EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater Elise Ofilada shares with us 15 traditional Algerian dishes you need to try on your next trip to Algiers.
Bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and home to a portion of the Sahara Desert is the largest country in the African continent – Algeria. Admittedly, this North African country isn’t a common tourist destination, but it’s a nation with many breathtaking and historically significant attractions – not to mention great food!
From Ottoman-era palaces to Ancient Roman ruins, the past is an ever-present part of the Algerian experience. Colonized by the French in the late 1800s, the country was officially known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria after its people so fiercely fought to gain their independence. With their population, many of whom are Arab and Amazigh, being predominantly Muslim, the country also tends to have a deeply Islamic heritage.
Though it might take some effort to arrange a trip to Algeria, there’s no doubting the vibrancy and richness of this nation’s culture. If you’re the kind of person with a taste for obscure and typically underrated places (that, of course, boast culinary wonders), visiting this country will definitely be a worthy addition to your travel bucket list.
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WHAT IS TRADITIONAL ALGERIAN CUISINE?
Ranging from spicy meat stews to sweetened pastries, Algerian dishes are diverse in both flavor and essence. The country’s cuisine is a vivid patchwork of all the different historical and cultural influences that have settled in their lands.
Aside from Arab, Amazigh, and Turkish culinary traditions, Algerian food remains affected by their past with the Romans, French, and Spanish. Mutton and poultry are indispensable ingredients for cooking many of their dishes, while vegetables and dried fruit also make frequent appearances in traditional recipes.
While a number of the nation’s foods also exist in other North African cuisines, each meal will differ in how they’re prepared. Rest assured that Algeria – as the country once dubbed the “Breadbasket of Rome” – will deliver a unique gastronomic journey to any Traveleater that’s willing to ride out an adventure.
MUST-TRY ALGERIAN DISHES
A trip to Algeria isn’t truly complete if you miss out on their popular delicacies. With the help of this list, try to remember these staples of Algerian cuisine when planning your next visit to the country.
Chakchouka (or shakshouka, shakshuka) is named after the Amazigh word for “mixture” and is made to resemble one, visually. A variation on the Turkish menemen, the base of this traditional Algerian dish consists mainly of tomato sauce, onions, and peppers.
Chakchouka is a common dish in North African countries like Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. In many countries, it’s often served for breakfast but in Algeria, it’s commonly eaten as a light lunch or dinner. It’s usually cooked with poached eggs on top while eaten with flatbread to dip the sauce in.
The taste of spices like cumin and paprika is fairly prominent in the dish. A variety of vegetables can also be included in its preparation, such as eggplants, zucchini, and potatoes. While typically vegetarian, meats like lamb or beef can sometimes be added too. With so many components to chakchouka, it’s also best to share it with a group.
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Algeria’s national dish is none other than the mouthwatering couscous. It’s traditionally made from ground and steamed semolina (which are middlings of durum wheat) and can be topped with a variety of savory stews. Though also a staple food of the Maghreb (i.e., Northwest Africa), Algerian couscous is special in that it may feature tomatoes and legumes.
That said, Algerians may sometimes serve couscous as a dessert. Doused in milk with a hint of orange blossom water, it can be sprinkled with almonds and cinnamon. Given its versatility, the dish has been recognized by UNESCO as a kind of intangible cultural heritage.
With the light and fluffy texture of its granules, this popular dish is adored by food lovers all over the globe.
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Rechta is an Algerian pasta dish prepared largely for special occasions, the most well-known ones being Eid al Fitr (which marks the end of Ramadan) and Mouloud (a celebration of the prophet Muhammad’s birth). Made with thin and flat noodles accompanied by a cinnamon-y chicken sauce, the dish is particularly associated with the city of Algiers, the capital of Algeria.
The addition of vegetables like potatoes and turnips is also welcome, as is the use of ras el hanout (an Algerian mix of spices) for the sauce. Algerian households are often inclined to make the pasta from scratch, as is the custom.
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Originating from Biskra, a region in Northeastern Algeria that’s found by the edge of the Sahara desert, Dobara is a spicy vegetable stew that’s meant to keep you warm during the winter. This staple of Algerian food takes its name from the Arabic word “d’bara” (meaning “to orchestrate”).
Dobara is a vegetarian dish primarily prepared with either chickpeas or fava beans, though some recipes call for a mix of both. Ingredients like olive oil, tomato paste, and lemon juice are also common.
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More than your average meat stew, this delicious soup radiates comfort. As such, Berkoukes is a certified must-try if you’re visiting Algeria during the colder months. The dish features large balls of couscous bathed in a spicy tomato soup that, depending on your preference, can be thick or thin in terms of consistency.
As is typical with Algerian food, there are different versions of Berkoukes per region. Some incorporate a variety of meats, while some integrate dried mutton fat. In Algeria’s city of Oran, ras el hanout is added for a pungent kick.
Served hot and often drizzled with olive oil, berkoukes is traditionally made to celebrate a good harvest.
Photo by Svetlana Monyakova
6. Chorba Frik
Though Chorba Frik was brought to Algeria by the Ottoman Empire, the nation now frequently eats it during Ramadan. This traditional Algerian dish is a kind of tomato soup that can be served alongside either flatbread or bourek (a pastry filled with minced meat that we’ll touch upon later).
The star of the show, however, is a green type of crushed wheat called “frik” which gives the soup a nice grainy texture. While frik is necessary and can’t be substituted, variations of the dish can choose to include meats like lamb or vegetables like squash.
