Food is an amazing way to connect with a culture. There is inevitably an exchange that takes place: Travelers discover tasty new foods for the first time, and those who cooked them are honored to see guests enjoy the cuisine so connected with their country. Tunisia, with its long history of Mediterranean culinary influences, is no exception to this phenomenon! Unfortunately, many of the 6 million tourists who come through Tunisia each year do not stray from the tourist zones, and thus miss out on this simple way to meaningfully connect with the Tunisia we know.
Recently I took part in a culinary experience in Sousse that was engaging and that left my taste buds amazed! Madame Rabaa, our host, has years of experience cooking for her family, and recently for visitors who come to stay at her Bed and Breakfast, Dar Omi. She welcomed 3 travelers, and my colleague and me, into her home. She took us to a traditional market in Sousse’s old city to show us how most Tunisians do their shopping for meals. After picking out some fish and a large octopus in the fish market, she showed us what to look for when buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Loaded with several kilos of fresh ingredients, we headed back to her home and spent the rest of the afternoon helping her in the kitchen. Madame Rabaa’s knowledge of cooking was profound -we learned techniques such as how to perfectly boil an octopus, peel an artichoke, and wash strawberries. With 7 of us working together, we prepared 3 starters (Tunisian salad, octopus salad, and brik), 3 main courses (a Tagine with fish and vegetables, shakshuka with spring vegetables, and octopus cooked in a tomato sauce), and a strawberry fruit salad for dessert. For each dish we learned the ingredients and what to think about when preparing it. Total preparation time was 4 hours, so when we sat down to eat together we fully appreciated the fruit of our labor! The meal was truly delicious!
But the afternoon was more than about learning to cook and enjoy Tunisian food. It was about connecting and relating. We learned about life in a Tunisian home, about Tunisia’s recent revolution and the impact it’s had on the country, and what life is like for young people. We got to know the 3 travelers who had come from London and Sweden, and they got to know my colleague and I who have been living in Tunisia the last 3 years. The food was fantastic, and the new friends we all made is what made it meaningful!
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