Algeria Cuisine and Good Table Manners

One thing you’re sure to notice during your visit to Algeria is that the locals are hospitable and encourage family and friends to share their food. Even an unexpected visitor will be greeted warmly and offered coffee at the very least.

All meals (normally three a day) are leisurely and sociable affairs, although there are varying degrees of structure and etiquette. When it comes to eating, as a guest in a foreign land, you can do yourself a favor by respecting the local customs – whatever they may be.

When seated at the traditional low-to-the-ground table (called the tbla or mida), food is traditionally eaten with the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of the right hand (the left hand, as you can guess, is considered unclean). If you happen to use four or five fingers you’re overstepping the bounds of good taste as this is considered to be a sign of over-eating and should be avoided. The dining atmosphere in a middle class family may be a bit more elegant: a servant or young family member might visit each individual at the table, offering a bowl of perfumed water to guests for washing their hands before the meal is eaten. Do not refuse this gesture; you don’t want to be rude.

And speaking of over-eating: only eat what is offered, use a napkin not your sleeve and don’t burp, slurp or any other bad habit that you picked up in school and unfortunately still use in mixed company.

The country’s capital, Algiers, in addition to most of the coastal towns tend to have a wide variety of restaurants, particularly French, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Southern Algeria is geared less to tourists. Menus usually begin with either a soup or salad, followed by roast meat (usually lamb or beef) or fish as a main course, with fresh fruit commonly completing the meal. In most towns, the local market offers take-home meals like kebab on French bread for those in a hurry. School lunches go the more traditional route: hamburgers and French fries are generally replaced by national favorites like couscous, dried fruit, stews, and sweet fruit drinks.

Even though you’re a visitor and generally given a bit of flexibility and forgiveness when it comes to the culture gap in Algeria, there’s no excuse for poor eating habits at the dinner table.

Besides representing your country, remember: how you act speaks volumes of who you are. So use common sense and make the right impression.