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Tajine and Couscous Don’t Go Together!

Tajines do not go over couscous!  

I haven’t been able to pinpoint why this irks me but I am constantly seeing American and other Western chefs guilty of pairing couscous with tajine.  Now you all know I am one for innovation, adding something new and so if that’s what the dish is all about, rock on.

But, at least from what I’ve seen they are trying to pass this off as the authentic way to do things.  This might be the case in other Maghreb countries but I’ve never seen this in Morocco.  I’ve been living in Morocco for 7 years now (and married to a Moroccan for 15) and trust me, couscous + tajine is just for tourists.

Tajine over couscous is not traditional.

It’s unheard of!

So let’s discuss.

Tajine (or tagine)

This word has multiple meanings.  First it’s the conical shaped cooking vessel that a meal is prepared it.  The food cooked inside is also called a tajine.  It can be any number of things but usually is some kind of meat and vegetables, slow cooked and seasoned.  

Savory and sweet flavors are often combined and you’ll see beef and prunes, chicken and olives, beef and tomatoes and many other combinations depending on where in the country you are.

Tajine is eaten with bread. It’s not eaten with a fork and knife and it’s not served with something on the side – save for perhaps salads. No couscous, no rice.

CouscousMost people recognize couscous immediately as a Moroccan food.  This traditional dish is made from semolina (the same flour used to make pasta) and is rolled into very small balls. In fact that’s what it is – small pasta grains. To prepare this dish a couscousiere is used.

A couscousiere has two parts, the top has small holes to allow for steam to vent, and the bottom acts like a regular pot.  The couscous is cooked by steaming in the top and the meat and/or vegetables and broth are cooked in the bottom.  The couscous is steamed three times and the vegetables and meat cooked until very tender.

To serve the couscous is heaped onto a large serving plate and then the contents of the pot are arranged around the top of the couscous.  Some of the sauce is poured on top as well.  Generally, small bowls with extra broth are present on the table for individuals to add as desired.

Corn Couscous with Vegetables

If you do want some couscous recipes than head over to this page where I have all of my couscous recipes in one place.

This is a couscousiere – a steaming pan used to cook the couscous and vegetables and/or meat together.

This is the end of my rant!  There’s no reason you can’t put a tajine on top of couscous or serve it with couscous, it’s just not traditional. When you’re visiting Morocco don’t expect a side of couscous!


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Monday 2nd of October 2023

What would you call the stew portion that comes with couscous then? I suspect this is probably where a lot of the confusion comes from, most Westerners essentially just lump all Moroccan (and many North African) stew type dishes under the heading "tagine" as that is the most famous type of North African stew and we don't really know what else to call them!

Some dishes served as tagine in the West probably wouldn't be considered a true tagine in Morocco, I would imagine. For instance I notice you say the stew served with couscous tends to be more "soupy" whereas tagine is thicker, but I've definitely come across so-called "tagines" where there was quite a lot of relatively runny sauce! So I believe this may be where the mixup stems from, there simply isn't a distinction made between "real" tagine and other vaguely Moroccan style stews.

Amanda Mouttaki

Wednesday 18th of October 2023

It's just couscous. These are broad terms. In English couscous is used to describe the grain only, but in Morocco it means the entire dish. You would never eat the grain by itself so there's no need to describe it differently. Tagines are all similar too they just different but what's inside. Like you might have beef stew or lamb stew, you might have chicken and olive tajine or beef and apricot tajine.


Saturday 25th of March 2023

Thank you!! I just came back from an extended trip through Morocco. I studied the culinary culture and traditions of this beautiful country. At no point and time had I been served a Tajine with Couscous! I was somewhat confused about finding almost every "authentic" Tajine recipe on the Internet with Couscous. I am currently developing my own Tajine recipe for my food blog and just needed clarification. So, thanks again!


Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Hello Maroc Mama! We are studying Africa this week in my culinary class (in America). Of course, tagine with cous cous is one of the items we are to prepare. I always do research before a project, so I was happy to come across your site for some real life information. I am very excited about preparing any African dishes but authenticity is important to me to honor the history and culture of a country.


Friday 3rd of September 2021

So it’s illegal to cook couscous in a Tajine ?

Amanda Mouttaki

Saturday 4th of September 2021

It's not illegal but it is impossible. At worst, couscous is boiled, and at best steamed. There's no way to cook it in a tajine.


Tuesday 28th of April 2020

Thank you! Finally it has been said, Tagine & couscous do not belong together on one plate (not even on one table). I often cook using different cultural foods on one plate and I am all for mixing & matching. But somehow with tagine and couscous it annoys me when people do so. Without going into historical migrations and settlements, we can pretty much say that the tagine is a berber dish, and couscous is an arab dish. They are two completely different and separate dishes. It is like putting an indian curry on top of Italian pasta ;) Cheers! Nicole