Tunisia Culture: Food

Tunisia Culture: Food Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

Tunisian cooking is a blend of European, Oriental and desert dweller's culinary traditions. Its distinctive spicy fieriness comes from neighbouring Mediterranean countries and the many civilizations who have ruled Tunisian land -- Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Turkish, French, and the native Berber.

Many of the cooking styles and utensils began to take shape when the ancient tribes were nomads. Nomadic people were limited in their cooking by what locally made pots and pans they could carry with them. A I is really the name of a conical-lidded pot, although today we apply the same word to what is cooked in it.

Unlike other North African cuisine, Tunisian food is spicy hot. There is an old wife's tale that says a husband can judge his wife's affections by the amount of hot peppers she uses when preparing his food. If the food becomes bland then a man may believe that his wife no longer loves him. However when the food is prepared for guests the hot peppers are decreased to suit the more delicate palate of the visitor.

Couscous is the national dish of Tunisia and can be prepared in a dozen different ways. It is cooked in a special kind of double boiler called a couscousiere. Meat and vegetables are boiled in the lower half. The top half has holes in the bottom through which the steam rises to cook the grain which is put in this part. Cooked this way the grain acquires the flavour of whatever is below. The usual grain is semolina. To serve, the grain is piled in the middle of a dish, and the meat and vegetables put on top. A sauce can be then poured over before serving.

Other popular Tunisian dishes include:

Chorba -- soup with lots of pepper.

Brik -- tiny parcels of minced lamb, beef, or vegetables and an egg wrapped in thin pastry and deep fried (pictured). Brik is very popular, but requires careful eating with your fingers if the egg is not to trickle down your chin.

Bouza -- rich and sticky sorghum and hazelnut cake.

Chakchouka -- ratatouille with chick peas, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions served with a poached egg.

Felfel mahchi -- sweet peppers stuffed with meat, usually lamb, and served with harissa sauce.

Guenaoia -- lamb or beef stew with chillies, okra, sweet peppers and coriander.

Harissa -- hot red pepper sauce used with almost any main dish.

Koucha -- whole baby lamb baked in a clay case with rosemary.

Lalabli -- rich garlicky soup made with chickpeas.

Makroud -- semolina cake stuffed with dates, cinnamon and grated orange peel.

Mechouia -- an hors d'oeuvre of grilled sweet peppers, tomatoes and onions mixed with oil lemon, tuna fish and hard-boiled eggs.

Mhalbya -- cake made with rice, nuts and geranium water.

Salata batata -- a hot (in every sense) potato salad flavoured with caraway seeds.

Samsa -- layers of thin pastry alternated with layers of ground roast almonds, and sesame seeds, baked in lemon and rosewater syrup.

Merguez -- small spicy sausages.

Tagine -- a stew.

Tagine ez Zitoun -- veal and olive I.

Tagine J'bin -- cheese I.

Tagine Maadnus -- spinach I.

Torshi -- turnips marinated with lime juice and served with I sauce.

Yo-yo -- donuts made with orange juice, deep fried then dipped in honey syrup.

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