Friday, December 2, 2011

South Africa Meets North Africa

I guess the only thing that South Africa has in common with Algeria is that both countries are in Africa. They are as far apart as north is from south, and that is literally true because South Africa sits at the most southern tip of the African continent while Algeria is at the northern point of Africa. I've only been to Algeria once in 2007 where I spend some time in the Sahara Desert close to the Libyan border. The desert made a huge impression on me and when the first sandstorm hit us one day, I could very well understood why the local Berbers were wearing those weird looking turbans and long dresses. The wind and the sand didn't seem to bother them at all and I could just imagine what they were thinking while I was scratching sand from my ears, eyes and teeth.

Last night I had another taste of Algeria. This time however I was invited to dinner with an Algerian family that lives in Angola. They also invited a few Algerian friends, and amidst all the Arabic, Berber, French and whatever else they were speaking, I managed to have quite a good evening. I am always a bit worried when people from different countries tell me that they are going to make you some traditional food, you might end up with things like haggis, frog legs or something that stares back at you on your plate. Fortunately for me the Algerian cuisine was most palatable and lying quite still on my plate.

As a starter we had Shorba. I learned that the word Shorba actually means soup, and I have to admit that is exactly what I thought it was when it was poured into my bowl. Apparently you have to put some lemon juice in it as well, but when I was offered the lemon I was already more than satisfied with the taste and heading for my second helping. It was really good and very spicy. I like spicy food and this did not disappoint at all. They had a lot of side dishes, and for the life of me I cannot remember all the names and ingredients. What I do know was that everything was quite tasty, spicy and hot. Even the Algerian Spring rolls, or Bourek as it is called, was a good match for its Chinese counterpart. The main meal was an Algerian Couscous dish with lamb. Apparently couscous to the Algerian people is like rice to the Chinese and bread or potatoes to the South Africans. It is even referred to as "al taam", which means "the food" and was served with vegetables and a side sauce or salsa. I am not a big fan of couscous and would rather prefer rice as an alternative, but last night I actually enjoyed it. I don't know what the traditional drink is that goes with this food, but my hostess handed out two cans of soft drink to each of her guests before we even started. I am pretty sure there a bit of a deviation form the word "traditional", but the Sprite helped sooth my mouth after the chili sauce I added to my meal turned out to be hotter than I expected. The dessert was definitely not Algerian. Semi-Tiramisu that was made from the only ingredients my hostess could find in Angola, which was not much. Despite that it was very nice and rounded of the evening well complimented by a small cup of coffee.

South Africa and Algeria might not have much in common, but I am sure they can share a few laughs around a table if they stick to a common language like Bad English and their traditional cuisine.

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