Wednesday, April 14

Couscous from the Maghreb now part of Unesco’s intangible heritage

Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco claim the paternity of couscous. – Mosa’ab Elshamy / AP / SIPA

After a joint application from four Maghreb countries where the recipes for this popular dish are endless, couscous, an emblematic dish of North Africa, officially entered the intangible cultural heritage of Unesco on Wednesday. .

Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia, which have long fought for the paternity of this ancestral dish made from durum wheat semolina, barley or corn, served with vegetables and skilfully spiced meat or fish, have submitted a dossier on “Knowledge, know-how and practices linked to the production and consumption of couscous” to Unesco.

As many recipes as names

On Wednesday, the representatives of the four countries expressed in turn their “joy” and their “pride” for this gastronomic and cultural recognition, during the official ceremony broadcast on the Unesco website. In the four countries, “women and men, young and old, sedentary and nomadic, from the rural or urban world, as well as from emigration” identify with this “emblematic dish” offered in the most modest restaurants and revisited by the greatest chefs, according to the application file.

“The spirit of couscous is the expression of life in society”, underlines the file which does not give any recipe, potentially sensitive culinary information. Present at all family or cultural events, whether the moment is “happy or tragic” as the document reminds us, the ancestral dish has indeed as many recipes as it has names. Called according to the regions “Seksou”, “Kousksi”, “Kseksou”, the word “couscous” comes from the Latin transcription of the Berber terms “Seksu”, “Kuseksi” and “Kseksu” (well rolled grains).

A compromise between four countries

Certain populations of the Sahara call it “Ucu” (food in the Amazigh language). In Algeria and Tunisia, it is also called “naama”, which could mean “providence”. It appears as “kuskusi” in Arabic dictionaries from the 19th century. As was said during the application, in March 2019, this is the first time that four Maghreb countries have joined forces to submit a common file.

The initiative has raised hopes that the popular dish will be the start of a political rapprochement. In September 2016, Algeria’s announcement to submit a “couscous” dossier to Unesco aroused the ire of its Moroccan neighbor, a great political, diplomatic and cultural rival. An agreement was then found. But national pride is still simmering: the Algerian Minister of Culture, Malika Bendouda, thus insisted that her country “was among the precursors of the genesis of this dish” on Wednesday during the official ceremony. “I have already tasted Algerian and Tunisian couscous but the best is undoubtedly that of Morocco”, assures for her part Fatima Moussafir, 49, cook at “Dar Rbatia”, a traditional restaurant located in the old town of Rabat. by praising its recipe with “seven vegetables” and “tasty” spices.

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