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Taste of the Future

TUNISIAN

The rose-scented, spice-tinged cuisine of Tunisia is a tapestry woven of Berber, French, Andalusian, and Ottoman flavors. It's the next Moroccan (but with a kick).

At coastal restaurants around Tunis, sparkling Mediterranean sea bass costs a fraction of the price it fetches on the French or Italian Riviera. In the Casbah, you dine at old palaces, surrounded by marble and mosaic tiles. You'll be served mechoui, grilled vegetables blended into a savory jam; shorba frik, a soup thick with meat, green wheat, and pasta; and clay-baked lamb with rosemary and cumin. Dipping bread into just-pressed green oil, you might think of the Phoenicians, who planted olive trees here in the ninth century b.c.

If the Moroccan tagine is a hearty-sweet casserole, here it appears as a quiche-like concoction of vegetables and morsels of meat bound with eggs. Your couscous will be spicier and more moist than it is in Morocco, likely to include fish, chiles, and delicate fennel fronds. Eat it with a glass of tart buttermilk and a dab of harissa, the fiery epitome of local gastronomy. Then try the ubiquitous brik à l'oeuf, a deep-fried triangle of pastry around a (still runny) egg. Nibbling on makhroud, semolina and date confections, between sips of mint tea, you're thrilled to have arrived at the final frontier of Mediterranean cooking.

WHERE TO EAT IT

AT HOME Jamila's Café 7808 Maple St., New Orleans; 504/866-4366; dinner for two $60. Cosmopolitan and warm, with authentic renditions of brik (deep-fried pastry) with shrimp, lamb on saffron rice, stuffed calamari with rose tomato sauce and house-made merguez sausage.

ABROAD Dar El Jeld 5 Rue Dar El Jeld, The Casbah, Tunis; 216-1/560-916; dinner for two $60. A kitchenful of female chefs prepare exalted fish couscous, stuffed lamb shoulder, fragrant tagines, and briks in a grand medina house in the center of town.

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