Typical Algerian food

Geographic setting and environment

Algeria is located in North Africa, on the Mediterranean Sea. The fertile and mountainous northern region is home to olive trees, cork oaks and vast evergreen forests where wild boars and jackals roam. In the warmer areas grow fig trees, agaves and several palm trees. The vine is native to the coastal plain. Central Algeria is made up of high plateaus containing salt marshes and dry or shallow salt lakes. The land becomes more arid (dry) as you go south, eventually becoming the Sahara desert. About 80 percent of the country is desert, where vegetation is sparse. Camels are widely used in this arid region, although jackals, rabbits, scorpions and snakes also occupy the deserts.

The coastal region has a typically Mediterranean climate, pleasant almost all year round, with winter temperatures rarely falling below 0ºC. Rainfall is also abundant along the coast. Further inland, higher altitudes receive considerable frost and occasional snow. In this region, there is little or no rainfall during the summer months. In the Sahara desert, rainfall is unpredictable and unevenly distributed.

History and food

Algerian cuisine has its roots in various ancient countries and cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Members of the Berber tribes were one of the first inhabitants of the country. Their arrival, which can be traced back to 30,000 BC, marked the beginning of the cultivation of wheat, smen (aged and cooked butter), and the consumption of fruits such as dates. The introduction of wheat semolina by the Carthaginians (who occupied much of North Africa) led the Berbers to create couscous for the first time, the national dish of Algeria. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. At the beginning of the 21st century, Algeria was among the top ten importers of grains (such as wheat and barley) in the world.

Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 16th century, 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 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 16th century. Sweet pastries from the Ottoman Turks and tea from European merchants were also introduced to Algerian cuisine around this time.

In the early 19th century, Algerians were driven from their own land and forced to hand over 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 cafes. This French legacy is still evident in Algerian culture. In fact, the second language of Algeria is French. (Arabic is the official language).

Tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes and chillies, significant to the local Algerian cuisine, were brought from the New World.

Saffron and raisin couscous with fresh mint 8portions


  • 2 cups of water
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of couscous
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced


  1. In a saucepan, bring the two cups of water to a boil and add the saffron.
  2. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Return the saucepan to the heat, return to a boil and mix the olive oil, salt, couscous and raisins.
  4. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Top with fresh mint.

typical algerian food couscous

Sweet and fresh dates 6portions


  • 1 pound of fresh dates
  • ½ cup of butter
  • ¾ cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom


  1. Remove the pits from the dates and arrange them on 6 individual plates.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the flour.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the flour browns. Be careful not to burn yourself.
  4. Remove the flour mixture from the heat and add the cardamom.
  5. Remove from heat and cool slightly, stirring occasionally.
  6. While still hot, pour in the hot dates and let cool to room temperature before serving.

gastronomy of algeria sweet dates

Algerian food

A colorful mix of Berber, Turkish, French and Arabic flavors, traditional Algerian cuisine can be extremely bland or full of savory seasonings. Ginger, saffron, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, parsley and mint are essential in any Algerian pantry.

Couscous, the national dish, is often mistaken for a grain itself, rather than pasta. Pasta dough is a mixture of water and coarse, grainy semolina wheat particles. The dough is crumbled through a sieve to create small granules. Algerians prefer lamb, chicken, or fish to be placed on a bed of hot couscous, along with cooked vegetables such as carrots, chick peas, and tomatoes, and spicy stews. Couscous can also be used in desserts by adding a variety of ingredients, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, dates, and figs.

No Algerian meal would be complete without bread, usually a long French loaf. Similar to Middle Eastern customs, bread is often used to scoop food off a plate or to soak up a hot sauce or stew. The more traditional Berber families usually eat wheat flatbread.

Mechoui, a whole lamb roasted and cooked on an outdoor spit, is usually prepared when a large group of people gather. The animal is seasoned with herb butter so that the skin is crispy and the meat inside is tender and juicy. Bread and various dried fruits and vegetables, including dates (whose trees can thrive in the country’s Sahara desert), often accompany mechoui.

Beverages like mint tea are a favorite of all North African countries. Tea is usually offered to guests, although cardamom-flavored coffee is another option. With the abundance of fruit throughout the year, fresh juices are plentiful and children tend to favor apricot nectar. Fruit or nut flavored dairy drinks, Sharbats, are popular with all ages, including sahlab, a sweet, dairy drink. Traditional Berbers, in particular, prefer drinks made from goat’s milk, although cow’s milk is now available. Basbousa (Egyptian semolina cake), tamina (roasted semolina with butter and honey), and sweetened couscous are just a few of the sweets enjoyed by Algerians.

