A Guide to the Most Popular Algerian Food to Try
All you need to know about Algeria. I’ll cover its climate, its people, language and religion. Not forgetting traditional Algerian cuisine, and culture (media and literature) as well as holidays and festivities.
A Guide to Algeria
Algerian cuisine, like most cuisines, have influences from all over (see below) and is considered quite rich in flavour, as well as being quite meat-heavy. Bread is eaten with every dish (see my recommendation below) and of course, African country with a large muslim population, pork is not consumed.
It is part of the Maghreb cuisine, which includes Libya, Morocco and Tunisia; all countries situated a long the Mediterranean sea, influencing the dishes that come from these still very much African countries.
Algerian cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors, reflecting the nation’s diverse cultural heritage and the availability of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The combination of traditional recipes and modern influences has made Algerian cuisine a unique and delicious part of North African gastronomy.
Salam! (The Arabic word for ‘hello’ – the language spoke widely in Algeria)
Quick Facts on Algeria
- Algeria is located in North-West Africa on the Mediterranean coast (I always forget how close Algeria is to places like Italy and France)
- It has Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, the Western Saharan Territory, Mauritania, Mali and Niger as its neighbours (quite a lot!)
- The capital is the city of Algiers
- The official language is Arabic and Berber (French is also widely spoken)
- It is an Islamic country
- It’s the 10th largest country in the world
A Little Background on Algeria
What is the Algerian climate like?
Algeria has a diverse climate that varies across its vast and geographically varied landscape. The country’s climate can be categorized into three main zones: the coastal zone, the mountainous region, and the Saharan region.
The coastal region, along the Mediterranean Sea, experiences a Mediterranean climate. Winters are mild and wet, with temps ranging from around 10 – 15 degrees C (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit), yet Summers are hot and dry. In the summer, temperatures often exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
The northern part of Algeria includes the Tell Atlas mountain range. The climate in this region varies depending on the altitude. At higher elevations, temperatures are cooler, and snowfall is possible in winter.
The majority of Algeria’s is covered by the Sahara Desert, making it one of the hottest countries in the world. Summers in the Sahara are extremely hot, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Winters can however be relatively cool, especially at night.
The People of Algeria
Algeria is a country with a rich tapestry of ethnic and cultural diversity. The population of Algeria is primarily composed of several ethnic groups, each contributing to the country’s unique identity. The majority of the population are Arabs.
The Berber people, also known as Amazigh, are the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. The Mozabites are a Berber ethnic group residing in the M’zab Valley, an oasis region in the northern Sahara. They are primarily followers of the Ibadi sect of Islam and have a distinctive architecture and way of life.
The Tuareg people are traditionally nomadic Berbers who inhabit the Sahara Desert, including parts of southern Algeria. Known for their distinctive blue clothing and intricate jewellery, the Tuareg have a rich cultural heritage. The Chaouis are a Berber ethnic group living in the Aures Mountains in northeastern Algeria.
Kouloughlis are people of mixed Arab and Berber descent. There are also plenty of French and European people in Algeria due to once being a French colony.
What languages are spoken in Algeria?
The main languages of Algeria are is Darjar, a type of Arabic which mixes up parts of the Berber language with French. Other common languages are:
- Tamazight (Berber languages)
Which religions would you find in Algeria?
The majority of the population practise the faith of Islam. The majority of Algerians are Sunni Muslims with a small about of Shia.
There is a small Christian minority in Algeria, primarily consisting of expatriates, foreign workers, and a small number of converts.
Historically, Algeria had a significant Jewish population, but the majority left the country after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The country also has a tradition of secularism. Algeria’s political system is characterized by a separation between religion and the state, and the constitution guarantees freedom of belief.
Popular Algerian Foods
What is the national dish of Algeria?
The national dish of Algeria is in fact, couscous. Couscous is widely eaten in the country, with vegetables stirred in, as an accompaniment to a stew, meats… I think it’s a staple food in Algeria!
Algerian Cuisine has influences from –
- Its location by the sea
- The Berber culture
- Andalusian culture
- Ottoman culture
- The Arabs
- Jewish cuisine
In Algeria you would eat the following for breakfast –
- Shakshouka, which is eggs baked in a tomato sauce along with fried vegetables.
- Delicious homemade bread would likely be eaten perhaps with jam and butter for a lighter breakfast.
- You might eat something sweet and French in style, like French pastries, honey-soaked pancakes (baghrir), biscuits (see the French influence).
- A doughnut similar to a churro, known as sfenj.
- A strong espresso coffee would be drank, probably spiced with cardamon or orange blossom water.
- Cheese, such as feta or white cheese, is often included in an Algerian breakfast. It may be eaten with bread or added to other dishes.
