The cuisine of Mauritania includes the culinary practices of the West African nation of Mauritania. Historically, what is now Mauritania, has been influenced by Arab and African peoples who have lived in and traversed the “stark” landscape marked with Sahara desert dunes in caravans. There is overlap with Moroccan cuisine in the north and Senegalese cuisine in the south. French colonial influence (Mauritania was a colony until 1960) has also played a role in influencing the cuisine of the relatively isolated land. Alcohol is prohibited in the Muslim faith and its sale is largely limited to hotels. Mint tea is widely consumed and poured from height to create foam. Traditionally, meals are eaten communally.
Food in Daily Life
Food has important social and psychological functions. People eat together in groups from a large bowl or calabash, using the right hand. People eat first and then drink cold water or sour milk mixed with cold water, juice from the hibiscus flower, or baobab juice. After lunch and dinner, it is customary to drink small glasses of green tea with sugar and mint. The tea is served by younger persons, women, and slaves.
The diet consists mostly of meat, millet, rice, fish, and sweet potatoes and potatoes. The main meal is lunch among black Africans, whereas Arab-Berbers have the main meal in the evening. Breakfast consists of milk and cereal with French bread and butter. People use a lot of oil in cooking and sugar in drinks. Eating almost always takes place at home. It is not acceptable to eat with or in the presence of one’s in-laws, and eating with the left hand is forbidden.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions
People are expected to slaughter an animal according to the number of wives and the wealth of the husband. At the end of Ramadan and at the sacrificial feast that ends the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a married man is expected to offer a lamb. The meat must be eaten up within three days or it is thrown away. It is customary to offer an animal in connection with name-giving, initiation, marriage, and funeral ceremonies and when people return from Mecca or other important places. Only circumcised adult men are allowed to slaughter animals.
Dishes Representative of Mauritanian Cuisine
Common and traditional dishes include:
- Abragat – A porridge that is made from millet flour and cherkach (watermelon seeds). It’s most common in the southwest regions of the country and is often a seasonal dish.
- Al-Aïch – Chicken and bean stew flavoured with dried fish that’s served with aich couscous cooked in the chicken broth.
- Banaf – A stew of meat and mixed vegetables.
- Bonava – Stew of lamb, onions and potatoes in a red wine vinegar base.
- Boulgour aux Fruits Séchés – An accompaniment of bulgur wheat with onion finished with dried fruit, pine nuts and parsley.
- Camel Chubbagin – Stew of camel meat, rice and vegetables in a stock made from oil and tomato puree and which is flavoured with chillies.
- Caravane cheese
- Cherchem – Dish of spiced and herbed millet grains in a tomato base that is typically served for Yannayer, the Berber New Year.
- Chubbagin Lélé et Raabie – Classic one-pot dish of fish and rice with vegetables in a tomato and chilli sauce.
- Harira Mauritanie – A Moroccan-inspired soup of meat and chickpeas in a tomato and meat stock flavoured with fresh herbs that is traditionally served during Ramadan.
- Lakh Mauritanie – Dessert of curd cheese or yoghurt blended with grated coconut served on a bed of sweetened millet flour porridge.
- Lamb Couscous – A traditional Mauritanian recipe for a stew of meat and vegetables served with couscous steamed with fruit.
- Leksour – Dish of lamb or mutton and vegetable stew served with wheat and millet flour pancakes.
- Maffé Mauritanie – Maffé (meat in a peanut sauce) is a dish that is served in most countries of the western area of West Africa. This dish from Mauritania is very closely related to Senegalese maffé and could be considered a variant of it.
- Marolaym – Lamb or goat meat with rice in an onion base.
- Maru we-llham – A classic one-pot dish of meat and rice in a mustard sauce with mixed vegetables.
- Mauritanian Terrine – Vegetarian dish of chickpeas, lentils, and eggplant in a spice base that’s finished by mixing with beaten eggs and baking in the oven.
- Méchoui – A whole sheep or a lamb spit roasted on a barbecue.
- Pastel de Poisson – Pastries stuffed with fish that are served with a spicy tomato sauce for dipping.
- Pepper Steak with Coconut (Bife Apimentado com Côco) – Fried dish of beef with coconut and green capsicums flavoured with hot chillies and soy sauce.
- Pudim d’Avocat (Avocado Pudding) – A classic vegetarian pudding of an avocado and milk puree thickened with ground almonds that’s served chilled.
- Thieboudienne (Cheb-u-jin) – A coastal dish of fish and rice, which is considered the national dish of Mauritania. It is served in a white and red sauce, usually made from tomatoes.
- Yassa au Poisson Mauritanie – Stew of fish in a chilli and palm oil base flavoured with balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard that’s typically served with rice or millet couscous.
- Yassa au Poulet Mauritanie – Stew of chicken and onions in a lemon juice, palm oil and chilli base that’s finished with balsamic vinegar, mustard and olives.
- Hakko – A leaf sauce with beans over couscous
- Thé à la Menthe (Mint Tea) – Dark green tea flavoured with mint.
- Zrig, camel milk (made from Dromedaries)
- Smoothie à l’avocat – A classic smoothie-style drink of avocados, sugar and ground almonds puréed together in a milk base.
- Jus de Bouye – Drink made from baobab pulp in water that’s finished with powdered milk, sweetened with sugar and chilled before serving.
- Roselle syrup (Sirop de Bissap) – Syrup made from hibiscus (roselle or bissap) flowers that is used on desserts or to flavour tea.