Garnished with fresh herbs on top for a picturesque finish, a spritz of lemon juice can also be added for some extra zest.
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Also consumed during Ramadan, Harira can be described as a smooth and creamy soup. Like many Algerian dishes, it’s tomato-based and prepared with lamb, beef, or chicken.
That said, what makes Algerian harira distinct from the Moroccan version is that it doesn’t use lentils. Some Algerian recipes might add ingredients like frik or vermicelli, but overall, the dish remains perfect for a traveler looking for a taste of simplicity.
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If you’re a carnivore craving tasty Algerian food, look no further – Mechoui is the dish for you. Featuring a spit-roasted lamb that’s been heavily seasoned with ras el hanout, it constitutes the kind of meal you would normally find at a feast.
Except for its kidneys, all organs from the lamb’s stomach are cleanly removed from its body. These can be saved for cooking other delicacies later, such as Usban and Tkalia ou Douara.
The remaining meat is brushed with olive oil for maximum crispiness and slowly barbecued over an open fire that infuses it with a smoky flavor. It’s served with a plate of cumin and salt, which you can then sprinkle according to your taste.
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Sometimes known as the traditional Algerian pancake, Msemen is a flatbread that can be eaten for breakfast or as a snack. While being made, it’s dusted with semolina to prevent the layers of dough from sticking to each other.
Though its name means “well baked” in the Amazigh language, it’s commonly cooked in a pan or on a griddle. Msemen can be finished off with a mix of butter, honey, and rose water, and pairs well with coffee and mint tea, Algeria’s customary beverages.
Photo by Hadja Nebia SideLarbi
Kesra is another kind of Algerian flatbread. It’s often served alongside other dishes on this list, like harira. While the bread is distinguished by its round shape (given that it’s made in a special kind of cast iron pan with embossed circle lines at the bottom), Kesra is known by different names depending on the region or city it’s made in.
Similar to the traditional Moroccan flatbread – harcha – and with a Tunisian variation as well, you will definitely recognize this staple food when you find yourself in different North African countries.
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Mentioned earlier as complementary to chorba frik, bourek is a meaty finger food that’s Turkish in origin. With variations existing throughout the Balkans and beyond like Greece, Armenia, Albania, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s obviously a dish that can please even the most foreign types of palates.
Aside from being stuffed with ground beef and onions, its filling is also packed with cheese, parsley, and various spices. Some Algerian versions will even add shrimp and béchamel sauce to the fray, as well as mashed potatoes and spinach when designed to be vegetarian.
Commonly prepared during Ramadan, eating bourek is certainly one appetizing way to break the fast.
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North African cuisine would be severely lacking without the presence of samsa. Though where it comes from is occasionally subject to heated debate (with Tunisia boldly staking its claim), it surely counts as a kind of delicious Algerian food.
These triangle-shaped pastries sport a sweet filling of orange blossom water, sugar, ground almonds, and cinnamon. Fried until beautifully golden brown, they’re often finished off by sprinkling a handful of sesame seeds on top.
The Algerian version of samsa uses hard and crispy dough, similar to another dessert called griwech (more on it in a bit!). Additionally, Eid al Fitr is when this tasty pastry makes its most prominent appearance. Sharing it with family and friends during this joyous celebration is a delightful way to participate in the festivities.
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Crescent-shaped like the horns of a wild animal (hence its French name, “cornes de gazelle”), this traditional Algerian dessert is often prepared for weddings and the like. Despite the traditional version being eaten plain and without much fanfare, modern variations are likely to be topped with powdered sugar, almonds, icing, and honey.
Equal parts fragrant, dainty, and crunchy, it’s a cookie that should undoubtedly satisfy your sweet tooth with just one bite.
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Named for its distinctive diamond shape, makroudh is said to be one of the most popular Algerian desserts out there. It’s another classic treat that’s commonly enjoyed during Eid al Fitr, as well as other holidays and special events.
The more favored and traditional Algerian version of the pastry is generously filled with almond paste. However, the dessert can also benefit from the inclusion of fruits inside, such as dates and figs (as is the case in Tunisia).
Whether oven-baked or fried, makroudh dough is made from a mix of semolina and flour. A mixture of honey and lemon makes for a lovely syrup that you can both soak or dip the pastry in.
Photo by Hadja Nebia SideLarbi
Ending this list with a crunchy bang is none other than the famous Algerian dessert, griwech. Cities like Oran and Tlemcen are especially fond of this delicious food as the treat finds its roots in the country’s western regions.
The pastry can be formed into a variety of different shapes, such as a rose, a bow, or even a “babouche” slipper. More often than not, however, its dough is fashioned to look like a long, braided pretzel.
Before eating, this deep-fried dessert can be drizzled with caramel or honey that’s been infused with orange zest. Paired with a cup of strong coffee or tea, it will make for an ideal conclusion to your Algerian journey.
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FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL ALGERIAN FOOD
Given the long and intricate arch of the nation’s history, it’s no surprise that Algeria boasts a seemingly unending supply of wonderful dishes. With an assortment of stews, bread, meats, and pastries, it’s difficult not to appreciate the vast profile of flavors that Algerian culture has to offer.
Sure, being an Islamic country, Algeria considers some ingredients to be “haram” or forbidden. Typical Algerian food won’t feature pork, for example. Even so, the Algerian people have cultivated a cuisine that has proudly satisfied centuries of taste buds.
On your next visit to this underrated destination, you’re sure to find that each of their traditional meals can stand, deliciously, on their own.
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Cover photo by istetiana. Stock images via Shutterstock.