When I say Tunisia, you say….? I can honestly say that before we planned this trip to Tunis, I knew nothing about the country and just figured that it would be something like Marrakesh…Our main reason for originally planning to travel to Tunisia was to see the remains of the Star Wars film set. Rahim claimed that they were disappearing in the sand so we had to go now. Still not sure if that’s true and even though I’m not a Star Wars fan, I thought I’d let him have this one since I had been planning on adding Paris into our travels and it never hurts to let him think he’s gotten a win. Anyway, by the time we arrived in Tunis, I had learned that there were more than just movie sets to visit, but that the vast majority of people we spoke to who had travelled to Tunisia, had gone for the beautiful beaches. Score! So, armed with a bottle of SPF 45 sunscreen, a good book, and flip flops, we landed in Tunis.
What we learned is that Tunisia is SO much more than the beaches and unique in so many ways. It is a country of kind and friendly people, diverse history (Roman ruins, the birthplace of the Fatimid Empire…), art (mosaics galore!), hammams, unique foods, and a vibe of its own. It is unfortunately also the place where I caught some sort of stomach bug and landed sick in bed for a few days 😦 While this allowed Rahim to get to know Tunis really well (see the earlier post for his adventures in Tunis!), it did not allow us to explore the country as much as we would have liked. This means no Star Wars film sets, no camel rides in the desert, no visit to the Bardo Museum, and no ride on the louage (carpool bus) to El Djem to see the second largest Roman amphitheater in the world. But even without these things and even though I was in bed sick for so many days, the experiences that we did have in Tunisia were enough to make me fall in love with this country.
Besides the beautiful doors and mosaics, I think what I will remember most is the delicious Tunisian food. The couscous dishes were incredible and so were the street “crepe” sandwiches, but my most memorable meals were poisson complet. Basically, this means a grilled whole fish served with salad and/or fries and of course, some bread with harissa waiting for you on the table (you really can’t have a meal in Tunisia without being offered harissa). Our first experience with this dish was at La Goulette, a coastal town famous for its seafood restaurants. The main street has restaurant after restaurant after restaurant with displays of fresh fish in the front and waiters inviting you to come eat at their spot. Rahim and I strolled down the strip and checked out menus and the vibe at each spot before picking Poissons D’Or (at least that’s what we think it was called!).
This place was half fish market and half restaurant. Instead of ordering off of a menu, the first part of this meal is actually picking your fish. You’re given a plastic bag and told to walk around the fish market and basically put whatever you want into your bag (Rahim did this part!). Then they weigh it and charge you for the fish and a separate fee to cook it. The man behind the cash register hollers at another man who runs over and places the fish into a tray to be taken to the back for cleaning and eventually your food makes its way over to the kitchen and onto your plate. It was all a little confusing, but a lot of fun and definitely delicious.
So our time in Tunisia did not really let us check-off many boxes on the ‘must-see’ list, but I feel that what we did get was a week immersed in the culture of the country. That was enough for us, at least this time around….Looking forward to our next visit!
Our Tunisia Recommendations:
Where to stay:
- Chez Isabelle et Selim through AirBnB – https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/1128813
- La Chambre Bleue B&B – http://www.lachambrebleue.net
What to eat:
- Poisson Complet in La Goulette and/or at the tiny restaurant just outside the fish market in Tunis.
- Brik (you will have to look it up to understand exactly what it is, but this is served EVERYWHERE).
- Street sandwiches that look like crepes filled with meat and cheese or bread sandwiches stuffed with tuna and peppers.
- In Sidi Bou Said (the blue and white coastal town), there is a tiny shop with just enough room for two people – one man frying and serving Tunisian donuts and another preparing the dough. There are always people in line waiting to trade in their 50 cents for this yummy dessert. It is a must-try.
What to do:
- Explore the Medina. Keep a map handy, but try to let yourself wander and discover all of the tiny streets and merchants in each alley. Make sure you get out before dark when the place becomes pitch dark and you will get lost!
- Visit the Bardo Museum. Again, we didn’t get to do this, but it looked and sounded amazing (especially if you like mosaics) and we ran into a few people who flew into Tunisia only to see this museum!
- Spend a day in Sidi Bou Said and take a gazillion pictures of the blue and white village and the amazing view of the water.
- Do a hammam. You can either go local at one of the “authentic” places in Tunis or treat yourself at Villa Didon Hotel and Spa in Carthage.
- Drive to Carthage or El Djem for roman ruins.
- Visit some of the beautiful mosques in Tunisia.
- Hang out with the locals and watch a ‘football’ match sitting outside on the street.
- Make your way over to those damn Star Wars sets while you still can…