Libya borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Tunisia and Algeria to the west, Niger and Chad to the south, and Sudan and Egypt to the east; therefore, you will find that many Libyan dishes are similar to those served in the neighboring North African countries and the Middle East.
However, Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire for over two centuries and was an Italian colony, so both Turkish and Italian cuisine have left their mark on Libyan cuisine.
Lamb is the meat of choice in Libya, while hot pepper is the most commonly used vegetable, as most Libyan dishes are spicy.
The Italian colonial empire still has a huge impact on Libyan cuisine. For example, one of Libya’s most cooked dishes (Mbkabka) is a pasta dish that resembles Italian pasta, with a slight adjustment in flavor to the Libyan taste.
When you visit Libya as a tourist, you will be amazed at the number of restaurants, takeaways and cafes in the streets. Libyans enjoy dining out as much as they enjoy nightlife.
Most places close late at night and they serve a variety of modern dishes such as burgers, pizzas, shawarma, falafel, KFC, etc…
Although the locals like to eat out, they are also strongly attached to their traditional cuisine and culture. Fridays in particular are exceptional days with a sacred feeling. It is the first day of the weekend (Friday and Saturday) when Libyans freshen up to go to Friday prayers after breakfast with the family (usually Fteera, Sfenz or Asida).
Afterwards, when men come out of Friday prayers, the family gathers for lunch, which is usually a traditional dish of Couscous, Bazeen, Roz belbosla or Rishta. This tradition has been passed down for generations and is still practiced to this day.
Another tradition regularly practiced throughout Libya is drinking a cup of tea in the evening with a sweet dessert such as Maghrout, Ghrayba or Baklava when family and friends gather.
1. Couscous (كسكسي)
Couscous is the most common and incredibly popular traditional Libyan cuisine.
Since it is usually known in English by the pronunciation of “Couscous”, in Libya it is pronounced with an additional “e” at the end. It is also known as a North African dish that is made from semolina.
There are two main types of Couscous:
- Couscouse BelBusla
- Couscouse Belkhodra (with vegetables)
Both types are similar. However, the first type has no vegetables and consists mainly of onions, spicy sauce, chickpeas and a lot of meat. The second type, Couscouse belkhodra, has vegetables in addition to the first type of ingredients.
Unfortunately, in January 2021, Libyan couscous was excluded from UNESCO’s inclusion of couscous from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania on the World List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. from the list. The largest plate of couscous was prepared with a diameter of 4.5 meters, a weight of 1,200 kilograms and with 375 kilograms of dried meat, in addition to large quantities of butter, chickpeas, onions and herbs, and for 5000 people.
2. Asida (porridge)
Asida is a sweet dish known throughout Libya that is usually cooked during gatherings, especially at child birth celebrations or at family gatherings during the holiday season.
The ingredients of Asida are very simple. It consists of wheat flour, olive oil and butter to make a thick, slimy dough texture, and it is topped with a date syrup (Rub) or honey.
Bazeen is a popular dish cooked all over Libya. However, every city in Libya cooks Bazeen with slightly different ingredients.
The most common way to cook Bazeen in Libya is to make a thick, slimy dough texture with pure barley flour, roll it into a round shape in the center of the plate, and surround it with a rich, spicy tomato sauce, boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, hot pepper and lots of meat.
Bazeen can also be cooked with fish instead of meat in some cities in Libya, especially in the west. In addition, in some places it is cooked with a spicy chili sauce or ground beans
4. Osban (angry)
This dish has routes all over the world. It consists mainly of lamb intestines stuffed with a special filling mixture of spices (chopped parsley, chopped mint, chopped basil, chopped tomatoes, minced lamb and liver) with a rich combination of spices such as turmeric, hot pepper, salt and cinnamon.
Then the stuffed intestines are long cooked in a large bowl of spicy tomato sauce until well cooked and tender.
In Libya, Osban is usually cooked on the Islamic ‘Eid Aladha festival, alongside a couscous dish and with other meat dishes such as Glaia (grilled or fried meat).
5. Mbates (padded)
Mbaten is the name famously used for this dish in western Libya (Tripoli, Musrata, el Zawia, etc). However, in Eastern Libya (Benghazi, Elbayda, Darna, etc.), this meal is called “batat mbatna”.
This delicious appetizer is made from potatoes stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, parsley and spices, coated with flour and eggs, then fried in vegetable oil until fully cooked and crispy.
This appetizer is famously cooked in gatherings, parties, weddings, and on ‘Eid el Fitr next to a bowl of bean sauce (Fasolia).
6. Roz belbos lettuce (rice with onions)
This dish is similar to Couscouse in that it is cooked with the same ingredients or sauce topped over cooked rice.
After you cook the rice, the layer on top consists of a spicy sauce with finely chopped onions, chickpeas and lots of meat.
When adding vegetables, such as potatoes, pumpkin, eggplant or zucchini, the dish is called Roz msagy.
7. Tajeen jaban
This is a common appetizer in most cities in Libya, served alongside other main dishes.
The ingredients of this appetizer can be very creative as it is not strictly associated with any particular ingredients; however, its basic ingredient is chopped potatoes, coriander, parsley, cheese, crumbled bread, and a mixture of spices.
The secondary ingredient that may differ from one to another is the addition of ground beef or chopped chicken with the previous main ingredients.
Some also add a variety of chopped vegetables such as carrots, eggplant or zucchini in addition to chopped potatoes.
It is well cooked in a casserole in the oven until the mixture is well cooked and soft.
8. Rishta Kiskas
Rishda kiskas is a very popular dish all over Libya. It is cooked with a special kind of homemade delicate, thin, fine pasta covered in a red sauce consisting of chopped onions, chickpeas and lots of meat.
What makes this type of food appealing is the scent of blossom water added to the pasta, which gives the dish a unique accompanying scent.
There is also a lot of cooking at weddings and gatherings.
9. Rishta Bourma (رشدة برمة)
Although this dish has a similar name to Rishta Kiskas, it is a very different kind of homemade thick-cut pasta cooked in a red chili sauce with dried meat, chickpeas, peas, pepper and a mixture of spices.
People in Libya usually cook this dish in cold weather, as it is preferably served warm.
10. Mbakbka (Mbakbka)
This is the most common and quickest dish to prepare for lunch or dinner because it is very convenient and contains simple ingredients.
It is simply any type of pasta cooked in a red chili sauce with meat, chicken or seafood with chopped onions, tomatoes, green pepper and a mixture of spices.
It is widely cooked by families all over Libya throughout the week and usually cooked during picnics in nature.
11. Tbahej Be El Hoot (طباهج بهحوت)
Given that Libya is located on the Mediterranean Sea, fish and seafood are often cooked in Libyan cuisine.
Tbahej is a red paste or sauce and contains different types of fish. It is garnished with fried vegetables (potatoes, zucchini, eggplant and green pepper) and served with fried fish (sardines, murjan, trilia, orate, etc.)
Aslooz is a seasonal dish, prepared with the Aslooz plant, which appears in the spring.
This plant is chopped and cooked with couscous and topped with a sauce made from pumpkin, garlic, pepper and carrots.
Ftat is made from fteera (a type of pastry similar to beta bread), cut into small pieces and topped with a red onion sauce with meat (busla).
Ftat is mostly found in the mountains in western Libya (Amazigh). Majority of the population of this region are Berbers or so called (Amazigh) where ftat is a popular cooked dish.
14. Sfenz or Fteera
Sfenz is a special pastry that is cooked in a unique way. It is a dough that is made into a round flat shape and fried, and sometimes filled with a half-boiled egg.
Sfenz is a very popular tradition within Libyan culture as it is usually prepared for breakfast on weekends and served with a bowl of honey.
Likewise, fteera is also a dough that is made into a round or square shape, lightly cooked in a pan and also served with a thick layer of honey.
Kefta is a type of meatball topped with fried onions. This dish is usually cooked in Tripoli as it is known as Kefta Trapelsia. Other regions in Libya don’t often cook this dish as they are not that familiar with it.
16. Magrouth (pinched)
Magrouth is a kind of sweet dessert cooked in every region of Libya. It has been influenced by the cuisine of the neighboring North African countries.
It is prepared for celebrations or gatherings such as celebrations or weddings, and is usually served with a cup of tea.
Magrouth is made of thick puff pastry (biscuit) dough filled with date paste and then soaked in honey.
17. Amber (عمبمر)
Abamber is a delicate, soft dessert that resembles a biscuit; however, it is made from a mixture of almond and coconut.
Abamber is the official dessert served at weddings across the country. It is usually served with a glass of almond milk.
18. Mathroda (Mathroda)
This is a sweet pastry cooked only in Eastern Libya (Benghazi, Elbayda, etc.). It consists of the dough called fteera, cut into small pieces and topped with a mixture of nuts, dates, raisins and honey.
Debla is a famous Ramadan dessert, usually made during the holy month of Ramadan. It is a delicate, thin dough that is made into a flour-shaped dough, deep-fried, then soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
20. Ghraybeh (Weird)
This is similar to a shortbread, usually made of butter, flour, sugar, almonds and nuts. These kind of sweets are often made around Ramadan and Eid to serve to guests.
Grenat has the same cookie dough or mixture as Ghhraybeh; however, it is then made into the shape of a crescent, cooked in the oven and topped with powdered sugar or chocolate with nuts.
22. Filled (دولما)
The coastal region of Libya was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1551 to 1864. Therefore, Libyan cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine, in addition to Italian and neighboring Egyptian and Tunisian cuisines. Dishes such as Dolma, Baklava, Lentil Soup and Kaak are great examples of the Turkish culinary influence in Libya.
Dolma is a family of stuffed dishes known in Central Asia and the Middle East. A vegetable leaf is used as a cover for a filling or filling that consists of a mixture of chopped herbs (cilantro, parsley, spring onion and mint) along with ground beef, tomato, rice and a variety of spices.