Couscous: Exploring the Delectable National Dish of Algeria

Last updated on October 6th, 2023 at 02:38 pm

Couscous, a staple food known for its versatility and rich history, is the national dish of Algeria. This humble grain has been nourishing Algerians for centuries and continues to play a significant role in their culinary culture.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the traditional foods of our global customers.

The Origins of Couscous

Couscous traces its roots back to North Africa. Historians believe it was first prepared by the Berber people as early as the 7th century. Made from semolina wheat, couscous became popular due to its durability and long shelf life—qualities that were essential in the harsh desert climate.

The preparation method of couscous spread across North Africa over time. It reached Algeria where it was embraced and integrated into local cuisine. Today, it’s hard to imagine Algerian food without this iconic dish.

How Couscous is Made

Making couscous involves a process that requires both skill and patience. Semolina flour is sprinkled with water and rolled between the hands to form tiny granules. These are then sieved to ensure uniformity in size—a crucial step for achieving the perfect texture.

Once formed, these granules are left to dry before being steamed over a pot of boiling stew or broth. This not only cooks the couscous but also infuses it with flavor from the stew below—an ingenious way of maximizing taste while minimizing waste.

Variations of Couscous Across Algeria

In Algeria, variations of couscous abound depending on regional preferences and available ingredients. In coastal areas, seafood often accompanies couscous while inland regions favor lamb or chicken.

One popular variation is Couscous Royale—a lavish dish laden with different types of meat including lamb, chicken, and merguez sausage. Another version includes vegetables like carrots, turnips, zucchini—all simmered together with spices until tender then served atop fluffy couscous grains.

The Role of Couscous in Algerian Cuisine

Couscous holds a special place in Algerian cuisine. It’s not just a dish—it’s a symbol of hospitality, generosity, and tradition. It’s often served during celebrations and gatherings, signifying unity and shared heritage.

Moreover, couscous is more than just sustenance. Its preparation is a communal activity that brings families together—a testament to its cultural significance beyond the dining table.

Traditional Ingredients Used in Algerian Couscous

Algerian couscous is known for its robust flavors derived from traditional ingredients. Spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon are often used to season the stew accompanying the couscous.

Chickpeas are another common addition—adding texture and nutritional value to the dish. Raisins may also be included for a touch of sweetness that balances out the savory elements.

Serving and Eating Customs Around Couscous

In Algeria, eating couscous is an experience steeped in tradition. The dish is typically served family-style with everyone gathered around a communal plate—a practice that fosters connection and camaraderie.

Eating with hands is customary—using the thumb and first two fingers to form a ball of couscous before popping it into the mouth. This tactile way of eating enhances the sensory experience—making each bite more enjoyable.

Influence of Algerian Couscous on Global Cuisine

The influence of Algerian couscous extends far beyond North Africa. Today, it can be found in kitchens around the world—from France to America to Australia—thanks to its versatility and ease of preparation.

Its global popularity has led to numerous adaptations using local ingredients—showing how food can transcend borders and bring people together through shared culinary experiences.

Personal Stories and Anecdotes About Couscous

Couscous carries personal stories for many Algerians—it’s tied up with memories of family gatherings, festive celebrations, and everyday meals. It’s a dish that evokes nostalgia—a taste of home for those living abroad.

For others, couscous is a symbol of their heritage—a culinary tradition passed down through generations. It’s a reminder of their roots and the rich tapestry of Algerian culture.

In conclusion, couscous is more than just a dish—it’s an integral part of Algerian identity. Its enduring popularity attests to its timeless appeal—a testament to the power of food in preserving culture and fostering connections.

A Simple Algerian Couscous Recipe

Couscous is a dish that can be tailored to personal tastes. Here’s a basic recipe for traditional Algerian couscous that you can customize with your favorite ingredients.


  • 2 cups of couscous
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth or water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 2 zucchinis, sliced into rounds
  • A handful of chickpeas (optional)


  1. Start by heating the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the pot and sauté until they become translucent.
  3. Stir in the turmeric, cumin, salt, and pepper.
  4. Pour in the vegetable broth or water and bring it to a boil.
  5. Once boiling, add the carrots, zucchinis, and chickpeas (if using). Reduce heat to low and let it simmer.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare your couscous according to package instructions—usually involving soaking it in hot water until it fluffs up.
  7. Once your vegetables are tender and your broth flavorful, spoon some couscous onto a plate or shallow bowl.
  8. Ladle generous amounts of your vegetable stew over the couscous.
  9. Serve hot with additional garnishes if desired.

Remember: this is just one way to make couscous! Feel free to experiment with different spices or add other vegetables as per your preference.

The Broader Cuisine of Algeria

Algerian cuisine is as diverse as its landscape—from coastal seafood dishes to hearty mountain fare. It’s a blend of various influences, including Berber, Arab, Turkish, and French.

Popular Algerian Dishes

Beyond couscous, Algeria boasts a variety of dishes that are worth exploring. One such dish is Chakhchoukha—a specialty from the region of Biskra made with flatbread torn into pieces and mixed with a spicy stew.

Shorba Frik is another popular dish—a hearty soup made with green wheat and lamb, often enjoyed during Ramadan. Merguez sausage—spicy lamb or beef sausage—is also well-loved in Algeria.

Algerian Sweets and Pastries

Algeria’s sweet tooth is evident in its array of pastries and desserts. Makroud, a semolina cookie filled with dates and soaked in honey, is a favorite treat. Another beloved dessert is Zlabia—an intricately shaped fried dough coated in syrup.

The Use of Spices

Spices play an essential role in Algerian cuisine—adding depth and complexity to dishes. Commonly used spices include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric—all lending their distinct flavors to create unique taste profiles.

In conclusion, Algerian cuisine offers an exciting culinary journey—one that’s rich in flavor and steeped in tradition. Whether it’s the humble couscous or the decadent pastries—each dish tells a story about Algeria’s vibrant culture and history.

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