Barely Maintaining My Weight in Tunisia

After gorging myself on the lard-dripping food of Eastern Europe, I was looking forward to the lighter olive oil infused food of Mediterranean Tunisia. On our first day in the country we followed the advice of our Rough Guide and went to a nice cafeteria/pizza joint near the entrance to the medina. We looked at the food they had on display and everyone agreed it looked tasty. Anne took the kids to find a seat and I ordered two different pizzas with the fewest ingredients on them, chocolate pancakes, a Tunisian chicken dish for Anne, and sandwiches for me and Dax. They rang me up and the cost of the meal including drinks was under $15. Tunisia was shaping up to be another good, cheap place to eat.

After paying, I ran the sandwiches and pancakes to the family and went back to wait for the pizzas. In our family, pizza is a common meal. At home the feuds over whether to order Domino’s or Pizza Hut have almost turned bloody. But one thing they all agree on is they like their pizzas plain. I can occasionally slip a pepperoni or a ham topping in the mix to keep it interesting and Anne might spring for a barbeque chicken version, but the kids will always go with cheese, extra cheese, or extra extra cheese if they need to choose three toppings. I picked up the first pizza, and it appeared to be plain with the exception of a few olives. The second however was completely covered with tuna. I looked back at the menu and saw some variation of the word neptune in the description. That half a semester of french in college really wasn’t helping me on our first day in a French speaking country, but I should have recognized the Roman god of the sea and steered clear of this pizza. I told the woman behind the counter, “Merci,” and slinked away to the family. I dropped the pizza in the center of the table and waited for everyone’s response. I knew what would happen, but I did it anyway. “Yuck.” “What is that?” “Something stinks!” “What’s that fish smell?” I picked the pizza up and set it on a bench behind us and let everyone eat their other food. It was not a very good start to eating in Tunisia, and unfortunately it didn’t get much better.

Asher and Mac doing granpa louie impersanations and feeling bad about the food.

Everywhere we went in Tunisia we struggled to find a food we liked. I had very high hopes for their chicken and couscous dishes but each time we ordered them we found the chicken to be overcooked and the couscous dishes to be covered in a plain tomato sauce. We tried both local and tourist places in Tunis, Hammamet, Kairouan, Tozeur, and Matmata. In each case we failed to make any converts to Tunisian food or even find something we wanted to order a second time. I looked around at what the locals were eating and our tuna pizza was not an aberration. Almost all their dishes can be covered in canned tuna. As I looked at what they were ordering and tried to copy them the next time there was only one thing I found I liked and would go out of my way to eat again, giant legumes. These light green giant beans were the size of my thumbs. I’m not sure if these were fava beans. The locals just called them “legumes,” and they where a tasty addition to an otherwise bland meal. And they were my one highlight

I can assure you I tried to find others. The one food I had heard about before we arrived in Tunisia was a local concoction called a “brik.” The brik sounded like my kind of thing, a fried pastry the size of your hand filled with egg, cheese, and tuna. Unfortunately I had a hard time with the briks. I don’t know if it was the pastry or the way they cooked them, but usually they tasted like a grease sandwich without a strong flavor to overcome the grease. I am sure there are restaurants that do them in a way I would have liked, but we didn’t ever find one.

Tunisia was only the second place where everyone in the family struggled with food; the first was Cambodia. Perhaps we were missing something. Perhaps we are just too spoiled or perhaps we were not adventurous enough. We passed on camel steaks and as I am the only real seafood eater we didn’t enjoy any of the fruites de mare. (Now the French is kicking in.) After the first week of struggling to find a local dish or fast food we liked, I finally gave in and started ordering the same food each day from a local cafe. Each day I would walk into the same little cafe and order six paninis and six chocolate crepes. Some days I would do it twice. If I had a scale, I it would be nice to see how much weight I lost in Tunisia. I promise to gain it all back in Argentina.

A meat shop that only sales camel

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15 thoughts on “Barely Maintaining My Weight in Tunisia

  1. i enjoyed reading ur travel blog. and i thought tunisia would be a great place to eat. my … i would bring my own canned food when i travel there.

  2. My link has some realy good canned meats for your next trip out…. I spent 2 years in the Tonga Islands (South Pacific). The chickens there were TRUE free-range and tough as leather to eat. That increased my appreciation for KFC!

