Couscous (in Berber: seksu or keskesu) is on the one hand a semolina of durum wheat prepared with olive oil (one of the traditional staple foods of the Maghreb countries) and on the other hand, a culinary speciality from Berber cuisine, based on couscous, vegetables, spices, olive oil, and meat (mammal or poultry) or fish.
It is with tagine, one of the emblematic dishes of traditional Maghreb cuisine and, more broadly, Jewish cuisine from North Africa, African cuisine, and the Mediterranean diet, cooked according to multiple regional and local cultural variations.
The oldest known traces of couscous are found in burials of the third century BC. J. - C., of the time of the Berber king Massinissa of Numidia (in the current north of Algeria), one of the cradles of the culture of the wheat.
Known in France since the 16th century, it was incorporated into French cuisine at the beginning of the 20th century, via the French colonial empire and the Pieds-noirs of Algeria, and to this day is the third favourite salty dish of the French.
Different views are accepted as to the origin of couscous, but the most widespread is that which testifies to a Berber origin. The culinary historian Lucie Bolens describes primitive pots of couscous found in tombs dating back to the reign of Berber king “Massinissa”, that is, between 238 and 149 BC.
This region of North Africa was particularly prosperous and was considered the «granary of Rome". The Arabs, after their conquest adopted it and we find the remains of the first (known) utensils in the region of Tiaret (present-day Algeria), where the kitchen tools dating from the 9th century that have been discovered are very similar to the main tool for cooking couscous. Thus, semolina, well known in the Maghreb countries before the Arab conquest, is not known by the conquerors of the Middle East.
During the Islamization of North Africa, they discover and adopt semolina, (semid, in Arabic) which became the basis of a dish of the most important in their eating habits.
They integrated this dish of origin commonly attested Berber, so much so that a history known in Algeria and Tunisia tells that a tribal chief threatened his wife, (newly converted to Islam), to kill her in the case where she would be unable to prepare this dish.
“Rabelais” is the oldest writer to speak about couscous (nicknamed "couscoussou") in his Pantagruel novel of 1532.
As for Alexandre Dumas, he calls it "pincou pincou" in his Grand Dictionary of cooking, mixing recipes and historical stories. Its consumption spreads on the north shore of the Mediterranean basin in the twentieth century, in Algerian families sent to the metropolis to replace in the factories men left to the military front, during the First World War (1914-1918), then by the Pieds-noirs, who helped integrate it into French cuisine at the time of Algeria's independence and the 1962 exodus. to this day making it the third favourite dish of the French