A Street Style Supper in Tunisia

On a recent business trip to Morocco and Tunisia, I got to eat at the local haunts. The places the local people go to and have a great meal with little fuss and a lot of flavour.

My first impression of North African people, is their ability to converse with absolutely everyone all of the time. From taxi driver to waitron to business colleagues, one gets the feeling they have known you forever and it is hard not to be drawn in to the very fast spoken French and Arabic mix. It turns out I look enough like a Tunisian to be considered a local. Until I open my mouth.

Instead of doing all the touristic eating places, my host decided to show me the real deal. After a long day of meeting customers and talking shop we decided to stop for a meal at a place called “Arous el Bahr” the Mermaid (La Sirene) located at 35 Av. Franklin Roosevelt, La Goulette, Tunisia. The place looks like a narrow alley filled with ice shelves on which you will find all kinds of fish, prawns, octopus, calamari and mussels. On the wall you will find a roll of carrier bags and you walk through the alley choosing fresh catch from the sea, queen size prawns, calamari, fresh sardines, garopa, octopus and you fill this into your bags. Word of caution be careful not to choose too much. Your eyes want more than your stomach can handle.

There is a cashier at the end, and he weighs the bags, one of course for each type of sea yummies. You pay for the food and he scribbles a number for you to take whilst the bags get labelled with the same number. You are then ushered into another part of the shop, past the coal grills already cooking someone else’s food, up the stairs to the balcony where you find simple chairs and tables, clean but spare. You are not here for any extravagant or plush aesthetics. You are here, simply for good food.

Here the waiter takes your number and offers you a dog eared menu for sides and drinks. One thing I noticed is that baguette is readily available everywhere and enough for a meal on its own, not tasters like you get at restaurants back home. Along with harissa, olives and olive oil. The sides are small and are there to accompany the fish not to take over. One of the sides, was a mix of brinjal, peas, tomatoes and onions and of course garnished with more olives. The other was a salad finely chopped and served with tinned tuna on top. Freshly squeezed pomegranate or orange juice along with bottled water is always available.

After sampling the sides and the bread and the exceptional olives, the fish arrives. The fish is the real deal. Nothing more than lemon juice has been used so you get the taste of the sea harvest au naturale and grilled to perfection. The fish is firm, the prawns just right and the calamari and octopus are exactly how it should be. You might think this meal lacks flavour, but it hits the spot so far as fresh sea food goes and if you need some heat or flavour, the harissa is there as the perfect condiment. Did I mention there were no eating plates? It must have slipped my mind coz we were so busy eating communally from the serving plates in front of us.

The place is bustling, the noise is comforting, just groups of people chatting and enjoying really good food. As one group leaves their places refilled by the next. Needless to say there was lots left over and it took us a couple of blocks of walking along the promenade to digest this incredible meal before heading back to the hotel.

By Zulfikar Umar


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *