All The Right Foods in All The Wrong Places.....
by, 03-27-2013 at 06:52 PM (913 Views)
It’s quite easy to look up a restaurant in the Michelin guidebook, see what’s buzzing on tripadvisor.com, or check out who’s raving about what’s in the newest edition of Food and Travel Magazine.
While I use all these resources myself, I try to break the mold once in a while. This occurs usually when I am not traveling with my wife since she quite enjoys ‘the mold’.
I have fond memories of visiting Port El Kantaoui. Not because of anything in particular, and certainly not because of our 5 star accommodations – at best a glorified 2 star property – Hannibal Palace. More like Hannibal Lecter’s palace, sans the liver, Chianti, and fava beans.
Since we were booked half board, we tried to eat there twice. Once for breakfast, when we gave up on the notion just after tasting the coffee and once during their themed buffet dinner consisting of spaghetti with tomato sauce, a concoction the consistency of mashed potatoes. So, Italian prison themed buffet, I suppose?
With empty stomachs and a desire for culinary experiences we set out searching for a place that would not only grant us some much needed nutrition, but perhaps leave us with a story, or in the least some good memories.
We jumped into the nearest cab and told the driver that we wanted to eat something authentic, and wholly Tunisian.
“For tourists, yes?” he asked nodding his head up and down as though he were a bobble doll.
We shook our heads in unison, and said, “No. Somewhere you would go to eat lunch.”
“Are you sure?” the man asked almost apologetically.
“Yes! Positive” we exclaimed.
As he drove further and further into town, we could see that tourists were getting sparse and the conservative, religious locals were growing in number. After what seemed like a 20 minute drive, the cabby pulled into an alley reminiscent of the alleys from every movie where every passer-by gets mugged, and pointed to a shack, “here, this is where I eat”.
The “dining room” of only 300 sq. ft. consisted of 4 red, plastic, Coca Cola tables (those of you who have been to third world countries know what I’m talking about!) that were filthy. This wasn’t the regular kind of filthy; it was the silverware sticking to the tables kind of filthy. After second guessing ourselves, wondering how adventurous we were willing to get, and being the object of a lengthy stare-down from the locals dining in this not-so-fine establishment, we decided to risk it.
The owner/cook/waiter greeted us with an unfriendly, “what you want”. No menus, no boards on the walls, nothing. It was basically an establishment where the owner served you what he wanted, if he wanted...kind of reminded me of Seinfeld’s soup Nazi episode. We quietly responded, “One of everything”. He pointed to where we should sit, and we obliged. No, we were not asked smoking or non...it wasn’t one of those places.
In less than 15 minutes the plates started coming out. All of a sudden the filthy, sticky, aluminum silverware didn’t matter. The fact that we were not offered a wine menu or greeted with a smile did not count. We were in Tunisian cuisine heaven. Before us platters of tuna, tomato and red onion salad dressed with just the right amount of olive oil, hot out-of-the-oven flatbread, pineapple couscous with lamb, grilled fresh fish, a couple of vegetable dishes and much more, memories of which time and age have dulled and faded.
After glutinously taking down more food than one should ever endeavor to consume, our bill was set before us and it was less than we would’ve paid for coffee at any of the major US chains.
I only wished we could shake the cabbie’s hand and thank him for giving us the opportunity to enjoy an amazing meal and have a story to share. If we ever return to Tunisia, which we likely never will, we shall yet again risk hepatitis, indigestion and awkward glances, to partake of and share in the amazing flavors of Tunisian “underground” gastronomy.