We found Restaurant De L'ile. The place was immaculate...clean and bright in the very Mediterranean way. It was also totally empty for lunch.....perhaps the combination of of "all inclusive" resorts and Arab Spring was having an effect.
The menu had a ton of Tunisian "standards" and toruist dishes....but this was Houmt Souk, on the island of Djerba....we were having seafood.
Things started out with some "amuse/appetizers" to stimulate our appetite and tastebuds.
Along with the standard bread and harissa was a carrot "puree" of sorts...the Missus was ready to hate the stuff, but really enjoyed the spices mixed with a touch of sweetness.
Along with this was a plate of "thon" (tuna) with braised potatoes which was very tasty.
First up was the "salade aux fruits de mer".....a seafood salad.
Nice, well prepared seafood, nothing fancy, but quite solid.
Then tuna with tomato sauce.....
The tomato sauce had a touch of spiciness and was very tangy. They cooked the fish to death.
If you've read my previous posts on meals in Tunisia, you'd know how much I'd taken to brik, the wonderful deep fried pastry, filled with a fried egg and sometimes seafood. This was the "Brik aux fruits de mer"...the seafood filled brik.
This one wins the "runny egg award".....I was almost mesmerized by how runny the egg was.
The yolk was profoundly "eggy", reminding me of how eggs used to taste when I was a kid. It was a bit too much for the Missus, though I enjoyed it.
There is of course, the communication barrier, which displayed itself in the calamare....we ordered it "grille", but got it fried. The squid was very tender, thought the batter oily and mushy....oh what could have been.
We finished off with the Octopus in Tomato Sauce. I'm not sure why most of what we have here in the states is like tire rubber. This was quite tender, though not as good as our favorite.
In the end, this was the best restaurant meal we'd had in Tunisia.
After lunch we found a taxi....on the way back to the resort, the Missus saw a pastry shop and had the cabbie stop.....to buy pastries! You know, this being Tunisia, he didn't bat an eye and the Missus bought him a box of confections for his trouble.
We had a nap in the afternoon, went for a walk, and as is our "MO" went to dinner early. After our previous dinner, with the themed "Italian Night", we were curious what "Tunisia Night" would be like.
We peeked out to the patio and saw that the really nice young man...the one who had gotten the Chef de Cuisine to get the Missus some mechouia the night before was working. He waved us over to the little two-top he was waiting on....there was no doubt that we wanted him to be our waiter tonight. We went out and grabbed our plates and when we returned he had created a little bouquet of sorts for our table. This was such a sweet touch.....
And while I felt bad for the folks who had to be "in character" for the dinner......
We also found a dish we really loved.....it was black and tarry looking and was in a container that looked like a flower pot. The flavor however was profound....rich, beefy with some heat, and a tongue coating texture that we found enjoyable. No one seemed to want to eat this stuff....in fact, the Chef de Cuisine came out to talk to us, just because he was happy to see folks enjoy this so much.
It was made with something we had never come across before Molokhia....of course we came home and found the stuff being sold in Nijiya, but at that time this was all new....still is, because we were told this preparation takes two days.
In the end, even though I'm not fond of these "all-inclusive" resorts, we did enjoy our time.
As our cab took us to the airport and back to Tunis, we reflected, not only on the Tunisian Cabbies dream....they all want Cadillacs and Lincoln Towncars....really! But also on how relaxed and kind folks we came across were.....
The little town is quite charming and the architecture quite unique. Most of the buildings in Houmt Souq have that Mediterranean whitewashed look, but are square and somewhat formidable looking. I was told that this was because of the location of Djerba there used to be a constant fear of attack.
The alleyways and distinct vibe made us wish that we had stayed here instead of on one of the resorts on the island.
Houmt Souq literally means "the marketplace" in Arabic....so of course that would be Marche Central (the Central Market).
By now, Ben understood that we were interested in the food and cuisine of Tunisia. He led us through a small portal and into a courtyard. At the end stood the fish market.
Here amongst the fish stands one can witness the daily fish auction.....no it's not the havoc and craziness of Tsukiji Fishmarket, but rather something on the other end of the spectrum....very relaxed, casual, and amazingly laidback.
As you milled amongst the booths you noticed that chairs were being hoisted up upon the very counters that held the fish....this happened in a very subtle way, without any fanfare. Older gentleman then climbed up, sometimes with a bit of help and sat at their mighty fish "throne". A person to the left would then "show" a string of fish, octopus, or other type of seafood, then hand it up to the person who is auctioning the fish off.
The folks who had been milling around then suddenly all come together......some I guess to bid, other maybe just to watch?
The process seemed fairly quiet and calm......
And after the highest bidder got his prize, the crowd would slightly disperse and the whole thing started over again.
