Cous Cous Feast

 

Italy has a very strange history of multiculturalism. Even if it was the head of the Roman empire, which spanned most of the known world in that time, even if it lies right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and close both to Africa and Western Asia, even if it was invaded countless times, Italy long remained a strictly white-skinned country. Also, being a very regional-minded culture, it has strangely resisted most foreign stimuli for the majority of its existence. This changed rather abruptly around the 1990s, when the influx of immigrants from different ethnicities exposed Italy to real multiculturality. Today it is common – especially in larger cities – to meet the usual global melting pot of races, religions, skin colors and so on. Most non-white persons still do not integrate completely, but the first second-generations colored Italian are beginning to appear as well. This is a bit of a shock for a sizeable part of the white population, who still perceives ethnical differences as an invasion: there are even political parties who play on this, catering to racists and making integration even more difficult.

In this scenario, the Cous cous fest held in the small seaside city of San Vito Lo Capo on the southern island of Sicily has found a great way to fight racism. Since 1998, this event invites everyone to focus on something that unites every ethnic group on Earth: food. More specifically, the heart of the festival is a competition between a dozen of countries to award the best cous cous, a staple of Mediterranean cuisine. Each day three different nations face off like in a sport tournament, until only the best remains. The climate is far from combative, however. The public is actually encouraged to follow every phase of the preparations, which takes place in an open “cooking lab” where cooks are happy to share their recipes. Come the evening, the whole city dines together with the various cous cous. At the end of the festival two prizes are awarded: one from a jury of cooking experts, and one from the public.

People who eat together just cannot be scared of each other. So the festival becomes an excellent occasion to discover other cultures and share stories, also with the help of the Al waha tent encampment. This is a large temporary structure where cultural events are held throughout the days of the event: talk shows, conferences, performances and more. The last touch is a multiethnic market where it is possible to buy the real products of each participating country, and not the inferior knockoffs usually destined to tourists. And, by the way, Sicily is south enough to be rather hot also that late in September, so visiting the festival is also a great way to experience an almost-tropical beach holiday.