Couscous is a traditional food in the Mediterranean and Arabic regions of the world. It is a light and versatile dish that requires very little in the way of utensils for its preparation. It is an ideal food for both nomadic and agricultural people, and especially popular today with busy professionals and families with little time to cook from scratch who value the nutritional quality of their food. The preparation of Couscous is one that symbolizes “happiness and abundance”, in the words of one culinary anthropologist and one that fully resonates with Martino’s ethos of preparing products that are ‘healthy and genuine with love’.
The Arrival and Popularization of Couscous
Some people believe Couscous to be a traditional meal from Trapani, a city on the west coast of Sicily, but it is generally attributed to have originated in North Africa. Couscous is known as the traditional dish of the Berbers, the ethnic group of North Africa, in whose language the name of the dish means “well rolled” or “well formed.”
Since there, Couscous came to spread around the world and became a principal meal for Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians. Couscous is known as the official Moroccan national dish and as Tunisia’s unofficial national dish. But it’s more than just a staple food: for many families preparing and eating Couscous is a ritual and a tradition that binds the generations together. In many ways, Couscous is to Tunisia what pasta is to Italy. It’s not just food to put on the table, it’s a centerpiece of family life. The development of wheat farming in the 11th century spread the popularity of Couscous even further.
There are variations in the way Couscous is prepared and served with the traditional North African serving of Couscous using lamb chops or skinless chicken pieces with chickpeas and a variety of spices. But after the industrialization period and thanks to companies like Martino, today, Couscous has become a widely appreciated taste and texture, with many instant variants all around the world.
DID YOU KNOW? – One of the first written references to Couscous is in the thirteenth-century Hispano-Muslim cookery book Kitāb al-ṭabīkh fī al-Maghrib wa’l-Āndalus. It contains a recipe from Marrakesh, alcuzcuz fitīyānī, a Couscous made for the young and described as “known all over the world.” Even centuries ago, Couscous was a beloved and popular dish known to many. The fact that the name is given with the Arabic article al- is a flag to the linguist that the original Couscous preparation probably was not an Arab dish, but a Berber dish, because the Arabic words siksū, kuskus, and kusksi, which all mean “Couscous,” do not have the article. We know that the Naṣrid royalty in Granada ate Couscous, as is mentioned in a culinary poem by the qāḍī (magistrate) of Granada, Abū cAbd Allah bin al-Azrak. “Talk to me about kuskusū, it is a noble and distinguished dish.” There is a recipe for Couscous in another Hispano-Muslim cookbook, the Kitāb faḍālat al-khiwān of Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī, a book from either the late eleventh or thirteenth century.
This makes Couscous one of the oldest foods that has reached us in its original state of preparation thanks to the safekeeping of culinary traditions throughout the centuries. But it is also thanks to a touch of modernity introduced by factories like the family-owned Martino factory that has allowed Couscous to find its place among the most popular foods in the modern market.
Types of Couscous
One interesting thing about Couscous is that there are three main types: Moroccan, Israeli, and Lebanese. They slightly differ in texture and size.
Moroccan Couscous is the tiniest grain and cooks the quickest. It is the most popular of the three types as it is the one most readily available. Even brands like Martino have focuses their product range on a variety of thin, medium and thick alternatives of the Moroccan Couscous as it produces the best results when cooked both in texture and taste.
The Israeli or “pearl” Couscous takes a little longer to cook because the pellets are about the size of peppercorns. It is commonly sold blended with orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa and used it as a side dish.
Lebanese Couscous grains are the largest of the three types and cook slowly, similar to a rice. They visually resemble chickpeas.
Where is Couscous popular?
Today, apart from Northern Africa and Morocco, where Couscous continues to be an important part of many meals, this food has travelled all around the world. Even in Medieval times Couscous was well known to Muslim Spain (al-Andalus), and from this entry point spread throughout Europe. Today it is especially popular in France, but Italy is not far behind with its rich traditions in Couscous making.
With the growing availability of instant Couscous products like Martino’s available to be bought commercially – preparing Couscous is no longer a time-consuming and cumbersome task. It’s quick and easy to reconstitute Couscous after buying it from a grocery store and serve it in combination with your choice of preferred vegetables or meat.
Commercially produced Couscous—available as regular or whole wheat in the Martino range of products—is a fairly complicated process. We have gone through several stages of quality control and careful preparation in keeping with our proud traditions to produce Couscous varieties that appeal to a broader segment of customers. This differentiation has allowed Martino to answer new consumer needs while still preserving the centuries-old family traditions that have founded and run the company.
While Couscous is a North African staple, and has been for at least a thousand years, today it is a dish beloved by many people around the world. Light, versatile and easy to prepare – it is a delectable addition to your menu that also has numerous health benefits.
Cooking Couscous is incredibly easy and there is no limit to the combinations you can prepare – with meat and vegetables. In some parts of Tunisia’s second largest city Sfax, fish Couscous is especially popular – for obvious reasons. In the interior of the country it is more often eaten with lamb and dried fruit. The most famous Couscous dishes are made with lamb, herbs and spices.
Everyone has their own favourite type of Couscous and everyone has their own favourite recipe. Pre-made Couscous products sold today only help us get creative in the kitchen and experiment any way we want to prepare tasty meals that take no time and effort.