Top Most Popular Foods in Libya
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 a lot of Libyan dishes are similar to the cuisine served in its neighboring North African countries and the Middle East.
However, Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire for more than two centuries and an Italian colony, so both the Turkish and Italian cuisines have left their mark on the 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 the Libyan cuisine. For example, one of Libya’s most commonly cooked dishes (Mbkabka) is a pasta dish similar to Italian pasta, with a slight adjustment of flavor to the Libyan taste.
When visiting Libya as a tourist, you will be amazed by the number of restaurants, takeaways and cafes in the streets. Libyans enjoy eating out a lot as much as they enjoy the night life.
The majority of places close at a really late hour at night, and they serve a variety of modern food, such as burgers, pizza, shawarma, falafel, KFC, etc…
Although the locals like eating out a lot, they are also strongly attached to their traditional cuisines and culture. In particular, Fridays are exceptional days that have a holy feeling. It’s the first day in the weekend (Friday and Saturday) where Libyans freshen up to go to Friday prayers after having breakfast with the family (usually Fteera, Sfenz or Asida).
Afterwards, as men come from the Friday prayers, the family gathers for lunch, which is usually a traditional dish of either Couscous, Bazeen, Roz belbosla or Rishta. This tradition has been passed on for generations and is still practiced up till this date.
Another tradition that is practiced regularly across Libya is having a cup of tea with a sweet dessert such as Maghrout, Ghrayba or Baklava in the evening when the family and friends get together.
1. Couscous (كسكسي)
Couscous is the most common and incredibly popular traditional Libyan cuisine.
As it is usually well known in English by the pronunciation “Couscous,” in Libya it is pronounced with an extra “e” at the end. It is also well known as a North African dish that is made out of semolina.
There are two main types of Couscous:
- Couscouse BelBusla
- Couscouse belkhodra (with vegetables)
Both types are similar to each other. However, the first type does not have vegetables and is mainly onions, spicy sauce, chickpeas, and plenty of meat. The second the type, Couscouse belkhodra, has vegetables in addition to the first type of ingredients.
Unfortunately, Libyan couscous was dismissed from UNESCO’s inclusion of couscous from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania on the World Intangible Cultural Heritage List in January 2021. So an event in Ghadames, southern Libya, was launched in the hope of making Libyan couscous part of the list. The largest plate of couscous was prepared with a diameter of 4.5 meters, weighing 1,200 kilograms, and containing 375 kilograms of dried meat, in addition to large quantities of butter, chickpeas, onions, and spices, and serving 5000 people.
2. Asida (عصيدة)
Asida is a sweet dish well known across Libya, usually cooked in gatherings, and especially at child birth celebrations or within family gatherings during the holidays.
The ingredients of Asida are really simple. It consists of wheat flour, olive oil, and butter to make a thick, slimy dough texture, and it’s topped with either a date syrup (Rub) or honey.
3. Bazeen (بازين)
Bazeen is a popular dish cooked everywhere in Libya. However, each city in Libya cooks Bazeen with slightly different ingredients.
The most common way of cooking Bazeen in Libya is making a thick, slimy dough texture with pure barley flour, rolling it into a round shape in the middle of the plate, and surrounding it with a rich, spicy tomato sauce, boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, sharp pepper and plenty of meat.
Bazeen can also be cooked with fish instead of meat in some cities in Libya, especially in the west. In addition, some places cook it with a spicy chili sauce or crushed beans
4. Osban (عصبان)
This dish has routes all over the world. It mainly consists of lamb intestines filled with a special filling mixture of herbs (chopped parsley, chopped mint, chopped basil, delicate chopped tomatoes, minced lamb meat and liver) with a rich combination of spices such as turmeric, hot pepper, salt, and cinnamon.
Then the filled intestines are cooked in a big bowl of spicy tomato sauce for a long duration until it’s well cooked and tender.
In Libya, Osban is usually cooked on the Islamic ‘Eid Aladha celebration, alongside a couscous dish and with other meat dishes such as Glaia (Grilled or fried meat).
5. Mbaten (مبطن)
Mbaten is the name that is 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 of potatoes filled with a mixture of minced meat, parsley and spices, coated in flour and eggs, and then fried in vegetable oil until fully cooked and crispy.
This appetizer is famously cooked in gatherings, parties, weddings, and on ‘Eid el Fitr alongside a bowl of bean sauce (Fasolia).
6. Roz belbosla (رز بالبصلة)
This dish is similar to Couscouse, as it is cooked with the same ingredients or sauce garnished on top of boiled rice.
After you cook the rice, the layer on top consists of a spicy sauce with finely chopped onions, chick peas, and plenty of meat.
When adding vegetables, such as potatoes, pumpkin, eggplant or zucchini, the dish is called Roz msagy.
7. Tajeen jaban (طاجين جبن)
This is a very common appetizer among most cities in Libya, served alongside other main dishes.
