Tunisia Stories and Tips

My best meal...ever

Sadly we never found out the name (if it had one) of this little cafe tucked away in the depths of the medina. However, I shall never forget how much we enjoyed it and I would be depriving you if I did not tell you about it.

The cafe has two floors and is tiny; at first it seemed to be full, but then we looked up and spotted a tiny upper floor with a couple of tables so we tentatively entered the cafe. We couldn't see the stairs at first but the "waiter" beckoned us on and then pointed the way. We sat down at the front of this upper area and from there we could look down to see the cooking area, the other diners and people wandering by through the medina. There was no menu save for a small blackboard downstairs which we could not decipher. It was in Arabic, not French, leaving us with a challenge on our hands. In due course, the waiter appeared again and he started by wiping the plastic table cloth where we were sitting - it seemed to have no effect - his task completed it was as sticky as before! This young man, while friendly, spoke only minimal French, but he did his best to help us order. (In his filthy white overalls, he looked as if he might have also worked the night shift at the abattoir before coming here, but we were unperturbed.) How lucky it is that couscous is the same word the world over! That was me sorted - I had seen others eating something I fancied so no problems there! My partner, however, eats fish, but no meat. I explained this in French, but I wasn't sure how much he'd understood. I couldn't see anyone else eating fish who I could conveniently point at so we took a chance. We also ordered a bottle of water.

The waiter left a couple of pieces of paper on the table before descending with the order. He returned with an enormous bottle of water, two glasses, and a huge loaf of crusty bread from which he tore off a massive hunk and placed it on the table.

While we waited for our food, we wathed our fellow diners; it was lunch time and most diners seemed to be fairly smartly dressed so we imagined them to be local business people on a lunch break. Everyone was talking loudly and with purpose, excitedly talking with friends and colleagues. Almost directly below us we could see into the hive of activity that was the kitchen. A huge basket of eggs sat on the edge of the counter and seemingly every couple of seconds a hand reached into it and took a couple more to crack into a frying pan. My food arrived first and, moments later, my partner was presented with a plate of chips and an egg. Thankfully there was no meat on it, but was a plate of chips really all I had managed to order after all of that hard work?

My couscous was delicious. A huge mound of grain a more than generous pile of tasty vegetables, three lamb chops and a lovely spicy sauce over the top. Usually in hot weather I struggle to eat very much but I found an unheard of appetite! The bread was great for mopping up the juices and I greedily ploughed my way through this feast while my partner ate egg and chips!

But . . . when almost all the chips were gone, the waiter re-appeared with a beautifully cooked fish! Whether this was intentionally served in this way or whether it had simply been forgotten, we don't know, but it was very good fish and had been cooked in spices like paprika and turmeric making a tasty coating. Watching some other diners we realised what the paper we had been given was for. It was in lieu of a napkin/serviette. We followed suit, but the paper was so thin and shiny it served only to move around our faces the remains of our meal! We didn't care though - there was nothing else to use and everyone else was doing it so we followed suit.

We payed as we left at a high table, behind which a very old man was perched. Again, on the table was more paper in case you wanted to try once more to move the lamb juices around your face!

If you look around the medina you will find this place. Do eat there - I can't recommend it enough. Delicious food (less than £4 for two meals, the bread, and a huge bottle of water) and great surroundings. The best experience of my day in Tunis!

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