When food acts as a powerful mean of cultural integration the outcome is an explosive mixture of food, music, live shows, wine tasting, artists, local people and people from everywhere all joining together to "make couscous, not war".
The chosen place for this colorful and tasty melting pot was San Vito lo Capo, Western Sicily, close to Trapani and Erice area, a seafaring village with blue and crystal clear sea waters and a beautiful white beach, an ideal place to extend your holiday and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of an early fall vacation.
Five days entirely devoted to King Couscous, a dish rich in history and open to the future, synthesis of cultures, symbol of opening, broadmindedness and cross-culture contaminations.
Chefs from Ivory Coast, France, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Senegal and Italy challenged each other to prepare the best couscous of all, no matter if fish-based or meat based or with vegetables, no matter if traditional, exotic or with a haute-cuisine touch. Italy won, but this is of minor importance.
What was really striking was the atmosphere of real feast and joy you felt everywhere, anytime.
At the Gastronomic Village where you could chose among four different couscous houses: the San Vitese one, to taste the local version; the trapanese and Maghreb one, to taste couscous from Trapani; the Mediterranean one to be delighted by couscous made by countries overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the worldwide one to enjoy exotic versions from all over the world. You ate, you drank, and ate and drank and never had enough. It's always like this every year, since the first edition of the event, and every year is always better.
At the Couscous Lab, true culinary workshops led by Sicilian Master Chefs. We was particularly amazed by the one focusing on Alaska couscous made with salmon. It was introduced in Sicily by returning Trapanese emigrants who sought their fortunes far away from home in the cold Alaska lands. We really learnt a lot. Master Chefs were Pino Cuttaia, Ciccio Sultano and my very good friend Carmelo Chiaramonte, a spotlight chaser and a great chef. We enjoyed workshops very much.
At the Expo Village, a colored market, a lively souk, a good chance to discover the identity of the eight countries entering the competition through their handicrafts and people.At the Al Waha, the lounge area nearby the sea, its name meaning "desert oasis", a chic and trendy place where contaminations among music, tastings and relax take places.
At the Live Shows where music prevails with a different artist every night for contaminations of sounds, tunes and visions from all over the world.
Despite the weather was not that indulgent for most of the time, people were not intimidated and participated heavily especially during the weekend. From 12.00 am to 24.00 people coming widely from Sicily, Italy and even abroad shifted here and there trying not to miss anything: a dip into the crystal sea, strolling around the booths trying to discover that unique ethnic gadget, tasting wines and food, enjoying meeting friends sipping a glass of whatsoever and listening to the artist on stage that night.
That's what we did. The seven of us all together or each on his or her own, distracted by everything on our way along the weekend, holding forth on culinary questions, on that unusual ingredient, on how we liked or not this or that couscous, on our personal version of the dish, all of us being pretty good cooks with a sane sense of friendly rivalry. We had a good laugh.
We met people from UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Spain as well as representatives of the 8 official countries.
George and Liz, from Richmond, south-west London (I lived in Richmond during my teens!) were truly amazed by the huge quantity of people, food and were impressed by the common sense of sharing and participation.
We all sensed how integration was naturally felt and not forced; food was only a very good and tasty excuse.