My favourite dish: Tarik Abdeladim
Restaurant owner Tarik Abdeladim chats to Tony Naylor about his favourite dish.
We celebrate the world’s best comfort food by asking chefs and food writers from diverse backgrounds to talk about the dishes they love.
The owner of York's popular Algerian street-food restaurant, Los Moros, shares the family story behind his sardine fishcakes recipe.
See Tarik's boulettes de sardines recipe.
"I'd always say, 'my falafel got me a restaurant'," laughs Tarik Abdeladim, owner of York's Los Moros. In a way, it did. Launched in 2015, the Algerian chef's original street-food kiosk had big fans in the owners of El Piano, a legendary York vegan restaurant. In fact, they liked Los Moros and it's falafel so much that, when they decided to close after 21 years, the El Piano team invited Tarik to take over their Grape Lane premises.
Three years on, Los Moros, now a Michelin guide-listed restaurant, is forefront in a new wave of ambitious York indies. It is a fitting pinnacle to Tarik's lifetime in hospitality. Now 51, he started out, aged 17, travelling from Algeria to work summers on the Côte d'Azur: "It was unusual. But my dad had lived in Paris and took us to France. We were accustomed to it."
Leaving an Algeria then embroiled in the civil war, Tarik came to Britain in 1997 and fell hard for York. "It's a beautiful city and I was taken aback by how friendly northerners are. I found my second home," he says. Two decades later, York was likewise smitten with the North African food Tarik unveiled at Shambles Market. "The first thing I wanted there was merguez," he says, "I missed them so much and you want to represent your country. It's a great street-food dish.
"There are definitely similarities in food across Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Before they were divided into different countries, Berber kingdoms stretched across North Africa and those people shared a cultural heritage. For example, Western Algeria is similar to Morocco, just as eastern Algeria is close to Tunisia in dialect and cuisine. It's like being a Mancunian or Londoner here. There's a distinct way people speak and special dishes you associate with those regions.
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"At the same time, Algeria was absorbing influences from invaders: Roman olive oil and citrus fruits, Arab spices. Being the capital city, Algiers, where I grew up, is different again because the Ottomans and the French – who stayed for 132 years – left a lot of cultural influence there.
I'd wake up and have a croissant or millefeuille and in the afternoon mint tea and Turkish baklava. Then in the evening, have a Berber meal at home. I don't think people will ever forget what happened during the French colonial period but some traditions: cafés, foods, patisseries, just became part of people's lives.
Even if you wanted to, you couldn't avoid that French legacy. Everybody ate baguettes, madeleines, pain au chocolat. The bakers were French-trained and when the French left [in 1962] that's all they knew.
I'm the second of five children. My mum and dad were originally from Kabylia, the mountainous Berber region around the city of Béjaïa. My dad was a radio journalist and my mum a head teacher. Mum was a good cook. She'd do more French-influenced stuff as well as pasta with gruyère, traditional loubia or dolma and she'd always get us involved. If she was making a flan she'd give you this very old whisk and say, 'come and beat me some eggs and sugar'.
"When we were young or if we spent time with my cousins in the mountains, we all ate dinner together. But as teenagers – my dad would be working nights and my brother would be back late from university. Mum would cook dinner ready to be reheated by the time we got home. In the capital, it was different.
It was very rare in Algeria in the early 70s for both parents to work and my grandma looked after us a lot. Grandma only spoke Berber (we also spoke Arabic and French) and she was really good at traditional Berber dishes. Making couscous – what we Berbers call seksou – was her thing.
It's a laborious all-day job. You go from semolina to couscous and all you do, basically, is water the semolina and roll it, then pass it through traditional sieves. She'd make 50 kilo bags to last months. The seksou would go with chicken or vegetable tagine stews, or, in Algeria, we have a speciality of salted and sun-dried preserved lamb. You eat it in winter with couscous and it's amazing.
"Back then there were no supermarkets, no ready-meals. Everybody cooked at home. Everything was seasonal and fresh. Once the artichokes were gone you'd wait a year for them to reappear but, in season, there'd be so many artichoke dishes because that's all you could get in the market. In summer, you'd eat melons and grapes all day, then it's orange season and so on.
"One of grandma's trademark dishes was dumplings, made with semolina, mint and garlic, cooked in a big pot of sauce, and she also used to make really good sardine fishcakes. Being on the Med, sardines are big in Algeria. People used to go into neighbourhoods shouting 'sardines! sardines!', selling them from carts. Mothers would send children out saying, 'grab me a kilo'. I still remember the smell walking home from school at lunchtime when everybody was cooking sardines."
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