I am a travel blogger now but my previous career was as a food critic and I’ve tried to merge my two loves into a life. So when I was given the opportunity to travel to Tunisia, I really didn’t want to write a fluff piece on comparing flights to Palermo (just off of both Tunisia and Italy) versus flights to Enfidha (although I started to consider it because the costs are vastly different), I decided rather to do a little recon on how authentic the food was at the resort I was staying and whether tourists were adopting the local food and using the flavours to spice up their lives.
Hotel in Hammamet
I am a big fan of resorts, they offer soft sand and sea adventure in five-star safety. But what I love is the quality of food served. They take the ancient and local recipes, change it up and then blow your mind/taste buds. And surely the guests can feel the heat in the use of spices and combinations of flavours that surely ignites the burning embers of love.
Okay, maybe I’m getting too ahead of myself here and putting too much pressure on the food (expecting it to do all the work). But the delicious dishes that come out of Tunisia cannot be ignored.
Some people might stay shy of Tunisian food, expecting it to be incredibly spicy but many people forget that Tunisia has been influenced for centuries by a multitude of different cultures and therefore isn’t as spicy as people think.
The Food served (you may recognise some variations of these dishes)
- Tunisian Tajin, which is a crustless quiche (much like a frittata) made of eggs and chicken, quite fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside and delicious all the way around.
- The Brik’s are fried triangular pastries either made with an egg, parsley and chopped onion or capers, cheese and anchovies (they are like samosa’s but with a thinner pastry) served with Harissa (a compote made from cumin, garlic, fresh or dried chillies, olive oil and balsamic vinegar)
- Couscous is the main and most famous dish, served traditionally with a variety of meats, steamed vegetables and peppers. It is flavoured with Tabil (a spice mix made from red peppers, coriander, garlic and caraway seeds, pummelled in a mortar and sun-dried) that gives it an earthy warmth.
- One of my favourites is Ojja, a stew made from lamb (but can be any meat, even small sausages or seafood), olive oil, peppers, fresh tomatoes, egg and harissa. You can ask that they make it mild, never say “a little spicy”, because then it’s hot. Just say mild or no heat if that’s what you prefer. It won’t make it bland but you will lose some of the unique essence.
- Fruit is consumed religiously in Tunisia as a dessert but I chose rather to focus on the honey and nut-based sweet pastries. The date or almond filled Makroudh pastry made with semolina rather than flour, gives it that distinctive texture and taste. The other more recognisable dessert is Balkawa (like the Greek Baklava) flavoured with orange-blossom, syrup and filled with nuts (I found that some stalls in town didn’t serve it with almonds and draped it with honey).
I was pleasantly surprised that most of the hotel goers chose to eat at the hotel instead of finding more recognisable or know foods that they may be used to. Because not only does the holiday destination count but you need to also consider the type of food served. You know the sayings, “food for the soul” or “a way to the heart is through the stomach” (although the last saying sounds more like an extract out of Grey’s Anatomy Book.) Either way, food has always played an important role in culture and custom, so if you’re open to it, Tunisia offers a variety of exotic tastes to try out and fall in love with.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.