I've never really given a lot of thought to couscous, it was always what got served at lunch time in cafeterias when I was on French exchanges. At home, it never really featured, not when there were potatoes, pasta, errm more potatoes, bread and numerous other starches that could bulk out a meal.
I'll accept that I might have had a slightly sheltered childhood, but it wasn't really anything that bothered me.
Several years ago I took a trip to Morocco with my sister, the Tagines we had were beautiful, the interesting grilled meat street foods were glorious, but according to all the Moroccans we spoke to, Berber couscous was the thing.
Annoyingly the chap in question who was most forthcoming in his praise for Berber couscous was also quite forthcoming in his praise for my sister, and after a while became quite insistent that we should come with his to dine on his mothers evidently supreme example. To cut a longish story short, we made a swiftish exit.
Since then I might have been a bit harsh on the food stuff. On occasions going so far as to state that with the amount of flavourings one needs to make couscous nice, you'd be as well cooking cardboard.
However I have been wrong before, and I'm pretty certain I'll be wrong again (though if you could refrain from letting people I used to work with this little fact, I'd be most grateful).
So when I was invited to travel to Sicily to attend a couscous festival in San Vito lo Capo near to Trapani I jumped at the offer (and it wasn't just because there was a pretty girl doing the offering). We'd left Trapani airport in the morning and set off to the rental house that had been organised near to Marsala. Not having any real clue as to the geography of the region I didn't really give this much thought. I'm used to being driven round on wine trips, so I tend to relax into a sort of beautific state of nonchalance regarding directions and the proximity of one place to another. After a journey to the beach where we trekked across a shallow bay to find an out of the way beach near to a disused saltworks for a swim and clamber over salt mounds we were all feeling a mite pekkish. Showers were had and we all clambered into cars. My ears pricked up a little at the mention of 60km! Surely we were on an island, how could we be that far away? Apparently that was 60km as the crow flies. A lengthy car ride up into the hills outside of Trapani snaked through imposing rocky crevasses, with looming mountainous shadows ominously following our journey. Signs started to point away from Trapani, then oddly enough started to point back towards Trapani. What was going on?
Then it became obvious, out of the window I saw a sign announcing that we were just leaving Purgatorio.... well that expained everything.
Parking just outside of the town, we followed the crowds and wafting scents of cooking towards the festival. Entry was free, though if you wanted to eat you had to buy some tickets, not really speaking Italian I didn't quite understand what the various tickets entitled us to, anyway for 10 euros each we were entitled to a bowl of couscous, a glass of wine and a portion of a sweet thing. Now I know that couscous is an expensive commodity but even so I did raise an eyebrow.
The festival was broken down into numerous tents, Couscous from Italy, global couscous, organic couscous etc, with other little tents showing off regional specialities like Vodaphone and a couple of local wine merchants.
I tried, I really did. There was a lovely bustling atmosphere, music and lots of people having fun. We worked our way through a whole host of different bowls of couscous, there were lovely bits of Bison meat on the bone in a couscous con moutone con zucca grane, and the couscous con pantesca had a nice healthy whack of flavour and lots of mixed vegetables with fish. My favourite come the end of the day way the Pece scogghiu which married chunks of mixed rock fish with a slightly spiced and cinnamon inflected body, but nothing really thawed my cold un couscous loving heart. I just don't understand it, the texture, even when light and fluffy just seems designed to bulk other things out. Maybe I'm doomed to dislike what is obviously a foodstuff loved by the rest of the world, but I can't pretend that my favourite moment of the night was sitting down for a beer afterwards.