Food in Tunisia
Tunisian cuisine is similar to Middle Eastern cuisine and is based on the traditions of the North African Maghreb, with couscous and marka stew (similar to Moroccan tagines) forming the backbone of most dishes. Unlike the Moroccan dish of the same name, the Tunisian tagine is an omelette-like pâté, made of meat and vegetables mixed with herbs, legumes and offal, filled with eggs and cheese, and baked in a casserole dish until the eggs are set, similar to an Italian frittata. Lamb forms the basis of most meat dishes and local seafood is abundant. Although pork products are not widespread, they can still be found in certain supermarkets and in tourist hotels.
- Harissa: very hot, spicy chilli paste (sometimes made milder with carrots or yoghurt), served with bread and olive oil as an appetiser to almost any meal.
- Shorba Frik: Lamb soup
- Coucha: Lamb shoulder cooked with turmeric and cayenne pepper
- Khobz Tabouna(pronounced: Khobz Taboona): traditional bread baked in the oven.
- Brik (pronounced breek): very crispy thin dough with a whole egg (brik à l’œuf), parsley and onions and sometimes meat such as minced lamb or tuna (brik au thon). Very tasty as an inexpensive starter. Eat it very carefully with your fingers.
- Berber lamb: Lamb cooked in a clay pot with potatoes and carrots.
- Merguez: small spicy sausages.
- Salade tunisienne: lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives, radishes mixed with tuna.
- Salade méchouia: A salad of puréed grilled vegetables (often seasoned with harissa), served with olive oil and tuna.
- Fricassé: Little fried sandwiches with tuna, harissa, olives and olive oil.
- Tunisian pastries: sweets related to baklava.
- Bambaloni: deep-fried, sweet, donut-like cake served with sugar.
- Tunisian “fast food”: sandwiches, makloubs (folded pizzas)
Regrettably, restaurant culture in Tunisia is very underdeveloped and most food prepared in restaurants outside Tunisian homes or souks is disappointingly bland and carelessly presented. These characteristics run the gamut of prices, although occasionally you can eat tasty couscous or “coucha” stew in some budget restaurants. In Tunisia, the best chance of getting a good meal is to be invited to someone’s house as a guest or to eat at an open-air market food stall.
Drinks in Tunisia
Being an advanced Muslim country, the availability of alcohol is limited (but not severely) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, holiday areas and magasin général shops. Major department stores (Carrefour in Marsa/Carthage) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, as well as some local and imported hard liquor, except on Muslim holidays. Female travellers should be aware that outside resorts and areas with high concentrations of tourists, they may find themselves having a beer in a smoky bar full of men drinking in a more dedicated manner. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others will ask for a passport to check nationality. Look around a bar before you decide to drink!
- Beer: Locally, Celtia is the most popular brand, but in some places you can find imported pilsner beer. The locally brewed Löwenbräu is decent, and Heineken is planning a Tunisian brewery in 2007. Celtia “En Pression” (On Tap) is good. Celestia is a non-alcoholic beer that is also popular.
- Wine: Most places that serve alcohol have Tunisian wine, which is quite good. Tunisian wine has always been produced by French oenologists. Most of it was exported to France until the 1970s. What remained were wine cooperatives that produce 80% of the wine, which is mainly served to tourists. Since the privatisation of some parts of these cooperatives, international wine tastes have entered Tunisia. Small companies such as Domaine Atlas, St Augustin and Septune have succeeded in launching a new generation of Tunisian wines. Importing wine is extremely difficult because of the very high taxes. Some upscale hotel restaurants can miraculously find French or Italian wines for a price.
- Boukha: A typical Tunisian spirit distilled from figs.
- Coffee: is served strong in small cups. Tunisian cappuccinos are also served in strong, small cups.” Many tourist areas sell ‘coffee creamers’, which may also appear in ‘American cups’. Local favourites are the Capucin (espresso macchiato) and the Direct (latte).
- Tea: generally drunk after meals.
- Mint tea: very sweet peppermint tea taken at any time of the day.