On my return from a long weekend in Tunisia, I had to allow myself a few days to digest all that I encountered. The fusion of sights, colour, sound as well as all the inspiring people we met, the hidden corners we explored, and the amazing food in Tunisia we ate – it was overwhelming. But in a good way.
For some, food is just sustenance, fuel to keep the body going. Not for me. Growing up, food was and still is an important part of my life, and it’s often the only time when everyone, family and friends, can congregate together. Catching up over a homecooked meal is always an enjoyable event. I’m the type of person who plans everything around food – and when I travel, discovering the different types of dishes is just a natural part of my travelling psyche. Travel and food have a symbiotic relationship. Discover the food, you’ll then discover the beating heart behind the destination’s traditions, culture and heritage.
A Guide To The Food of Tunisia
After trying a raft of different delicacies in Tunisia that have been influenced by so much of its history and geography including Italy and France, Tunisian plates are varied, distinctive and full of flavour. So if you’re stuck on what to eat in Tunisia, follow this guide to the best food of Tunisia.
If it looks like a doughnut, then the chances are it is a doughnut! Yay. Bamboulinis are Tunisian doughnuts deep-fried and sprinkled in sugar or smothered in honey. They are delectable, delicious and can be eaten at any time of the day. Chances are, you won’t be able to resist walking by a bamboulini stall and the smell as they’re being freshly prepared.
Brik is a staple of Tunisian cuisine – a savoury fried pastry parcel with an assortment of fillings including tuna and egg, seasoned meat and potato and I even saw a carbonara brik on offer. Great as a snack or served as a starter in many restaurants. They’re really moreish.
I tried bsissa mixed with stewed fruits as a dessert, and it was such an interesting combination of flavours. Bsissa reminded me a lot of peanut butter, but much better. Bsissa is based on flour of roasted barley combined with a variety of spices and mixed with olive oil into a paste. This is then typically eaten with dates or figs for a quick meal which is energy-rich and healthy.
A traditional North African dish, Chorba is a staple on Tunisian tables and is a hearty, filling soup traditionally made with lamb or mutton, spiced with garlic, paprika, cayenne and tomato. I had a bowl of steaming hot chorba served from a tureen, and the lamb was melt-in-the-mouth tender and tasty.
What to eat in Tunisia? If you want to find a popular Tunisian recipe then couscous is the one! Not only is this Tunisia’s national dish, but its a firm favourite – as it’s so versatile, and can be made with meat, vegetables and fish. It was on every menu and widely available, so impossible not to at least have a few times! There are many variations of Tunisian couscous which is steamed with the vegetable and meat broth and served with potatoes and chickpeas.
Fricassé is a Tunisian snack brought from a street vendor, that is not only seriously cheap (0.6 dinar/15p), but really, really simple and tasty. It’s a savoury doughnut much like a bread roll, filled with tuna, olives, potatoes, boiled egg and harissa. Fast food but healthy.
This long-established Tunisian plate is a very popular fish dish. It can be made from a variety of fish, but traditionally with white fish or tuna. There are different variations but the fish is cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, capers, harissa and vegetables including olives. I ate this Tunisian recipe with the whole fish cooked in the sauce, so if you’re not into fish bones and the head, avoid!
Eaten as a sweet treat in Tunisia, we saw makroudh being served up at lots of different vendors in the Medina and the food market. A traditional sweet semolina pastry filled with dates and nuts or almond paste. They have a distinctive shape and are scrumptious.
Bread is a staple across the world in every cuisine and in Tunisia, the mlawi flatbread is served up at every meal – to accompany savoury dishes including stews, or just with honey. I had it for breakfast with eggs and shakshuka (see below) but could have quite happily munched on it by itself. A pancake-like bread made from semolina, salt and butter, it’s a must-try.
Tagine in Tunisia is a departure from the Moroccan stew that is cooked in the vessel of the same name. In Tunisia, a tagine is similar to a frittata and made from a gorgeous mixture of meat, potato, spices, and onions stirred into beaten egg and cheese, then baked. What’s not to love?
Shakshuka, which dates back to the Ottoman Empire, means ‘all-mixed up’ in Arabic and is widely found in North Africa and the Middle East. The reason it’s made it to the list is that I devoured a shakshuka at breakfast over two days and couldn’t get enough of it. Poached eggs in a spiced tomato and pepper sauce, it is so yummy especially accompanied by Tunisian flatbread and makes for a great brunch or lunch dish, too.