  3. Sorry to hear about your Tunisian experience, I have been here for the last 2 weeks and I’ve had AMAZING food. All the pattisseries (bakeries) with amazing treats, the rotisserie chicken, ojja, soups have been fantastic!

  4. I prefer some Mediterranean cuisine but I heard they use different types of cheeses there then we do and there milk is different as well. I have had pizza in Italy before and then also had it in London and it tasted completely different.

  5. Tunisia is famous for anything from the sea and if you try to eat fast foods there you will run into lots of strange and greasy ways to use tuna and the like. Stick with soups -Lablabi is great. Mechiouea salad(grilled vegetable)in olive oil. Merguez sausage sandwiches are great but make sure they cook it well done. Live on patisseries – french style breads and pastries are the best in tunisia. The yogurts and cheeses are first class. Stay away from drinking milk, because it is skim milk(with added pasturized fat) – Parmalat style – very very processed.

  6. I thought in Tunisia got a lot of great food to eat, why loss weight? Sorry to hear about your experience there, but what I’ve heard from my friend who visited there recently, mentioned that the food there were quite nice, maybe they have a tourist guide guiding them there.

  7. I am so sorry to hear that you didnt get to enjoy some of the real Tunisian food. I am Tunisian myself, I recognize that food in restaurants (or some of the 3 star’ hotels cuisine)isn’t near satisfying quality. The truth is that the popular food is below average quality which reflects the quality management and knowledge of the cooks. I should let you know that there are great restaurants in Tunis, but not many of those, and they would cost you more than a pizza slice for sure. It is quiet hard to satisfy people in Tunisia who may be picky (not talking about you), because the quality service is so easy to discuss and in general the Tunisian doesn’t spend time to understand what do people want. If you ever go back to Tunisia in 10 years, you’ll find the same thing again (No Progress)
    Again I am so sorry for what you went through in Tunisia (food wise),and I hope that’s all there is to complain about lol…Thank you for posting this so people would discover the reality.

  8. We had the same experience I’m sorry to say when we visited. I made up for the 4lbs I lost in Tunis when we went to Malta. It seems a shame they don’t enjoy more diverse dishes with more flavor when they seem to have all the ingredients they need at their finger tips to make some really excellent dishes. Everyone we talked with said they don’t like to cook anything different for some reason. After a week of it, it gets pretty old I’d have to say.

  9. Such a shame you had a bad experience! The key must be having a local with you. The breads, pasteries are truly worth the trip. We spent 2 weeks in Tunisia with a friend’s family. We enjoyed home cooked meals and dined at many restaraunts in Tunis and Sidi Bou Said. I fell in love with Tunisian food and purchased a local cookbook. By the end off my time there I was taking cooking lessons from the family. The summer vegtable salads are incredible. There were 3 I still make. Roasted eggplant, Shredded Carrot, and the Cucumber Tomato. We found the food to be anything but bland. We have our friends sent homemade herissa to us so we can keep making the couscous.

  10. So not true … i’m from Tunisia and you can find any thing you want but i guess you went to the wrong places , i think it would have been better if you had a local friend :)

  11. you didn’t like the food in tunisia may be because your a fat pig that only used to plain boring junk.

  12. because the quality service is so easy to discuss and in general the Tunisian doesn’t spend time to understand what do people want

  13. Wow! I am surprised by the many negative comments about Tunisian food/service including the ones coming from Tunisian people!! I am from Tunisia myself, been all over the world and currently living in America. If you compare Tunisian food to other cultural foods, it’s nothing worst than Turkish, Italian, French, Thai or Chinese food among others, each culture has the healthy and not so healthy options. If you choose street food or fast food of course it will be the greasiest and most abhorring, but if you choose a good restaurant or even better to eat at a local’s house (you need to be invited :) you will have a much better experience. For example: Coucsous is a healthy traditional Berber dish, the grains are wheat or semolina with a flavorful tomato sauce (with turmeric, coriander and other spices) with “legumes” which is French for Vegetables: Carrots, potatos, zuccini, pumpkim, peppers, onions, cabbage, you name it! The thick green vegetables are in fact fresh green fava beans! As far as pizza, I believe that Tuna can be too much for someone who never had it, but the cheese used in Tunisian pizza is much less greesy than the cheese used in American pizza (Especially Domino’s or pizza hut), what about the crust? No good word for the thin, stone baked crust?…how about the million different colorful, delicious salads? I’m sure you haven’t tried those either…To each their preferances but My native country deserves more credit.

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