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The Mediterranean: There is a gap, a missing link


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#1 chefzadi

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 08:33 PM

in English language food writing, .Forgotten Algeria Of course that's not the case in France where Algerian style reigns above other Maghrebi countries.

Algeria is the 2nd largest country in Africa and the 10th largest country in the world.

The history of Mediterranean trade, conquests, and exportation of ingredients converges in Algeria where nothing is forgotten. Studying Algerian cuisine will provide students and food scholars an almost complete range of cooking techniques and use of Mediterranean ingredients and flavor combinations that no other single cuisine can provide (minus the pork though). In short it is the table of The Mediterranean Feast.
Most Maghrebis will agree that the dishes of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are the same or very similar with regional variations in spicing. There was a time when the three countries were a unified whole and there has always been great travel and communication between them. In a sense it is more useful to speak of Maghrebi cuisine, rather than making rather artificial distinctions based on National boundaries that have historically shifted.

However, geography and history have placed Algeria, the largest country of the Maghreb, in the culinary center. Berber, Black African, Arab, Turkish, Spanish, Italian and French have all converged in Algeria. By comparison Morocco has less French, Turkish and Italian influences. Tunisia has fewer Spanish and African influences. Even further back in history the Moors primarily came out of Algeria and Morocco to conquer Spain. And the Saracens (another word for Moors) who conquered Sicily primarily came out of Tunisia and Algeria. And of course once the Moors and Saracens were expelled they brought back elements they had absorbed from Spain and Sicily.

The dishes they brought, exported, brought back again have not been forgotten. The ancient ways of the Amazight and Africans are still evident, the grand Medieval table is still here, the Ottoman table of sweets, pastries and kebabis are still eaten even as street food, the pastas introduced to Sicily by the Saracens are still made along with newer pasta dishes that were introduced during colonialism and on it goes.

Moroccans tend to use the sweeter spices more with lots of oil and Tunisians have a love affair with the chili pepper. Algerian cooking is more varied than either Moroccan or Tunisian. Because of this I believe Algerian cooking has the potential to be more appealing to a wider consumer base than the dishes of the other Maghrebi countries. All those stereotypes about North African being "unctuous, rich, too spicy" are thrown out the window when confronted with Algerian style cooking. We have simple, humble dishes, we have extravagant sophisticated dishes.

Maghrebi dishes are showing up slowly on a range of restaurant menus in America, from fine dining to casual.

So, Ms Reichl. We're all waiting for North African food to be the "next big thing", the sooner the better!

When do you think? What is the "push" needed? I know many non-Algerians who say things like "I had some of the best food of my life in Algeria."

EDIT: I've been in touch with food writers who have written extensively about Mediterranean cuisines and the foods of the Arabic speaking world. I think it's safe to say that there is general agreement that the picture is not complete in English without more knowledge of Algeria.

Edited by chefzadi, 30 November 2005 - 10:48 PM.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts
Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles
http://ecolecuisine.com

#2 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 06:06 AM

in English language food writing, .Forgotten Algeria  Of course that's not the case in France where Algerian style reigns above other Maghrebi countries.

Algeria is the 2nd largest country in Africa and the 10th largest country in the world.

The history of Mediterranean trade, conquests, and exportation of ingredients converges in Algeria where nothing is forgotten. Studying Algerian cuisine will provide students and food scholars an almost complete range of cooking techniques and use of Mediterranean ingredients and flavor combinations that no other single cuisine can provide (minus the pork though). In short it is the table of The Mediterranean Feast.
Most Maghrebis will agree that the dishes of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are the same or very similar with regional variations in spicing. There was a time when the three countries were a unified whole and there has always been great travel and communication between them. In a sense it is more useful to speak of Maghrebi cuisine, rather than making rather artificial distinctions based on National boundaries that have historically shifted.

However, geography and history have placed Algeria, the largest country of the Maghreb, in the culinary center. Berber, Black African, Arab, Turkish, Spanish, Italian and French have all converged in Algeria. By comparison Morocco has less French, Turkish and Italian influences. Tunisia has fewer Spanish and African influences. Even further back in history the Moors primarily came out of Algeria and Morocco to conquer Spain. And the Saracens (another word for Moors) who conquered Sicily primarily came out of Tunisia and Algeria. And of course once the Moors and Saracens were expelled they brought back elements they had absorbed from Spain and Sicily.

The dishes they brought, exported, brought back again have not been forgotten. The ancient ways of the Amazight and Africans are still evident, the grand Medieval table is still here, the Ottoman table of sweets, pastries and kebabis are still eaten even as street food, the pastas introduced to Sicily by the Saracens are still made along with newer pasta dishes that were introduced during colonialism and on it goes.

Moroccans tend to use the sweeter spices more with lots of oil and Tunisians have a love affair with the chili pepper. Algerian cooking is more varied than either Moroccan or Tunisian. Because of this I believe Algerian cooking has the potential to be more appealing to a wider consumer base than the dishes of the other Maghrebi countries. All those stereotypes about North African being "unctuous, rich, too spicy" are thrown out the window when confronted with Algerian style cooking. We have simple, humble dishes, we have extravagant sophisticated dishes.

Maghrebi dishes are showing up slowly on a range of restaurant menus in America, from fine dining to casual.

So, Ms Reichl. We're all waiting for North African food to be the "next big thing", the sooner the better!

When do you think? What is the "push" needed? I know many non-Algerians who say things like "I had some of the best food of my life in Algeria."

EDIT: I've been in touch with food writers who have written extensively about Mediterranean cuisines and the foods of the Arabic speaking world. I think it's safe to say that there is general agreement that the picture is not complete in English without more knowledge of Algeria.

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There's a simple reason why Americans haven't discovered Algerian food: Tourism. Most of us discover cuisines by traveling. And most Americans haven't been to Algeria. (I'll admit that the last time I was there was in 1968, which was a very strange time to be visiting.) Most of us fell in love with Moroccan food (at least those of us who weren't seduced by Paula Wolfert's book) because we went there and discovered the food for ourselves. Tunisia is now becoming a big tourist destination, and I'll bet briks will start showing up on menus any day now. If you want people in North America to learn to appreciate the food of Algeria, organize culinary tours.

#3 chefzadi

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 07:36 AM

Possibly in a few years culinary tours can be arranged. In the mean time I offer a "cyber" tour through my Algerian cuisine blog. And every 6 weeks I have 17-34 students who know that couscous MUST be steamed 2-3 times and when they think of North Africa they will remember their smiling Algerian-French chef instructor.

Thank you for responding Ms Reichl.
I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts
Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles
http://ecolecuisine.com

#4 chefzadi

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 09:01 AM

Another thing is that Americans who have never been to any Maghrebi country are mesmerized by touristy Moroccan imagery. And many, many food writers use second hand information. There is no such thing as Moroccan harissa. That's a specialty of Algeria and Tunisia. So is Merguez.

There's a simple reason why Americans haven't discovered Algerian food: Tourism.


They have discovered it re-labled as Moroccan.
I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts
Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles
http://ecolecuisine.com