Mauritania is home to a diversified dining scene with dishes influenced by several of its neighboring countries. Most traditional Mauritanian meals are served in communal fashion, where diners gather around a steaming dish to eat with their hands. A bowl or pot of water and soap will be passed around to all to cleanse before sharing the meal and you can indulge when your host says, “Bismillah,” or “In the name of God” in Arabic.
Traditionally, mutton, camel meat, chicken, and fresh fish dishes are eaten over a bed of couscous or rice. Freshly baked French-style baguettes are also widely available. In addition to local standards, Senegalese-style thieboudiene (rice and fish), Lebanese-style chawarma (pressed mutton slices), and Moroccan tajines and stews can be found in local establishments. For fish lovers, Nouackhott is home to one of the largest and most vibrant fish markets in all of West Africa. Each day colorful boats reel in loads of fresh fish, which are then sold by local vendors on the beach or at the Etalage du Poisson (fish market). For vegetarians, eggs, fresh veggies, and sundried dates are available. Potatoes, carrots, onions, and other basic vegetables are sold in the markets, while larger cities like Nouakchott and Nouadhibou boast many local fresh fruit stalls.
When in Mauritania, don’t forget to try nutritious camel milk that can be purchased in the local markets or roadside from nomadic herders. Additionally, drinking tea is an indelible part of daily life and a revered pastime in Mauritanian culture. Small glasses of strong green tea sweetened with spoonfuls of sugar are served several times daily. Make sure to finish the entire glass—even the leafy dregs—as it is considered impolite to leave them. It is also customary to stay until the third glass of tea has been drunk and the glasses cleaned and cleared.
One thing that is particularly difficult to drink in Mauritania, however, is alcohol, which is illegal throughout the country except at a handful of licensed establishments in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou.
Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto first traveled to West Africa together in 2005. Geoff is a freelance journalist based in Lyon, France. Andrea is Vice President of Thinking Forward Media, a boutique communications agency specializing in marketing and media production for international tourism & development clients. She is currently producing Essakane Film, a documentary on the Festival in the Desert in Mali.