Andrew’s Essential Fiery Foods that every Pryo-Gourmaniac needs to know Part 52

Andrew’s Essential Fiery Foods that every Pryo-Gourmaniac needs to know Part 52


Situated in North Africa, Tunisia is one of the Maghreb countries, the others being Algeria, Libya and Morocco. It has land borders with Algeria and Libya and a long 1,148km coastline on the Mediterranean.

The climate ranges from temperate rainy winters to very hot dry summers but although the interior is stony desert, the southern costal areas are very fertile as are some northern areas which also boast many forests, although these areas are not widely populated.

Most of her agriculture takes place in the southern coastal regions. There are also low mountains in the north-west.

The Republic of Tunisia gained its independence from France in March 1996, and afterwards it became a parliamentary republic. It currently has 24 administrative divisions which are further divided into 264 districts. The official language of the country is Arabic, but French hold a special status in the country’s society, being spoken by two-thirds of the population.

In 2017, over 11.34 million people lived in Tunisia, and the country’s capital, Tunis, was the city with the most inhabitants in the whole country. In 2013, the country registered its highest population increase – about 1.17 percent compared to the previous year – while the fertility rate remained stable throughout. The life expectancy is quite high in Tunisia, when compared to other African countries.

The History and Influences on Tunisian Cooking

The original Tunisians were Berbers, and today they make up around 60% of the population. Archaeological evidence shows that 10,000 years ago these peoples were hunter gatherers who mainly lived in caves.

The introduction of metals from Sicily  2000 B.C. was possibly the first major influence on the cuisine, especially that of the nomadic tribes whose cooking was limited by the pots and pans which they could carry with them. Although it’s obvious that cooking styles began to take shape at this time, it was the Phoenician maritime traders who had the next important effect on the native Berbers when they settled the coastal regions 1100 B.C., not least of which was their imparted knowledge of advanced agricultural methods.

Another major influence came by way the Romans in AD 146 when they conquered Carthage and who continued to rule North Africa until they were ousted by Germanic tribesmen from Europe in the fifth century. During this time many Roman veterans settled in the area and the growing of grain and later Olive oil for export to Rome and her deployed forces, became a major factor in the economic base of the region.

Over the centuries Arab, Turkish, Moorish, Spanish and French influences appear in Tunisian culinary  techniques and recipes which have combined to create a vibrant and spicy national cuisine which differs to that of her neighbouring countries.  Of the latter, special mention should be made of the Spanish influence, in particular their introduction of New World produces such as Chillies and sweet peppers to the region which is now so prevalent in the cuisine plus the development of egg based cookery.



Current Day Tunisian Cuisine

Tunisian cooking today is a mixture of desert nomad , Arab, early Greek, Turkish, Spanish, and French culinary traditions.

Not surprisingly, with the long coastline the abundance of freshly caught seafood and fish features heavily in the Tunisian diet. Wheat, in the form of Couscous is a staple and vegetables such as Chillies, Tomatoes, Capsicum, Eggplant and Pumpkins are widely used. Meat in Tunisia such as Lamb, Veal and Goat have a particular flavour due to their grazing on aromatic plants such as Thyme and Rosemary and the use of spices and herbs prevails throughout the cuisine.

Tunisians have their own version of Mezze, a group of vibrant tasting salads collectively called Kemia. These are anything from bowls of nuts and Olives to spiced Octopus or Squid, or salads and vegetables either flavoured with Chillies and other spices, Lemon juice and Olive oil or pickled.

A typical meal would begin with a soup followed by a main course which could be anything from roast meats, poultry and of course fish or stewed dishes often accompanied by couscous. Fresh fruits and pastries often end the meal.

You won’t find pork on the plate in the Muslim country – the most prominent meat in Tunisia is Lamb, followed immediately by Beef and Veal. Under certain circumstances, Camel meat can also land on the menu. Poultry such as Chicken, Turkey, and Ostrich are also often represented, as is fish. Along the coast, the range of fish and seafood is large – especially Tuna, which is one of the favourites among Tunisians. Grain is the most important staple food in the North African country. The wheat bread, semolina, and pasta made from it are the basis for many Tunisian dishes. The latter is certainly due to the Italian influence…

An important part of Tunisian cuisine is harissa, the popular, hot spice-paste made from fresh red Capsicum, Chilli, and Olive oil. Warning The varieties can be very very hot! Just the thought of it almost brings tears to my eyes, but it really makes me want the characteristic taste of the paste!

