The nomadic Tuareg people of Northern Africa have perfected the art of bread-making in the Sahara desert with taguella, a handy sand-baked bread and staple of their diet.
The process of making taguella begins like most breads, by mixing grains (usually semolina or millet) with water and salt to form a supple dough. With dextrous and muscular fingers, bread-makers knead the unleavened dough for as long as twenty minutes to develop its gluten before forming it into a wide, flat disc.
Taguella takes a turn from more typical baking procedures when cooks spread hot coals over the desert sand, forming a disc-shaped divot in the center. Into the hollow goes the taguella, with hot sand and coals swept on top. Nestled in the blazing natural oven, the wet dough will cook so quickly that the sand won’t have time to sink inside before the crust forms. After a few minutes, bakers carefully turn the dough, covering the top once again, to ensure that the bread cooks evenly.
Telltale char marks and a tough outer crust provide clues that the bread is ready. Using deft fingers or a stick, cooks pluck the bread from the scorching earth, brushing or rinsing the loose sand from the taguella’s exterior. Diners pull apart the crusty bread into bite-sized pieces, forming a hearty base for a typical Tuareg stew. Finally, the stew gets poured on top of the crumbled taguella and a delightful desert dinner is served.
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