In the case of something that there was something no one wanted, the crowd would simply thin out....folks losing interest.
Until the next "juicy" item came up for bid.......
There was something mesmerizing about the whole thing. We decided to stay and watch for a little while longer and let Ben off the hook. This was where we parted ways, we'd catch a cab back to the Green Palm.
After watching for a few more minutes we decided to move on.....we found a coffee shop in the middle of Marche Central and sat down to just take in the whole place with a cup of "cafe express" - espresso.
Aah.....now we were really doing things at our pace.....
Of course, there was the question of "what's for lunch?"
After an afternoon nap and basically sitting around bored in the Green Palm, it was dinner time. Places like this have a standard dining room, with usually a typical buffet and this didn't seem to be an exception.
We walked through the rather large dining area and found a little veranda out the back of the restaurant, taking a tiny little two top away from the feeding frenzy. Our server was a really nice young man, warm, with a wonderful smile. He spoke little English but we had no problem ordering us a bottle of wine. He would turn out to be one of the typical genuinely nice people we encountered in Tunisia....one of many.
As we walked pass the dishes,we noticed that there was an unusually large amount of pasta dishes.....really overcooked looking pasta dishes. We had gotten into the habit of going after more vegetable oriented dishes along with availing ourselves of the pretty decent olive oil at these buffets. We noticed that many of these typical dishes were rather "scarce". The Missus asked our server why they didn't have mechouia, the wonderful grilled pepper/vegetable salad She had gotten to really enjoy.
The reason? "Tonight is Italian night, no mechouia." Kind of a bummer. He then asked us, "you like mechouia?" Of course we answered "yes, it is very good." He pointed to the ground and said, "tomorrow, Tunisienne night.....still...." And pointed to the ground. So, that was the deal; there was a theme to every night's dinner, and tomorrow was "Tunisia night". We nodded and went on with our meal. About ten minutes later he walks up to our table and drops off this plate....of mechouia! We're just flabbergasted. He tells us, "I tell chef de cuisine, you really like mechouia, so we make you some." Say what? Shades of Vientiane! Say what you will about the politics and religion, but I've always asserted, we as people, are much kinder then the borders built by flags and rhetoric, and more alike than different. This gesture alone, made staying here a pleasure. On our way out, we wanted to thank this young man....the only thing we could think of was giving him like 20 dinar.
On our way out, the Missus noticed a line in frontof the cheese station....which by the way, was stocked with some pretty decent cheeses. So of course, my crazy wife decided to man the station....walking up and starting to serve the guests their cheese....much to the amusement of the young man who returned to find one of the guests, albeit a slightly off center one working his station.
Walking out of the restaurant, we noticed this bulletin.....listing the "themes" for each night's dinner.
I was just glad we weren't here on Tuesday ("Mardi") for "Oriental night".
There wasn't much more to do during the evening, I went down to the bar for a beer and worked on getting photos uploaded and working on a short post. The next morning we woke early, Ben would be picking us up for the last half day portion of the tour.......this being Houmt Souk and some outlying areas.
The sun was already shining brightly, but the restaurant was completely empty except for us. I'm guessing most folks were sleeping in after a night of partying. When I went upstairs to our room the previous night, folks were coming down to go to the nightclub in the resort.
Breakfast was simple and light.....I've come to enjoy the tomato-cheese-olive and bread type of breakfasts.
As usual, Ben met us promptly at 8 am and we headed off. The first stop was the town of Midoun. This was Friday, the day of a large market in the town.
We arrived pretty early, so many vendors were still setting up......most of the booths were just filled with tourist stuff. I'm guessing many of the tourists some here in cabs from the resorts to buy souvenirs......
Our next stop was on a sleepy street in the town of Erriadh, also known as Hara Seghira ("small ghetto"). Many people are not aware that Djerba once had a rather large Jewish community which some say dates back to 586 BC, following Nebuchadnezzar's taking of Jerusalem, making this one of the oldest outside of Israel. El Ghriba Synagogue, located in Erriadhis the oldest in North Africa and the site of a major pilgrimage in May of each year.
After arriving, we had to wait across the street from the Synagogue for a detachment of soldiers to arrive and the "Fat Man" who held the keys to the place. Each visitor has to go through a metal detector and possibly some screening before visiting. The reason is written on the right; on April 11th, 2002 a natural gas truck fitted with explosives drove past the security gates and detonated; killing 19.
Though the first Synagogue was first built here when a "holy stone" fell from heaven and a mysterious woman appeared instructing people to build the synagogue, this building was constructed in the 20th century.
The colors are strikingly Mediterranean, with bright blues and whites. The interior is also full of the striking blues, but is somewhat tempered by its design.
