The cuisine of Libya has been influenced by Arabic, Mediterranean and Italian cooking. Lamb, chicken, beef, beans, nuts, dried apricots, figs and unleavened bread are staples of the Libyan diet. Popular dishes include shakshouka (chopped lamb and vegetables in tomato sauce with an egg on top) and meat and vegetable stew served on a bed of couscous (granular semolina).

In Libya, people prefer to eat at home and often invite guests to join them. Eating at restaurants is uncommon, even for people living in cities. In the past, men and women ate separately, but this is less common today. If guests are present at a meal, they are served first. The women of the family place platters of food in the middle of the table and people help themselves.

Before and after each meal, Libyans say a short prayer. A bowl of perfumed water is sometimes passed around the table. Each person dips three fingers into the water as a form of ritual cleansing. Traditionally, people eat with the fingers of the right hand (the left hand is considered unclean and is not used).

Breakfast is usually a light meal-tea and a roll or bread, or couscous sweetened with milk and honey. For most people, the main meal of the day is one served between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. Shops, businesses and schools usually close for three hours in the afternoon so that people can eat together and have a rest. Families eat a lighter meal in the evening.

   Did you know?
Tea and coffee are very popular in Libya. Libyan tea is a combination of green tea and mint leaves. People drink it hot or cold, with plenty of sugar. Libyan coffee is thick, black and very sweet and is served in small cups.
Muslim laws determine some aspects of Libyan diet. Alcohol, pork and any food containing pork fat are forbidden. Meat must be halal meat, which means that animals must be slaughtered humanely by a butcher who first says a prayer three times before killing the animal.

   Stuffed Sweet Peppers

2 large onions, chopped
125 ml cooked rice
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
100 g lamb, minced
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each ground black pepper, cinnamon, paprika
2 tsp tomato paste
75 ml oil
6 sweet peppers, tops and insides removed


Mix together all ingredients, except for the sweet peppers. Stuff the peppers with the mixture and place in a saucepan. Fill the pan about 3 cm deep with water. Cover the pan and simmer in the oven for 1 1/2 hours on low heat, or until the water has almost evaporated and the peppers are tender.