Etzai (mint tea)


  • 1½ tablespoons of green tea
  • Boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
  • A handful of fresh mint leaves


  1. Put the tea in a teapot.
  2. Pour it into a cup of boiling water, and immediately after pour it again. This is to wash the leaves.
  3. Add the sugar to taste, and then the mint leaves.
  4. Pour the boiling water 12 inches from the top (this oxygenates the tea) and stir well. Be very careful not to splash the boiling water.
  5. Serve the tea piping hot, pouring it back from a height of about 12 inches.

eztai mint tea

Sahlab 6portions


  • 3 cups (8 ounces each) milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ¾ cup of water
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup coconut
  • ¼ cup walnuts or pistachios, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon


  1. In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the water and set aside.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over low to medium heat.
  3. As soon as the milk boils, reduce the heat.
  4. Add the sugar and let the milk simmer until the sugar has dissolved (no more than 1 minute).
  5. Slowly pour the cornstarch mixture into the milk, making sure to whisk quickly to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The milk will gradually thicken.
  6. When it reaches the consistency of a thick sauce, remove it from the heat.
  7. Pour the sahlab into small decorative bowls, glasses, or cups.
  8. Sprinkle with raisins, coconut, chopped nuts, and cinnamon, if desired.
  9. Serve hot.


Banadura Salata B’Kizbara (Tomato and Coriander Salad) 6portions


  • ½ cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 5 medium-ripe tomatoes, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Cut the peeled tomatoes and place them in a bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the tomatoes.
  3. Mix the chopped chilli with the lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt.
  4. Whisk the olive oil into the chili-lime mixture.
  5. Pour over tomatoes and cilantro.
  6. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Banadura Salata B'Kizbara

sweet couscous dessert 4portions


  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons couscous.
  • ⅔ cup hot water
  • ⅔ cup fresh dates
  • ⅔ cup ready-to-eat prunes
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • Rose petals, to decorate (optional)


  1. Place the couscous in a bowl and cover it with a glass of warm water.
  2. Allow 15 minutes for it to fill.
  3. Cut each date in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut into 4 pieces.
  4. Cut the prunes into large pieces.
  5. Dust the couscous grains with a fork, then place them on a cheese cloth-lined sieve and steam them in boiling water for 15 minutes until heated through.
  6. Transfer to a bowl and fluff again with a fork.
  7. Add the melted butter, sugar, dates and prunes.
  8. Pile the couscous into a cone shape on a serving plate.
  9. Mix the cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle over the couscous.
  10. Serve garnished with rose petals, if desired.

sweet couscous dessert

Food for religious and festive celebrations

The overwhelming majority of Algerians, about 99 percent, follow the beliefs of Islam, the country’s official religion (Christians and Jews make up only 1 percent of the population).

The Algerian observance of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year (most often November or December), is the most celebrated of all holidays. During the month of observance, Muslims are required to fast (avoid eating and drinking) between sunrise and sunset, although small children of growing age and pregnant women may eat a small amount. At the end of each day during Ramadan, sometimes until midnight, families gather for a party. French or wheat breads and a pot of hot mint tea will probably do the trick.

The meal that marks the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, is the most important feast. It almost always starts with a soup or stew. Lamb or beef is most often served as the main course, although families living near the Mediterranean in northern Algeria enjoy a wide variety of seafood. In most Algerian homes, a bowl of fresh fruit is placed on the table at the end of the meal. Traditionally, each person is in charge of peeling and cutting their own fruit. However, on special occasions such as Eid al-Fitr, the host often serves the fruit already peeled, cut, and flavored (most often with cinnamon and various citrus juices).

Other popular holiday celebrations are Labor Day (May 1), and the anniversary of the revolution over French control (November 1). Two local festivals held each spring are the cherry moussem (festival) in Tlemcen and the tomato moussem in Adrar.

