One of our favorite experiences when I travel is trying different foods and traditional recipes. I’ve found that it helps me understand the places I visit and their connection with their environment.
When speaking of Tunisian food, it is a great way to understand the place of Tunisia in the world: geographically, it’s Mediterranean food with many connections with the Northern African countries and the Southern European countries: fresh fish, fresh fruits, vegetables. Culturally: the basics of halal and sometimes kosher food, which means no pork for example, but open to other cultures, which means a growing wine region and many restaurants having beer on their menu.
What food will you be eating in Tunisia?
Starters and salads
There are many different salad recipes, but most common ones are Mechouia salad (roasted peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables) and Tounsia salad (or Tunisian salad: cucumber, tomato, onion, mint and lemon juice).
Salads are usually accompanied with tuna, harissa (spicy pepper paste) and sometimes with olives.
Other starter options include Fatima Fingers (briq pastry filled with potatoes, vegetables and sometimes lamb meat, chicken or other fillings), Ojja (could be a main plate: vegetable stew with scrambled egg and sometimes merguez) and other briq and phillo pastries.
Couscous is a staple dish in many North African countries. Made of hard-wheat semolina, this dish invented by Berbers is Tunisia’s unofficial national dish.
In Tunisia there are thousands of ways to cook couscous. In Sfax and the coast, for example, you will find fish couscous. In the interior, it is more often eaten with lamb and dried fruit, like this one on the picture with almonds, pistachio and white raisins.
We also had a nice vegetables couscous, without meat or fish, in Djerba island.
Tunisia’s location in the Mediterranean is a great source of fresh fish. That means plenty of fish available in many different recipes, including fish couscous, grilled fish and fish fritters and stews.
Seafood is also available in many places. Most of what we ate was as fritters and starters. Some in salad servings too (fruits de mer salads and similar things.)
Just a small warning: for those not used to see the head of the fish on their plate, be ready to see the whole piece in many restaurants.
If you get a chance, try visiting a Fish market, like the one at Houmt Souk in Djerba, you’ll get a glimpse of what will be on the menu.
Lamb and other meats
If you prefer meat in your plate, the most common one you will find is lamb. Either stewed or on top of a couscous dish, as meatballs or sausage (here called merguez.)
The most interesting serving we had, was a Berber recipe of lamb with vegetables from Tataouine, which was cooked on a fire in the ground, inside a crock pot that is broken when the dish is done. The result? on the picture.
Veal and chicken are also available, although we didn’t have much of any.
Sweets and pastries
Most restaurants offer fresh fruits as dessert. We’ve had grapefruit, oranges, sweet lime, strawberries, apples and Tunisian dates.
It’s not the only option: Bouza, a custard cream like dessert we had in many places is an interesting option made with hazelnuts and we even had a green tea coulant cake with ice cream. Pastry options include Makrouth honey cakes (great with your tea), Baklawas and other pastries like kaak warkas, made with almonds.
Mint tea is also a great ending for the perfect Tunisian meal.
Some extra info
Traveling by car is another great option if you are looking to enjoy the beaches of Port El Kantaoui or visit the UNESCO sites of El Jem and Keirouan, for example.
How to get there
By air: Tunisia is well connected by air to Europe via Tunisair, AirFrance and many other airlines. There are also good connections with many other african countries and other international destinations.
By sea: Many cruises are now going back to Tunisia now, so it’s a great choice if you are planning to explore the Mediterranean. Check this post from our friend John, who just did that and wrote about it.