The Berber community today marks January 13 the arrival of Yenneyer, first month of the Berber year. The year 2021 corresponds in the Berber calendar to the year 2971, which would begin 950 years before Jesus Christ. Khadija El Bouhali, founder and president of Cousmos tells us more about this celebration and the journey that led her to become Madame Couscous.
The Amazigh celebrate several culinary and cultural traditions in the New Year, with the preparation and sharing of couscous taking pride of place. The day before Yenneyer, Khadija prepares several traditional Berber dishes to celebrate the arrival of the new year, including a traditional couscous resembling a polenta made from crushed barley accompanied by walnuts, dates stuffed with marzipan and other Moroccan Berber desserts.
“We dress in our traditional clothes, we get temporary tattoos on our faces and we invite family and friends to celebrate together, but this year it has been rather quiet due to the pandemic”, says the native Berber entrepreneur. of Khouribga, world capital of phosphates in the Middle Atlas in Morocco.
A case of couscous
Madame Couscous’s journey, the friendly nickname given to Khadija in the entrepreneurial world, begins before the age of 7 when she learns to prepare different Berber couscous recipes with her mother. She launched her business Cousmos in 2013 in Quebec, since then introducing several lines of food products with Moroccan-Quebec flavors in supermarkets.
The businesswoman and business start-up coach says she does a lot of education in the field. It is investing more in tasting kiosks to promote its products and explain North African culture to people, especially Berber culture.
“I explain to them that I do not offer semolina boiled in water, I offer quality products. My local couscous, for example, contains maple syrup, orange blossom and other spices that are not easy to find, ”says the former director and coordinator of the Montérégie women’s groups concertation table, who worked in the community environment and the development of entrepreneurship of women from cultural communities before becoming an entrepreneur.
More than a dish to eat
Khadija explains that there are around thirty couscous recipes in her village, made from corn, millet or wheat. “Each family believes they have the best recipe! »She laughs. Its specialty is Badaz, a Berber couscous found only in our region, made from cornmeal, root vegetables (carrots and turnips), eggplants and argan oil.
“Making couscous is not just putting the semolina in the water and adding a sauce, it’s a job lasting several hours! », Exclaims the mother of the family, who insists on the importance of the significance around this millenary dish, registered on the list of the Intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO since last October.
A dish that brings people together
“Couscous is not only a dish that we eat, it is an extraordinary dish that contains a very sentimental value, a value of bringing together,” she recalls.
She clarified that in Morocco, if someone offers you a couscous dish as a main course, they are not just offering you food, they are offering you an opportunity to celebrate something. “It is also a dish of reconciliation, for example, if we have a quarrel with someone, we will invite them to our place when the quarrel has passed to eat couscous. “
Khadija explains that when Moroccans prepare couscous, especially on Fridays, they always prepare a little more to keep what they call “God’s right”. That is, extra servings in case a neighbor, cousin, or beggar knocks on the door; otherwise, they take him to the mosque.
Symbol of sharing
“We lived opposite the slums in Khouribga when I was young and every Friday, we served a few dishes of couscous and cold water for people to come and eat with us,” recalls the entrepreneur from a family of ten children.
Khadija preserves the tradition of sharing in Quebec, offering couscous to seniors in residences and to its employees when there are new hires. “For me it’s quite natural, you can’t get to know me if you don’t share couscous with me. Everything I am and everything I do involves couscous. “
Origin of the Berber New Year
Several legends are linked to the origin of the Moroccan Berber celebrations of the new year, the most likely according to Khadija is the celebration of the dethronement of Pharaoh Ramses II in Iwa by the Berber king Chachnak, who then founded the capital of Tanis, city of Nile Delta.
“My mother told us a legend that the earth is a balloon placed on the horns of a bull, which changes position on January 12 at sunset to rest. The Berbers of the south believe in going to sleep early, not talking or making noise, to avoid getting lost in the universe, ”she says, stressing that this legend invites you to connect with yourself and to take time to think about a good start to the year.