Mediterranean Cuisine, Tunisian Style
Sousse, “The Pearl of the Sahel,” is Tunisia’s third largest city and situated on Tunisia’s central, eastern coast. It is an ideal point of departure for exploring the rest of the country and is famous for its beaches, resorts, golf courses, marinas and its Mediterranean Cuisine.
At Patisserie Cherif in Sousse, my eyes danced over tray upon tray of pastries, cakes and cookies. The enticing variety of culinary delights made it almost impossible to make a choice. Also on offer were eighteen, mouth watering flavours of gelato and sorbet. “Pistachio is by far our most popular flavor,” explained Hamda Cherif , owner of Patisserie Cherif, which was founded in 1954.
Hamda uses only natural ingredients in his bakeries (six in Sousse). “The most common ingredients are lemons, strawberries, bananas, mangos, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio, and of course dates, chocolate, coconut, butter and cream.” One of his most popular traditional cookies, is the Cornes de Gazelles, which translates into Gazelle’s Horns. These delicious cookies are made from simple ingredients. The dough is made with flour, butter and water, and the filling is comprised of almonds, sugar and orange flower water.
Patisserie Cherif is a local Sousse institution where customers are always lined up. Hamda says that he keeps his prices reasonable for the local people. Where else could you get two scoops of delicious gelato for less than one dollar Canadian?
Through the local Sousse network I found a small restaurant, Le Poisson d’or – exactly the kind of restaurant I love to discover – off the beaten track, simply furnished and barely evident as a restaurant from the outside. Its patrons are local people who go there for its excellent traditional Tunisian cuisine.
Nejib Abdeddaim, the owner, does not have a regular menu, as it changes from day-to-day, and is based on the fresh foodstuffs he finds in the local market. One morning, at 9:00 am sharp, I was delighted to join Nejib in the Sousse medina as he shopped for vegetables, fruit, meat and fish.
A stroll through the medina of Sousse is always an adventure, but food shopping with Nejib was a unique experience. The fish market, particularly, was a lively, raucous place where fishmongers shouted out their catch of the day along with prices, hoping to drown out their competitors.
Nejib’s purchases for the day included Sea Bass, lamb, veal, petites pois, carrots, tomatoes, apples and strawberries. After making these purchases, he decided that his lunch menu for the day would include “Lamb with Petite Pois.” His recipe for this dish is comprised of lamb, onions, fresh petites pois, green peppers, an artichoke cut in half and tomato paste, while seasonings include salt, pepper and chili powder.
Nejib pointed out that prices for produce had jumped 30% in the last year. It’s due, he explained, to Libya’s strong buying power. Libya borders Tunisia to the south, where much Tunisian produce is sold, thus, pushing prices up for Tunisians.
More about Tunisian Cuisine and foodstuffs
Whether sweet or savoury, Tunisian cuisine is diverse and typically Mediterranean. One of Tunisia’s most traditional dishes is couscous, made with semolina, meat (often lamb) or fish and vegetables. Chorba is a traditional spicy soup that uses Harissa, a very popular condiment made with red chilli peppers and garlic.
Locally grown produce includes dates, almonds, olives, tomatoes, a wide assortment of vegetables and oranges, grapes, apples, plums, strawberries, peaches, figs, prickly pears and melons. At every market in Tunisia, spices perfume the air – cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric and cumin.
Oranges are ubiquitous in Tunisia. Charming, seaside Sidi Bou Said, a suburb of Tunis, has orange trees lining its streets. Here, you’ll find a plethora of art and artisan shops and sparkling white stucco buildings accentuated with doors and shutters painted a brilliant Mediterranean blue.
Tunisia is rich in culture and history
Many civilizations have left their mark on Tunisia, resulting in a plethora of sites and places to visit: ancient Roman ruins, troglodyte houses of the Berbers, seaside forts, mosques with their tall, ornate minarets and medieval medinas selling all manner of goods and Tunisian handicrafts.
Tunisia’s geography is equally diverse. The Khroumirie Mountains in the north with their towering pine, cork and oak trees form a scenic backdrop to the green rolling hills that lead into them. The verdant north forms a stark contrast to the extreme south and the vast, golden Sahara with its endless, shifting dunes of sand as fine as powder.
Between the extremes of north and south, in the mid section, is the area for almond and peach trees, fields of barley, grazing sheep and miles of neat rows of olive groves many bordered by prickly pear hedges. Further south, closer to the Sahara the land becomes semiarid with dry, flat plains, little vegetation and dotted with oases with lofty date palm trees.
If you enjoy food, adventure, unique experiences and like to explore, Tunisia has much to offer. It also offers warmth and relaxation at its many Mediterranean resorts. A plus are the people of Tunisia who you’ll discover to be friendly, warm and welcoming