The population of Mauritania is made up of different ethnicities, including 70% Moors – people of Amazigh (Berber) and Arab descent, and 30% non-Arabic speaking Africans: Wolof, Bambara and Fulas.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Mauritanian Dishes
Originally, Mauritanian foods have been a reflection of Arab and African culinary traditions. In the north of the country, the food is most similar to Moroccan cuisine and in the south with Senegalese cuisine. French colonial influence has also played a major role in shaping many of the traditional dishes eaten throughout Mauritania.
With locals generally being nomads, the food, particularly in the north, has been modified in such a way that people do not need to be dependent so much on fresh ingredients. Some of the staple starches include couscous, rice, millet, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Due to the predominant Muslim population, alcohol is strictly prohibited and its sale is majorly restricted to hotels. Meals tend to be consumed communally, and mint tea is widely popular throughout the country.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Mauritania along with recipes to try for yourself.
Thieboudiene, also known as cheb-u-jin, is a traditional fish-and-rice dish that is prepared along with tomato sauce, all in one pot. Other ingredients include onions, carrots, cabbage, cassava, hot peppers, lime, peanut oil and stock cubes.
Traditionally, it was prepared solely using fish, but today many variations of this dish use beef or chicken as a substitute.
Also considered to be the national dish of Mauritania, thieboudiene is widely consumed in coastal towns. Generally served as the main dish, it is also enjoyed in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali and Gambia.
Yassa Poulet is a dish prepared using rotisserie roasted chicken, caramelized onions, lemon and various different kinds of spices. Onions form the foundation of this dish, and the more the onions, the more the better tasting the dish is!
Yassa poulet is traditionally a Senegalese dish, but a huge population of the Wolof and Pulaar tribes in Mauritania consume it too. Generally accompanied by white rice, Yassa poulet has other variations which use lamb and fish instead of chicken.
Mahfe, also known as peanut stew, is a dish made using peanuts and meat (generally chicken, goat meat or camel meat). The meat is particularly prepared in peanut sauce. The peanuts are first crushed manually until they break down in their oils. They are then mixed with tomato paste and jachtini (ground okra).
There are many variations of this dish that use different ingredients depending on the area. But some commonly used ingredients include tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, and leaf or root vegetables. Mahfe is usually accompanied by white rice.
Hakko is a savoury sauce prepared using ground bean leaves, peanuts and meat.
It is a time-consuming dish and may take about three to four hours to cook. It is generally accompanied by beans, which are then placed over couscous. The couscous is prepared using small steamed granules of rolled millet, wheat or barley.
Mauritanian Sweet Tea
Mauritanian sweet tea is a special tea prepared using green tea, sugar and mint leaves. It is boiled many times and served with a special technique called ragwa, which involves raising the teapot and then pouring the tea. This process helps to create a frothy foam, which makes it unique. It is consumed hot.
Mauritanian sweet tea is considered to be similar to Chinese green tea. It is usually consumed after meals and is also prepared as a welcome beverage for guests. Drinking tea is a common practice in North and West African countries.
Cherchem is a dish prepared using durum wheat, beans and mutton. Several spices and aromatic herbs (such as oregano, paprika, thyme, bay leaf and ground coriander) are also added to enhance the flavor. Tupicaklly topped with a drizzle of olive oil, cherchem is eaten for lunch or dinner.
Cherchem is widely consumed in Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and several other countries of Africa.
Lakh, also known as lah, is a special kind of yogurt that involves the use of fruits of the baobab tree, millet couscous, peanut butter and grated coconut. It is sweet in flavor and many people also refer to it as cheese curds. Lakh is often accompanied by millet dishes.
Mechoui, also known simply as slow-roasted lamb, is prepared by taking lamb, seasoning it with spices, and then cooking it. The lamb is traditionally skewered on a tree branch and then allowed to cook over embers.
As well as Mauritania, people from countries like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia also enjoy mechoui. The entire lamb is often roasted on important occasions and festivals. The main organs of the sheep meat, such as kidneys, eyes, heads and livers, are reserved for the most important guests.
Harira is a soup prepared using ingredients like flour, tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, onions, rice, meat (beef, lamb, or chicken) and olive oil. It is often served as a starter, but it is also consumed as a light snack. Harira is often eaten during Ramadan, although people do eat it throughout the year.
Considered a traditional North African dish, it is generally accompanied by hard-boiled eggs (with salt and cumin being sprinkled on them), dates, several dried fruits such as figs, honey sweets and other home-made breads or crepes.