It was out of the question to leave this city without trying and experiencing some of Algeria's real food. I wanted to know more about this country... and since the food I have tried in so called 'popular' restaurants were not at all up to my expectation, I thought it would be great to walk the streets and try some real Algerian traditional food. My new friend Khaled, with whom I have spent some memorable times in this city, made sure the last day's theme was based on traditions.
"Khaled, I want to eat some real street food!" He looked at me with amazement and said: "Are you sure? No one has ever requested this from me before. Are you sure you want to try the uncommon secrets of Algeria?"
The journey was just starting... as Khaled took me around places to try some of the country's hidden culinary secrets, no tourist has even heard off.
Karantita is a very popular dish in Algerian cuisine, eaten in every family of the country. It is made from chickpea flour as a kind of cake. When you say chickpeas in Lebanon, it is usually baked in a casserole on low fire. Algerians bake it in the oven. Karantita is served hot, usually, dressed with cumin and harissa. It is called differently - karane, kalantita, karantita, quaratita or guarantita since it originated from Spain with an original name "Caliantetorta". In standard Italian, the dish is called "farinata" 'made of flour', in Genoese dialect fainâ. In Nice and the Côte d'Azur, it is called "socca", and in Tuscany, "cecina" 'made of chickpeas'. In Argentina and Uruguay it is known as fainá or faina.
Karantita is baked in the oven from a mixture prepared of chickpea flour, oil, water and spices. The top of the dish is covered with a beaten egg and baked till it becomes golden.
This unique fast food, sold on the streets, and in cafes is cheap and full filling; very cheap actually: the normal sandwich is for only 20cents of a dollar. For only 20cents, you'll fill your stomach for 24hours. In Kouba Center, ask about Abou Brite, the little snack known for its Garantita. Abou Brite, with its 15 square meters place is cheaper and dirtier than anything you can imagine. I didn't care as it seems the hundreds of customers he serves everyday are coming back again to stand in line every day.
We asked for one Garantita and another slice of Pizza for 15cents. Mr. "I don't understand why are you taking pictures" prepared a sandwich and a slice of pizza for me. A thin pizza baked on a bread dough. Liquid tomato, black olives and parsley is all that this pizza contains. No cheese. I assure you that it is yummier than many so called Italian pizzerias. For only 15cents, you enjoy a decent square piece of Pizza. The olive oil and tomato flavors fill in your mouth and activate your taste buds.
I really enjoyed it.
It was time to try the Garantita. On a square metallic tray is a yellowish preparation that looks like the Lebanese Knefeh. Beige from the inside, yellowish with dark cooked areas on top, this preparation looks more like a pastry cake. Grabbing a french bread, the guy fills it with this preparation exactly the same way a Knefe is prepared and gives it to me. No add-ons, no seasoning, no sauce...
Every bite has it all: The chickpeas, the eggs and the seasoning flavors. It defiantly needed more salt but at the end, this is how people like it. Let's say that it tastes like a heated hummus sandwich . The bread around here is not hard and crunchy like the bread found in France, but more chewy and condensed like it's done in some popular areas in Lebanon.
It is surely not a culinary piece of wonder but a new discovery that widens your spectrum of know how in food around the world. You should have seen me look at my friends with this big smile while eating it: I really was just simply and peacefully happy from the inside.