A typical holiday menu

  • Cucumber and yogurt soup
  • Stuffed dates and walnuts
  • Roasted stuffed leg of lamb
  • Tomato and aubergine stuffed with raisins
  • Potato and chickpea salad
  • cooked carrots
  • fresh fruit mix

Stuffed dates and walnuts 4-6portions


  • 12 fresh dates
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Orange blossom water (found in specialty stores)
  • 24 walnut halves
  • Powdered sugar, to decorate


  1. Using a sharp knife, make a slit along each date and carefully remove the seed.
  2. In a bowl, mix the ground almonds, chopped pistachios and granulated sugar.
  3. Add enough orange blossom water to make a smooth paste.
  4. Shape half of the paste into 12 pips the size of date seeds and use them to stuff the dates.
  5. Use the rest of the paste to join the walnut halves in pairs.
  6. Sift some powdered sugar over the dates and stuffed walnuts. It is best served with a rich coffee.

Stuffed dates and walnuts

Algerian Cooked Carrot Salad 8portions


  • 1 pound of carrots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • Chopped parsley


  1. Scrape the carrots and cut them into four lengthwise pieces.
  2. Cook in a little water with garlic and a pinch of salt and sugar for 15 minutes.
  3. Drain and cool the carrots.
  4. Just before serving, top with lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin.
  5. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Algerian Cooked Carrot Salad

Chlada Fakya (Fresh Fruit Mix) 6portions


  • ½ melon, peeled, seeded, cut into bite-size pieces
  • ½ green melon, peeled, seeded, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup strawberries, halved, stems removed, rinsed
  • 2 bananas, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 5 oranges, seeded, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup of orange juice
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon


  1. In a medium serving bowl, carefully toss the cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, bananas, and oranges.
  2. In a small bowl, combine orange and lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, and pour over fruit.
  3. Stir gently and refrigerate until ready to serve (at the end of a holiday feast, for example). Stir again before serving in individual bowls.

Chlada Fakya

Cucumber and yogurt soup 6portions


  • 1 large cucumber
  • 2½ cups plain yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 lemon rind, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅔ cup ice water
  • mint leaves, to garnish


  1. Rinse the cucumber and trim off the ends. Don’t peel it.
  2. Grate the cucumber in a bowl.
  3. Add the yogurt, garlic, lemon rind and minced mint.
  4. Season well with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover bowl and chill 1 hour.
  6. Add a glass of ice water. Add more water if the soup seems a bit thick.
  7. Adjust the seasoning, then pour it into bowls of chilled soup.
  8. Garnish with mint leaves.

Cucumber and yogurt soup

Mealtime customs

The Arabs are hospitable and encourage family and friends to share their food. Even an unexpected visitor will be warmly welcomed and offered coffee (often flavored with cardamom), while the women of the house prepare the food. Cooking is still considered a woman’s duty, as it has been in the past. Historically, culinary recipes and customs have been passed down by word of mouth through the generations as women gather to prepare meals.

All meals (usually three a day) are leisurely and sociable, although there are various degrees of structure and etiquette (polite behavior). Sitting at a low table (tbla or mida), food is traditionally eaten with the thumb, index, and middle finger of the right hand (the left hand is considered impure). The use of four or five fingers is considered a sign of overfeeding and should be avoided. The dining environment in a middle-class family can be a bit more elegant. A servant or young family member may visit each individual at the table, offering a bowl of scented water for diners to wash their hands before eating.

The country’s capital, Algiers, and popular seaside towns tend to have a wide variety of restaurants, particularly French, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. The south of Algeria is less populated and further away from Algiers and the Mediterranean waters, where seafood and the hustle and bustle of commerce abound. Menus often start with soup or salad, followed by roast meat (usually lamb or beef) or fish as the main course, with fresh fruit often completing the meal. In cities, souks (markets) or street stalls offer take-home goods, such as spicy brochettes (kebabs) on French bread for those on the run. With the exception of the occasional fast food burger, school lunches are usually traditional foods such as couscous, dried fruit,

Politics, economics and nutrition

Malnutrition has been one of the main health problems in Algeria in recent years. About 5% of the Algerian population is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means that they are not getting adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under five, about 13% are underweight and nearly 18% are stunted (short for their age). Very little land is cultivated in Algeria (only 3%), too little for the country to be self-sufficient and feed its own population.

However, 91% of the population has access to adequate sanitation: almost 100% of the inhabitants of urban areas and 80% of those in rural areas. Free medical care, which was introduced by the Algerian government in 1974 as part of the social security system, helps pay for the sick.

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