If you like soup, you will love this aromatic appetiser! The ingredients of Chorba include Tomatoes, Onions, Chickpeas, Coriander, and frik (wheat meal). What else is missing, Harissa, of course Chorba is served either vegetarian or with Lamb or Beef. The soup is boiled until the wheat grain and meat are nice and soft. In the end, the Chorba should have a creamy consistency. I especially like fresh flatbread they serve with it.

Delicious couscous, fiery vegetables, and freshly baked flatbread dipped in Olive oil are still at the top of my favourite foods list, evoking wistful memories of the warmth and scent of the country. The traditional durum wheat semolina, of course, props up many Tunisian dishes. It is usually served as a side-of-the-side dish and served in a large bowl so all diners can enjoy it to their heart’s content. Couscous is offered in all kinds of combinations: with vegetables, with elaborate meat or fish sauces, or as a fresh salad with Mint.

An important utensil in the Tunisian kitchen is the tajine, a round vessel with a lid for stewing food. The term includes both the vessel and the food that is prepared in it, such as casseroles and cakes. In the tajine, the ingredients are cooked with a little water and some spices together over an open fire, which intensifies the flavour of each ingredient. After a cooking time of several hours, the tajine is then set on the table for serving. I find the preparation in a tajine as simple as it is ingenious! During my last holiday in Tunisia, I took a ceramic tajine back with me and I like to use it at home. In my own kitchen, a simple stove must serve instead of an open fire, but that doesn’t spoil the taste.


A dish I can recommend to any wanting the true flavour of Tunisia is Chakchouka, The first time I had Chakchouka on the plate, it reminded me of Turkish menemen. The list of ingredients is definitely similar, Chakchouka uses a Tomato-Paprika sauce spiced with Harissa, which is covered, simmered, and later beaten. Once the Eggs have the desired consistency, the Chakchouka can be served with bread it’s so tasty.

Brik is the classic snack for in-between meals. Definitely a specialty that you shouldn’t miss in Tunisia! The Brik is a usually triangular, deep-fried pocket of fine-puff pastry, which is often filled with Tuna or minced meat and offered at street stalls. So ideal for satisfying a little appetite after a purchase in the market.

A little tip from me, Tunisians are hosts through and through! Usually, a guest should take seconds to demonstrate that they liked the food. Only then should you signal to your host that you are full. Or do as I do and just keep eating

Though not a universal truth, many Tunisian dishes are spicy. The cuisine in Tunisia is a mixture of Mediterranean cuisine and that of desert dwellers.

A particular Tunisian spice mix, known is Tabil, is used in many dishes. Tabil is made of Garlic, Cayenne or red Capsicum, Coriander and Caraway seeds.

The ingredients are often mixed in a mortar and dried beneath the rays of the sun. Beef, veal and game are the most common dishes to be flavoured using Tabil.

Though small, Tunisia has much variation in terrain and vegetation: windswept Mediterranean cliffs; fertile, rolling hills that remind one of Piedmont or Tuscany (Piemonte o Tuscano) in Italy; and sandy, desert dunes reminiscent of another world. In fact, southern Tunisia has served as the location for the production of numerous films, most famously, Star Wars Episode I, which since has attracted tourists to Tatouine. Its cuisine is equally heterogenous and hard to characterize: A mix of land meats (if this term does not already exist, then I officially claim it) and seafood; an abundance of sweet, tart citrus; and influenced by Mediterranean and Arab flavours and culinary techniques alike.

From the Mediterranean shores come its sea influence. Cold Tuna salad, Octopus, and Calamari are as easily found as simply grilled dorade or sea bass. Fish are often served simply with lemon and chips or rice – or a side of pasta, a common sign of Italian influence.

Inland, roast Lamb and Chicken are the most common main dishes. You might be startled to find your future meal – a giant, fresh Lamb carcass – literally hanging in front of your eyes as you order, only to find your cut of meat butchered in front of you and promptly grilled. You can’t say it isn’t fresh.

Both ashore and inland, Tunisia’s winter citrus crop seems endless. One day, we had the opportunity to pick at least four varieties of oranges, as well as lemons, from a small orchard. Fresh fruit is never hard to come by during Tunisian winters: Fruit carts can be found alongside busy city and village streets or even along some highways. Alongside citrus and seasonal fruits are sweet dates, ubiquitous throughout Tunisia and bought by the sprig (still on the branch) from vendors.

Sweets are serious in Tunisia. Bakeries are plentiful; their goods combine both French/European and Arabic flavours. They can be a bit on the sticky sweet side, but with Honey, Cardamom, Dates, and Pistachios on their side, it’s hard to resist a small pastry.