I'm going to backpack around Tunisia for a couple weeks - unfortuantely one of the weeks coincides with Ramadan. I guess I'll spend a few days in Tunis, a few days in the beach resorts, and a week in the Roman ruins / desert / countryside.
I know very little about Tunisian cuisine - but does anyone have any recommendations? I love seafood though.
Tunisian, at least urban Tunisian, is a fantastic mix on middle eastern spices, french style and Mediterranean ingredients. I still remember the sandwiches the best. Falafel, kofta (like), and veg, all served with fries stuffed in them. A good cous cous was hard to find, but the french restraunts in Tunis were fab. I had the best steak au pois at a place called the Galaxy or something like that (it has been 10 years now). The cafes are the place to be, some are french and have good coffees and cakes, others are arabic and have great mint tes, shishas and batgammon. The local wines are were really great too. We drank tons of rose, nie and dry, but not ful of tannins. Anyway, have fun, food is one of the highlights of the Maghreb.
Check out the Central Market, a few blocks from the main entrance to the Medina in Tunis. Go early and stroll. The fish, including glistening sardines and plump baby octopus are pristine, in fact the whole market is clean and inviting. Explore the perimeter where there are a number of spice shops, wholesale and retail and
at least when I was there in August, mounds of dried, smoked peppers with intoxicating smells and several different preparations of harissa, some brighter tasting, some smokier, all with great depth... add a little local olive oil, perhaps some tuna and a hunk of bread...heaven.
Eat local fish whenever you can get it grilled, near the water.
Try bric - a cross between a crepe and filo, usually prepared as a packet -filling varies- fried.
Check out whatever is in season..in August the figs were sweet, unctuous and bursting out of their skins...peaches as good as the best I've had in the SF Bay Area and at 1/10th the price.
I recently was in Tunisia for 9 months, and I can definitely give you some suggestions.
a) In the Medine:
i) Dar el Jeld, Dar Essaraya, Dar Bel Hadj, Hamouda Pacha- these are all fany restaurants, traditional, all in old beautifully decorated houses in the medina. Dar el Jeld is the famous one, and it's right near the entrance from the casbah. I would reccomend either Dar Bel Hadj, or Dar el Jeld. FOR DINNER
ii) FOR LUNCH- when coming from Porte de France arch, on the main road to the Zitouna mosque, right before you enter into the open area in front of the mosque, there is a local, cheap restaurant that serves 5-6 specials each day, varying. It is on the right when facing the medina. I liked the merguez, my friend would get the chicken farci each time.
b) Along Medina:
i) Off of avenue Bourghiba, the street behind the French embassy, is a great sandwhich place. Get it for lunch, they are shawarma's. The word for bread is hobs. The place is called Mamma Mia.
ii) La Mamma, L'Orient, and Chez Nous- each touristy for dinner. lunch. Ask for lunch menu if you go to Chez nous.
**iii) BEST FISH IN TUNIS! Chez Slah. Make a reservation for dinner. 14 bis, Rue Pierre de Coubertin- 71 258 588/ 71 332 463. It is so worth the price. Full grilled fish, incredible, and if you can, ask what the fresh fruit is for dessert, and get the fresh whipped cream with it if they have it. It comes in the actual whipped aluminum bowl
iv) if you are near place republique, there is Maya cafe, and you can get a good sandwhich there also.
*** Don't mind trying sandwhiches off the street. I didn't get sick once from the food (just the water). If you see keftaji on the menu, try it out. If you don't like it, it's only $2.
*** Bars in Tunis: La Maison Blanches, Niel's, any of the restaurants on Avenue Bourghiba
i) Look in your guide, there are some decent restaurants in Carthage. Le Neptune. Also, if you want to spend some money on a drink, of spend $$ on a very fancy dinner, eat at the Villa Didon. It's a boutique hotel in Carthage, BEAUTIFUL.
ii) Best FRENCH bakery, and they're tunisian goods are excellent also...CHARLOTTE.
III) Sidi Bou Said:
i) Au Bon Vieux Temps- fancy
ii) Look at your guide, the restaurants are all decent.
iii) Tam Tam- good for lunch, trendy families fill the place with their children at lunchtime.
IV) La Marsa:
i) Expensive, trendy, good food...Le Golfe.
ii) Hotel plaza corniche for kischy bar. I think owned by an american! Near the TGM La Marsa stop
iii) In Marsa ville, grab a sandwiche from Sandwhicherie El Bey (I forgot if it's sandwhicherie, but i know it's with El Bey)
iv) Koubet el Haoua/ Piano Bar/ restaurant on stilts on Marsa Place- on the beach, food is ok, i would rather go to Le Golfe.
***There's more, but I hope i've helped you start...have a great trip, if you want addresses and numbers to these places, respond back.
As an update, I've checked out many of these places in the past year.
-The restaurant described on the touristic street right in front of the Zitouna Mosque is Mahdaoui. Sometimes their food is delicious, including tasty and spicy couscous. Sometimes though, it's not so great. Variable like so many Tunisian restaurants. Best to get there early, before 1pm, while the food is still reasonably fresh.
-I agree that Chez Slah can be delicious. Reservations recommended as it is small and often full.
-Chez Nous is Ok sometimes, but quality variable. Had burnt fish last time I was there. Flavorless desserts.
-Dar el Jeld, Dar Bel Hadj and their "palace" counterparts are mediocre value for money. Fine if you don't mind spending a lot of money for just OK food and so-so service. Better choice is to come for a cocktail at Dar el Jeld and check out the interesting decor. Or just stop by and knock on the door during the day and they will let you have a brief tour of the premises.
-Villa Didon restaurant also overpriced considering just OK quality now that Alain Ducasse has left. But I recommend you come here for a beer and sit on the terrace with its lovely views of the Gulf of Tunis.
-Au Bon Vieux Temps in Sidi Bou Said has a nice view but the food is resolutely mediocre. Unmemorable Tunisian dishes.
-Hotel Plaza Corniche in La Marsa is kind of cute/tacky for a beer, especially when all of nouveau riche Tunis comes out to strut their stuff on the weekends.
-Tam Tam in Sidi Bou Said offers pizzas that taste like cardboard.
-Charlotte Bakery in Carthage is not bad, but I'm more excited about Le Gourmet bakery in front of the French school (Lycee Cailloux) in La Marsa. Delicious muffins appropriately titled "Delices."
-Le Neptune in Carthage has pretty waterfront views and nothing-special food.
-The sandwich shop in Marsa Ville discussed above is called Waled el-Bey (Son of the Bey) and is located directly across from the TunisAir office. The sandwiches can be pretty good, particularly the shawarma. Very greasy.
-I agree that the Central Market in Tunis is a fun place to look around and sample some of Tunisia's delicious produce.
-I disagree about the quality of French restaurants in Tunis. With very few exceptions (Chez Slah), they do not live up to the quality of food preparation one might expect in much of France or in a more cosmopolitan city.
I include a few other suggestions and thoughts here:
Please do share your thoughts! I would love to hear more reflections on positive and not-so-positive experiences with Tunis culinary life.