Jewish Foods of the World
by Daniel Rogov
Few people celebrate religious festivals, weddings or other joyous family occasions with more culinary gusto than those Israelis who have their roots in Tunisia. In traditional homes, such festivals or other celebrations are perceived as reasons for entire families to gather together. On arrival, each family member is greeted with a cup of hot, sweet tea - even before having entered the home. Once settled, hot savory pastries and hors d'oeuvres are passed around on huge copper trays, candied almonds and stuffed prunes are served hot from the oven and an incredible amount of tea is consumed.
The actual celebratory dinner starts only when the oldest member of the family invites everyone to take their place at the table. Tunisian cuisine is not as exotic as some may imagine. If there is a single major descriptor appropriate for the food of Tunisia it is that the people like their food hot. In fact, Tunisian Jews probably have as many recipes for making hot sauce as Russian and Polish Jews have for borscht.
The Tunisian kitchen, although based on a country-style cuisine, is a rich one. Especially popular dishes both in Tunisia and Israel include tagines - meat or poultry stews often cooked together with fruits; fish dishes that rely on subtle seasonings and vegetables; couscous; merguez, a sausage that comes in what seems to be an infinite variety of flavors and of hotness; and a collection of marvelous sweet pastries and cream desserts.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry and Rogov's Ramblings. Reprinted with permission.