International Couscous Festival, San Vito lo Capo, Sicily
Sicilian food, like its history, is a stew of cultural influences. Closer to Africa than Rome, and under Arab rule for 200 years during the Middle Ages, it’s not surprising to find couscous on menus in Sicily, especially in the western end of this Mediterranean island.
Each September, the beach resort of San Vito lo Capo hosts Cous Cous Fest. Cous Cous Fest 2014 will run September 19 to 28, 2014. This international festival of flavors and cultural integration brings together chefs from all over the world in an international culinary competition. At the heart of it all, couscous (also spelled cous cous or cus cus), a dish rich in history and symbol of peace and cultural integration.
In 2012, when I visited, nine countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal and Tunisia – competed, and served, under a Berber-style tent (called Al Waha, or oasis) on the white sands of San Vito lo Capo beach. A panel of journalists and experts were joined by a jury comprised of anyone who wants to participate. There are 100 jury seats and they are filled by those who get there first.
Couscous is a granular semolina wheat product, a staple food in North African countries. Steamed until fluffy, served with stewed lamb or other meat, fish, vegetables and seasonings, ingredients could include pumpkin, raisins and seeds depending on who’s making it. If you are gluten intolerant, corn couscous is available at the main festival tent on the beach.
Elsewhere in San Vito lo Capo, vendors sell local versions of the dish. In Trapani province, this often means in a clear, savoury fish broth made from pesce povere (literally ‘poor fish’, not large enough to grill, suitable only for simmering and straining).
Update: 2014 edition of Cous Cous Fest runs September 19-28, 2014. For up-to-date information on menus, meal ticket pricing, a schedule of events and musical performances, plus information on how to participate on the jury, see Cous Cous Fest.
San Vito lo Capo has a gorgeous beach and good hotels. Its proximity to Palermo, Trapani and the Zingaro nature preserve make it an ideal place to stop and stay for a few days. Ryanair flies to Trapani (Birgi airport), closest airport to San Vito lo Capo and a great alternative to Palermo as gateway to western Sicily. For more travel inspiration and information, see the Region of Sicily‘s tourism website.
Regional food specialties are one of the great pleasures of travel in Italy.