bowl and mixed with the finely chopped coriander leaves, quartered cherry tomatoes, freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Small but ripe tomatoes are also grown in Algeria, making them easier to slice in fours and unique compared to other tomato coriander salads served in fusion restaurants.
Traditional and flavorful at the same time
Ending Ramadan may have contributed to the festive flair that Algerian cuisine possesses. Using ingredients often found in filling meals, you get a good excuse to skip appetizers and skip to the main course. With traditional food in Algeria being organic long before organic became cool, the health-conscious will find themselves homey in this part of Africa.
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