Tunisia helps you break some habits. There are things you can’t get, things that are inconvenient to access, and then things you just realize you don’t want or need any more once you move here and gradually those things fade from your life. Eating out is one of those things for us. The restaurants aren’t all horrible, quite the opposite. There are some good restaurants. Most of them serve a version of a fish dinner where you choose your specimen from a tray of freshly caught, whole fish and then you choose a preparation method. In the meantime you are served bread and probably several other dishes of pickled vegetables and dips. Then your fish comes and it is delicious and you’re probably wondering why were not enjoying this every weekend. It’s because these restaurants come with a few other little annoyances.
1. Restaurants don’t open until 8:00 (minimum) and sometimes 8:30 or 9:00. If I am going to have dinner at 9:00 PM, I have to have a nap and a snack first and then I really don’t feel like going out anyway.
2. The restaurants are often filled with smoke as though smoking is compulsory in the establishment.
It ends up not being a treat to go out to eat; it’s a chore. My friend Karen and I went out to a completely Tunisian establishment a couple of weeks ago. Karen speaks perfect French, but the staff only spoke Arabic. There was an ongoing live Sufi musician playing distorted Arabic music and the room couldn’t have had a greater smoke to oxygen ratio or we would have all been dead. It was an interesting cultural experience and I don’t regret that we went there, but it was, frankly, psychedelic and in the end, I felt much more nauseous than satisfied. It is a much better idea here, usually, to go home and cook and/or eat with friends who all cook quite well, too.
On nights when we have more energy than eating a baguette and red wine for dinner, but want to keep it simple, we just swing by our neighborhood market and get a couple of whole fish. The man who works the fish counter will gut it and even filet and skin it if you ask. Then, we go a couple more block toward home and get some fresh veggies and fruit from our corner produce stall. Tonight, we bought two loup (those are the fish) , then onions, bergamot oranges, dill, mild green peppers, and fresh spinach. At home, we washed and prepped everything, stuffed the fish with the onions, oranges, and dill and then grilled it off in batches. Lovely fresh fish dinner at 6:00 PM and in a smoke-free environment. That’s a nice end to the work week.