I was told that one of the oldest existing Torahs is kept here and also the story that, "when the last Jews leave Djerba, the keys to the synagogue will fly to heaven......."
After this rather somber visit, we headed off to Houmt Souk, the largest town on the island. We stopped at Borj El K'bir Fort, also known as Borj Ghazi Mustapha.
This fort was the site of a huge massacre in 1560 when Dragut (Turgut Ries) the Ottoman Commander defeated a coalition army of Phillip II of Spain, over-running the fort.
According to the story, there were about 6000 of the garrison killed and their skulls were stacked up on the shoreline as a warning. The monument was taken apart in 1848 and the bones buried and this was placed at the site.
You really wouldn't give it but a brief glance if you didn't know what once stood here.
Ben told me that to this day, Houmt Souk is never shown on any tourist maps in Spain. not sure if that's true, but it sure makes for a heck of a story, huh?
Our basic travels around Tunisia, except for the last few days in Djerba and La Marsa had come to an end. We were dropped off at the Green Palm by Ben, who would be picking us up tomorrow for a short tour of Houmt Souk and Erriadh. The Green Palm is located, along with what seems like a zillion other "all inclusive" type reports in the Zone Touristique. The objective is to keep you on the property or in the properties clutches the entire time. No outside food or drink allowed on the premises, distances between properties can be a bit of a hike......
The facilities are decent, there are "animation team" (I didn't even know what that was until we got here) events, a large pool, and the Missus started whining from the moment we arrived feeling trapped.
There's a definite lack of atmosphere at places like this.....you can tell, Club Med ain't for us. I will say, the folks here are really nice, more on that later.
So after freshening up, the first thing we did was to go for some lunch.....not in the hotel. We walked about a mile or so and stopped at a place where all the cab drivers were eating called Restaurant Aladin.
You can always count on cabbies, cops, and other civil servants to find places that are reasonably priced with decent fare. And this was not an exception. The food was simple, the lettuce was iceberg, but it was a decent meal, and very cheap.
The brik was a bit overdone, the egg too overcooked.
The merguez was quite good though......
For some reason, the Missus kept wanting more tomatoes.......
It was a decent meal that filled us up nicely.
We picked up some bottled water on the way back to the resort....not knowing at the time that outside drinks of any kind were not allowed.....what ensued when we passed by the guards was nothing short of hilarious. The guards stopped us and spoke to us first in French, then German, the Arabic......yeah, we really looked like we spoke those languages. We kept talking to them in English, which they didn't speak. Finally, they got a clue and asked us, "you.....English?" When we nodded in agreement, they pointed to a sign on the wall......the was WRITTEN IN FRENCH! What? I told them, "no francais, no francais....." By this time, even they were laughing, and they passed us through.
We also came to find out that there was no wifi reception in our rooms, so I ended up getting some "cafe express" in the massive lobby area, while checking email and even doing a short post.
Later that evening, as we were getting ready to go to the dinner buffet, I recall looking out off the terrace at the empty lots and other resorts thinking to myself, "this is going to be a pretty rough two days...."
We left Ksar Ghilane early in them morning. We were headed to the final stop on our private tour, the island of Djerba. There would be a couple of stops along the way. We were headed to the town of Tataouine....yes, for those Star Wars fans, there really is a city name Tataouine. We traveled through some pretty inhospitable areas.....and yet, people have been living here for centuries. We passed by several ruins of Roman fortifications along the way.
Outside of Tataouine are several Berber hill villages. The most popular is called Chenini....yep, there's the Star Wars connection again. The village is known for it's distinctive white Mosque up on the hill.
We took about an hour to walk around the village. Many of the older homes built into the hillside had been abandoned and turned into storage.
Soon enough we made our way back to our transport and headed off to Tataouine. Since it was market day, the place was hopping.
Ben walked us to this little bakery.
Like Kairouan and Makroud, Tataouine also has it's special pastry called Corne de Gazelle, the gazelle's horn.
The pastry is in the shape of a gazelle's horn. I thought this was very nicely flavored, almonds and sesame seeds gave the confection a nice nuttiness. Like almost all classic Tunisian desserts the pastry was doused with a nice bit of honey. The Missus didn't care for it....I'm thinking it was the sesame seeds.
While Ben had a seat at one of the coffee shops, the Missus and I started walking around the market area. Here are some photos.
You know what this shop sells, right?
I was really enjoying the coffee culture in Tunisia and we decided to take a break at one of the coffee houses....it was a nice stop and gave us some time to take in the environment and people watch. They call espresso "cafe express" in Tunisia.
It was pretty calm driving from here on out, as we made our way to the island of Djerba. Soon we were driving over the causeway to Djerba which was the last leg of our tour. It had been a pretty hectic couple of days, but I was glad we did this.....there's just so much history in Tunisia.