LIBYAN COUSCOUS CONNOISSEURS COOK UP, SEEK INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION

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Couscous is a traditional North African dish of small steamed granules of rolled semolina that is mostly served with a stew spooned on top or a range of ingredients depending on region and individual tastes. It is a main dish throughout the Maghrebi cuisines of Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, and Libya. In 2020 UNESCO added couscous to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Chefs in Libya held a massive cooking competition featuring the country’s most popular dish couscous, at the historic Roman theater of Sabratha west of Tripoli. This was done in an effort to gain international recognition for their country’s beloved dish which is a main course in most homes in Libya.

An enormous inflatable swimming pool-sized platter of couscous, the chefs combined 2,400 kilograms of semolina with mutton, pumpkin, and caramelized onions which are the signature touch of the Libyan couscous. Spectators watched the four-meter (13-foot) diameter semolina dish take shape. A spectator Ahlam Fakhri said, “it is part of our identity, our culture, our heritage and we are proud of it”.

Couscous is often identified with Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia, as Libya is yet to ratify the UN’s cultural heritage agreement, and UNESCO has not acknowledged its couscous legacy.

Ali Messaoud Al Ftimi is the organiser of the giant couscous cook-up. He usually hosts similar events every year at various historical sites in a bid to send “a message to parliament” that Libya should have its couscous recognized as well. He is also the head of an association that encourages tourism and preserves Libya’s heritage. 

He told AFP that the efforts come from “a popular impulse” and he hopes lawmakers will ratify the international UN convention “in the near future”. Al Ftimi explained that “adhering to this convention will not only preserve couscous but also culture. Libya is rich in culture and this heritage is not protected”.

“A designation does not mean ownership or exclusivity to a country”, according to UNESCO there is no barrier to Libya ratifying the convention on cultural heritage and later adding its name to its couscous dossier.

According to Monira Zwait, a chef in Tripoli, she hopes that authorities will achieve the goal. “Couscous is not just a dish that we eat, it is the mirror of a civilization and a knowledge transmitted from generation to generation”, Zwait said.

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