- Tea, especially sweet mint tea, is a central part of Algerian breakfast. It is often prepared strong and sweetened with sugar.
- Brik is a thin pastry filled with ingredients like egg, tuna, and spices. It is a savoury option that is sometimes enjoyed at breakfast.
- Fresh fruits, such as oranges, figs, dates, and seasonal fruits, may be part of the breakfast spread.
- Lablabi is a chickpea soup that is popular in some regions of Algeria. It’s a warm and hearty option for those who prefer a savoury breakfast.
Lunch in Algeria, like breakfast, is a substantial and considered the main meal of the day. It’s important to note that Algerian cuisine is known for its use of spices, fresh ingredients, and a combination of flavours. Lunch is typically a time for families to gather and share a meal.
- Algerians eat very similarly at lunch as they do for dinner: stews, soups, couscous.
- Mint tea, the same type as Moroccan mint tea, is common in the afternoon with sweet pastries.
- Algerian salads are a popular and refreshing part of lunch. They often include a variety of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and olives. Salads may be seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs.
Algerian school lunches look very similar, but may also include rice dishes and pasta dishes (semolina-based pasta usually), such as macaroni or spaghetti, with tomato sauce and vegetables, are commonly enjoyed by children. Occasionally, a small sweet treat like a piece of baklava, a traditional pastry, may be included, a long with dried fruits and fruit juices.
Lamb, chickpea and freekeh chilli is my take on chorba frik
Here are some popular dishes eaten by Algerians at dinner time –
- Most meals are of course eaten with couscous, the national ingredient!
- Freekeh is a common ingredient too and is used in a lot of soups such as Chorba Frik, a spiced soup with lamb and freekeh (see above for my take on this recipe – lamb, chickpea and freekeh chilli).
- Spit-roasted, spiced lamb is common (known as Mechoui) when there are guests.
- You might have heard of the merquez sausage before, made up of ground lamb, harissa and cumin.
- Meat stews like Tagines (cooked in a special earthenware pot) are eaten a lot and are usually made with chicken, lamb, beef, vegetables and even fish; usually lightly spiced with ras el hanout and sweetness from dates and dried fruits.
- Harira is another traditional Algerian dish, eaten during Ramadan. It’s soup made with lentils, chickpeas and spices, thickened with vermicelli pasta or rice.
- Similar to what we associate with Morrocan cuisine, Algerians eat a lot of Kefta, which is a common dish – a spiced meatball, as well as kebabs known as brochettes.
- Bread is eaten with every main course, so the most common you’ll find is kesra, a flatbread made with semolina, as well as French breads such as fougasse and the baguette.
- Salad will also be eaten, usually containing beetroot and anchovies.
- A French frie baguette is a common street food, as well as the unusual chickpea omelette sandwich.
- Algerians love French fries too!
Kesra, the most commonly eaten bread in Algeria, made from semolina
- Fruit is common after a big meal
- Algerians all have a sweet-tooth and absolutely love to eat sweet pastries for dessert such as Makroud, a semolina based dough filled with dates or figs.
- Baklava is a well-known dessert in Algeria, made with layers of thin pastry sheets, chopped nuts (commonly almonds or walnuts), and sweetened with honey or sugar syrup.
- Zlabia is a deep-fried sweet dough, often shaped into spirals or braids. After frying, it is soaked in honey or sugar syrup, resulting in a sweet and sticky treat.
- Sugar cookies are common too (Ghribia).
- Various custards and puddings are enjoyed in Algeria, including roz bel laban (rice pudding) and mahallabiya (similar to panna cotta).
- Algerian halwa is a type of confection made from sugar, water, and various flavorings like vanilla or orange blossom water. Nuts or sesame seeds may be added for texture.
Algerian Eating Culture and Traditions
- Hospitality is a central element of Algerian culture. When guests visit (even an unexpected visitor), they are often welcomed with open arms and treated to generous meals. Offering food is a symbol of warmth and hospitality in Algerian society.
- Meals are considered family time and family members will come together to enjoy a meal, not just special occasions. Lunch time is considered the main meal of the day.
- Woman are still the cooks of the household in Algerian culture.
- Food is most commonly eaten on the floor and with your hands (never the left hand as the left is considered unclean – i’m left-handed so not sure how I could cope!)
- During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims in Algeria observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. The evening meal, known as iftar, is a significant and festive occasion marked by the breaking of the fast with dates and a variety of traditional dishes.
- Given the arid climate in many parts of Algeria, water conservation is emphasized. Traditional cooking methods and culinary practices often reflect a respect for water resources.
- Muslim Algerians will only eat Halal meat, which means the animal has been killed in a certain way.
Which Algerian food is your favourite?