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JEFF KOEHLER

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August 15th, 2007

savor: Tunisia/ Djerba

RESTAURANT AND PIZZERIA CHEF HAOUARI
across the road from Hotel Holiday Beach in the Zone Touristique
Djerba
216/75.758.587

Abderrazak Haouari is a warm hearted man with gentle manners and an easy smile. He is also the country’s preeminent culinary authority who settled back home after decades working at the best restaurants in Paris and Brussels. He opened a small, simple place south of the island’s capital Houmt Souk that serves inexpensive, perfectly executed Tunisian and Djerban classics such as fish couscous. Call 24 hours in advance for lamb or fish baked in a gargoulette (terracotta pot). His young son Adel, charming with a brilliant smile, often mans the kitchen and cooks with this father’s deft touch.
Don’t miss: light, fluffy couscous, tinted red and bursting with flavor.
Tell the taxi driver: “Hotel Holiday Beach.” Then cross the street (inland) and look for the restaurant set under a palm tree.

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August 15th, 2007

savor: Tunisia/ Sidi Bou Saïd

SOCIÉTÉ CAFÉ “DES NATTES” EL ALIA
Place du Souk
Sidi Bou Saïd
216/71.749.661

Sidi Bou Saïd is a lovely washed-white village that clings to the cliffs above the Mediterranean near the ruins of ancient Carthage. Climb the hill to the main square and then the set of worn, uneven stairs to Des Nattes. The “Turkish” coffee is served in delicate porcelain cups. There are a few tables outside with views over the tiny square below, though I prefer to sit in the dimly lit inside among chatting Tunisian men and Arabic music playing on the radio.
Tourists all order: mint tea with pine nuts.
The locals: café turc.
Buy: a tightly woven bouquet of fresh jasmine flowers from one of the sellers passing through café.

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August 15th, 2007

savor: Tunisia/ Tunis

EBBA BAB JEDID or OUELD EBBA
near Bab Jedid gate
Tunis

“Roi de Leblebi,” so the sign reads. Indeed. Leblebi (or lablabi) is chickpea soup, a market stall favorite. Around the country, I heard about this place just outside one of the ancient gates of Tunis. It’s hard to find, and consists of little more than a big kettle of beans simmering behind a simple wooden counter. Hearty glazed terracotta bowls stacked upside down indicate that leblebi is served. The process goes something like this: tear up a piece of bread and fill one of the bowls yourself. The man behind the counter then ladles in some soup, adds a mix of spices (cumin, caraway, turmeric, salt), and then a bit of local, deep green olive oil. It’s good, cheap, and filling.
Price: less than $1.50 for a bowl.
Drinks: ask for a bottle of Coke and someone will be sent to a nearby shop to get it for you.

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August 15th, 2007

savor: Tunisia/ Tunis

EZZITANI
rue Jemma Zitouna
Tunis

Under the vaulted roofs of the medina, this is one of the medina’s best traditional (read male) cafés. Linger over a perfect café turc dashed with eau de fleur d’oranger (orange-flower water) among the packed ruckus of animated conversations that swirl around you as a steady parade of goods, shoppers, and dawdling, wide-eyed tourists pass on the crowded lane outside the café.
To even better the moment: call for a shisha and let the afternoon dissipates among the sweet smoke and slow gurgle of the waterpipe.
Follow rue Jemma Zitouna up and you’ll find: the 8th-century Great Mosque.
Follow rue Jemma Zitouna down: out of the medina and into the French-built ville nouvelle.

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August 15th, 2007

savor: Tunisia/ Tunis

DAR EL JELD
5-10, rue Dar el Jeld
La Kasbah
Tunis
216/71.560.916
www.dareljeld.tourism.tn

In the center of Tunis’s ancient medina is the country’s finest restaurant. It is also the most difficult to find. There’s no sign, just a massive studded yellow door. But knock and you are admitted into the authentic splendor – not Orientalist’s fantasy. It’s an 18th-century merchant’s home with detailed stucco work and tiles and wonderful patio. The family turned it into a restaurant in 1989, and it remains a family affair, with the grandmother running the all-female kitchen – probably the country’s only. (Traditionally woman cook at home and men cook in restaurants.) Start with tajine sebnekh. In Morocco a tajine is a stew while in Tunisia it’s a delicate, oven-baked egg dish, in this case with lamb and spinach. Lamb is a staple across North Africa, but here fish, too, is eaten frequently, more so than elsewhere in the Maghreb. Follow it by one of the house specialties, either the kabkabou, sea bream baked with preserved lemons, olives, and capers in thin tomato sauce, or the fish couscous. For desert there are ancient Arab crèmes – my favorite is acida mjamera made with the flea-sized black seeds of an Aleppo pine and scented with eau de rose.
Baroque perfection: kabkabou.
Start with: salade de poulpe, cold octopus salad.
Try: poisson sauce à l’anchois, fish in anchovy sauce.
Wave off: coffee and plunge back into the medina to sit in one of the traditional coffeehouses (the best is Ezzitani) and watch life pass by on the snaking footpaths.

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