Why no Tunisian restaurants?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Over the weekend, I went up to London for the very first National Geographic Traveller Food Festival.

Chakchouka

Destinations that were exhibiting were providing samples of their foods to entice us to book holidays there at some time in the future. Or to remind us of what we are missing.

Much of the food was titbits rather than what a meal would look like but on the Tunisia stand, a chef from Nabeul (about an hour’s drive from Tunis) was cooking a main course.

Rafik Tatli has a restaurant – Les Jasmins – where has served Tunisian cuisine for many years. Being in Nabeul, one of the first tourist destinations in Tunisia, means that Rafik is probably responsible for introducing many British and Irish visitors to Tunisian dishes.

On Saturday he was cooking Chakchouka, a vegetable dish that is as colourful as the smell is appetising. Soon a group mustered but Tunisian cooking is not fast food. About fifteen minutes more, Rafik told the group, and they began to drift to other stands to peck at the titbits provided.

Rafik Tlatli from his Nabeul restaurant, Les Jasmins

I asked a few whether they had eaten Tunisian cuisine before and most hadn’t despite being fairly seasoned travellers. Why not? No Tunisian restaurants in the UK. Moncef Battikh from the Tunisian National Tourist Office said, to his knowledge, that there were no Tunisian restaurants in London let alone the UK. There was once one in one in Birmingham but that had long since closed.

There are plenty of North African restaurants around in the UK, mostly Moroccan but some Algerian and quite a few Egyptian ones but none specialising in Tunisian cuisine. Why not? Neither Rafik nor Moncef had a reason as to why that should be so.

When those anxious to try Chakchouka returned, I asked them what they thought of the food. No-one had anything but a good word to say about it. A couple asked if I knew of a Tunisian cookery book. Rafik has written two but both are in French, Saveurs de Tunisie (unavailable according to that well-known online book retailer) and Delices de Tunisie (not even listed) but they have yet to be translated. As for English language recipe books, they are few and far between with some of those around masquerading as Tunisian but being more Moroccan or North African.

Some of the spices used in Tunisian cookery. At the markets they are sold from large jars

Why is it that a country that once saw 600,000 Britons visit it in the early 2010’s hasn’t managed to inspire Tunisian chefs in the UK to open restaurants? Why is it that there are so few Tunisian cookery books in English?

I leave you with that mystery.

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