The most important tip I can give you on Tunisia local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Tunisia, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Tunisia
Tunisian cuisine is very much in the Northern African Maghreb tradition, with couscous and marqa stews (similar to the Moroccan tajine, however what Tunisians refer to as “tajines” are nothing like the Moroccan variety) forming the backbone of most meals. Distinguishing characteristics are the fiery harissa chili sauce, the heavy use of tiny olives which are abundant in the country, and tajines in Tunisia (not to be confused with their Moroccan counterparts) refer to a type of omelette-like pie prepared with a ragout of meat and/or vegetables mixed with ingredients such as herbs, legumes and even offal, then enriched with eggs and cheese and finally baked in a deep pie dish until the eggs are just set, somewhat like an Italian frittata. Lamb forms the basis of most meat dishes. Local seafood is plentiful.
Not all food is over spicy and there are many local specialities to try.
- Some Top Choices to try:
- A fiery plate of Harissa
- Shorba Frik – lamb soup
- Coucha – shoulder of lamb cooked with turmeric and cayenne pepper
- Khobz Tabouna – (pronounce Khobz Taboona) traditional oven baked bread
- Brik – very crispy thin pastry with a whole egg (Brik à l’oeuf), parsley and onions and perhaps, meat too e.g. minced lamb or tuna (Brik au thon).Very tasty as an inexpensive starter. Eat it very carefully with your fingers.
- Berber Lamb – Lamb cooked with potatoes, carrots in a clay pot.
- Merguez – small spicy sausages.
- Salade Tunisienne – lettuce, green pepper, tomato, onions, olives, radishes all finely chopped mixed with tuna.
- Tunisian cakes – specialities are made with dates or almonds, also Baklava. There is an almond orange cake often served for breakfast.
- Harissa – very hot spicy chili paste (sometimes made more mild with carrots or yogurt), served with bread as a starter at almost any meal.
- Fricasse – small fried sandwich with tuna, harissa, olives and olive oil.
- Bambaloony – fried sweet donut-like cake served with sugar.
Regrettably, Tunisia has a very underdeveloped restaurant culture. There are the local restaurants inhabited by Tunisians serving very cheap food and the tourist restaurants. One can occasionally eat tasty couscous or “coucha” stew in some low-priced restaurants. One’s best hope for good eating in Tunisia is to be invited as a guest in someone’s home.
What to Drink in Tunisia
Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores (Carrefour at Marsa/Carthage) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays.
Female travelers should be aware that, outside resort and areas of significant tourist concentration, they may find themselves with a beer in a smoky bar full of men drinking in a rather dedicated fashion. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality. Look around a bar before you decide to imbibe!
When self-catering, be sure to stock up on beer around Muslim holidays. Cafes and magasins générals may run out of beer and it can take a few days before they have enough.
Beer – Celtia is the popular local brand, but some places also carry imported pilsner beers. Locally brewed LowenBrau is decent, and Heineken is planning a Tunisian Brewery in 2007. Celtia “En Pression” (On Tap) is good. Celestia is a non-alcoholic beer which is also popular.
- Wine – Most places that serve alcohol will have Tunisian wine, which is quite good. Tunisian wine always was produced by French oenologists. Most of it was exported to France until the 1970s. Wine cooperatives were left and produce 80% of the wine which is served mostly to tourists. Since the privatisation of some parts of these cooperatives the international taste of wine entered the market in Tunisia. The small companies like Domaine Atlas, St. Augustin, Ceptunes etc. have successfully established the new generation of Tunisian wine. Importation of wine is extremely difficult because of very high taxes. Some high-end hotel restaurants can make French or Italian wines miraculously appear at a price.
- Boukha- is a Tunisian brandy made from figs.
- Coffee – served strong in small cups. Tunisian cappuccino is also served strong in small cups. “Cafe Creme” is available in many tourist areas and may even appear in an “American Cup”.
- Tea – is generally taken after meals.
- Mint Tea – very sweet peppermint tea that is taken at any time of the day.
- Fehria – ask for it
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.