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Couscous (North Africa)

In the North African nations of Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, people understand couscous better than most. The dish originated here, and in 2020, UNESCO recognized not only the dish itself, but also the knowledge associated with how couscous is produced.

Couscous is a cereal, thus the process starts with a seed. The semolina that’s grown and harvested is rolled by hand to form those tiny rounded balls. It’s then steamed and finally cooked. Each of the four countries listed has a slightly different way of preparing and eating couscous, but one thing they all have in common is the ceremonial nature of the processes involved, which are transmitted down from parents to their children through observation.

There are special tools involved with making couscous too, including clay and wooden instruments that are manufactured by specialized artisans. The final stage in the couscous lifecycle – eating! – is also linked to important social and cultural practices. Traditionally shared from a large pot between family members and friends, couscous is a symbol for togetherness.

Try it for yourself: It’s hard to avoid couscous when traveling through North Africa – it’s a staple dish on almost every restaurant menu. Tagines are a particularly popular dish containing couscous. For an up-close look at how couscous is prepared, try enrolling in a workshop at a culinary school. Marrakesh is a popular place to take a short cooking class and learn the intricacies of this beautiful dish.