The ingredients of this appetizer can be very creative, as it’s not strictly associated with certain ingredients; however, the ground rule ingredient of it is chopped potatoes, coriander, parsley, cheese, crumbled bread, and a mixture of spices.
The secondary ingredient that can be different from one to another is the addition of either minced meat or chopped chicken with the previous main ingredients.
Some will also add a variety of chopped vegetables, such as carrots, eggplant, or zucchini alongside chopped potatoes.
It is well cooked in a casserole in the oven until the mixture becomes well done and tender.
8. Rishta Kiskas (رشدة كسكاس)
Rishda kiskas is a really popular dish across Libya. It is cooked with a special type of homemade delicate, thin, fine pasta covered with a red sauce consisting of chopped onions, chickpeas and plenty of meat.
What makes this type of food appealing is the smell of blossom water added to the pasta that gives the dish a unique associated fragrance.
It is also cooked a lot at weddings and gatherings.
9. Rishta Bourma (رشدة برمة)
Although this dish has a similar name to Rishta Kiskas, it is a completely different type of homemade thickly sliced 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 during cold weather as it’s preferably served hot.
10. Mbakbka (مبكبكة)
This is the most common and fastest dish to be cooked for either lunch or dinner, as it’s really handy and contains simple ingredients.
It is simply any type of pasta cooked in a red chili sauce with meat, chicken, or sea food with chopped onions, tomatoes, green pepper, and a mixture of spices.
It is usually cooked a lot throughout the week by families across Libya and mostly cooked at picnics in nature.
11. Tbahej Be El Hoot (طباهج بالحوت)
Given the fact that Libya is on the Mediterranean Sea, fish and seafood are commonly cooked within the 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 alongside fried fish (sardines, murjan, trilia, orate, etc.)
12. Aslooz (عسلوز)
Aslooz is a seasonal dish, cooked with the plant Aslooz, which appears in spring.
This plant is chopped and cooked with couscous and topped with a sauce made of pumpkin, garlic, pepper, and carrots.
13. Ftat (فتات)
Ftat is made out of fteera (a certain type of pastry similar to beta bread), cut in small pieces, and topped with a red oniony sauce with meat (busla).
Ftat is mostly common within the mountains in western Libya (Amazigh). The majority of the population of this region are Berbers or so called (Amazigh) where ftat is a popular cooked dish.
14. Sfenz or Fteera (سفنزأو فطيرة)
Sfenz is a special pastry cooked in a unique way. Itt is a dough made into a round flat shape and deep fried, and sometimes filled with a half cooked egg.
Sfenz is a very popular tradition within the Libyan culture, as it’s prepared usually on weekends for breakfast and served alongside a bowl of honey.
Similarly, fteera is also a dough made into a round or square shape, slightly cooked in a pan, and also served alongside a bowel of honey.
15. Kefta (كفتة)
Kefta is a type of meat ball topped with fried onions. This dish is mostly cooked in Tripoli, as it is famously known as Kefta Trapelsia. Other regions in Libya do not cook this dish very often, as they are not very familiar with it.
16. Magrouth (مقروظ)
Magrouth is a type of sweet dessert cooked in every region of Libya. It’s influenced by the cuisine of the neighboring North African countries.
It is prepared for celebrations or gatherings such as parties or weddings, and usually served alongside a cup of tea.
Magrouth is made of thick pastry (cookie) dough filled with date paste and afterwards soaked in honey.
17. Abamber (عمبمر)
Abamber is a delicate, soft dessert that looks similar to a cookie; however, it is made out of an almond and coconut mixture.
Abamber is the official dessert served at weddings across the country. It is usually served with a glass of almond milk.
18. Mathroda (مثرودة)
This is a sweet pastry only cooked in eastern Libya (Benghazi, Elbayda, etc.). It consists of the pastry called fteera cut in small pieces and garnished on top with a mixture of nuts, dates, raisins, and honey.
19. Debla (دبلة)
Debla is a famous Ramadan dessert, made mostly during the holy month of Ramadan. It is a delicate, thin dough made into a flower shape pastry, deep fried, and then soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
20. Ghraybeh (غريبة)
This is similar to a shortbread cookie, made mostly out of butter, flour, sugar, almonds, and nuts. This type of sweet is often made around Ramadan and Eid to serve to guests.
Grenat has the same cookie dough or mixture as Ghhraybeh; however, it is made into a half moon shape afterwards, cooked in the oven, and it is garnished with powdered sugar or chocolate with nuts.
22. Dolma (دولما)
The coastal region of Libya was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1551 to 1864. Therefore, Libyan cuisine is heaily influenced by the Turkish cuisine, in addition to the 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 well known in Central Asia and the Middle East. A vegetable leaf is used as a wrap for a filling or stuffing that consists of a mixture of chopped herbs (coriander, parsley, spring onion, and mint) along with minced meat, tomato, rice ,and a variety of spices.