Sunday, May 6, 2012

Best Places to Eat Brik à l’Oeuf İn Tunis

Africa meets Europe in Tunisia’s buzzing capital city, Tunis. Within the ancient medina, shoppers wander the labyrinthine paths of the souks, while in the modern city outside, businessmen sip coffee and read European newspapers. Come lunchtime, though, they’re all likely to be tucking into the same dish: brik à l’oeuf, Tunisia’s most delicious – and challenging – treat.

Tunis sits along Tunisia’s northern coast, tucked into the innermost corner of the Gulf of Tunis. Its modern outlook and cosmopolitan air make it one of the most accessible North African destinations for visitors. But it exudes plenty of exotic atmosphere too, in the exquisitely tiled mosques and minarets towering above the rooftops, the arched courtyards and decorative doorways, the echoing cry of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, and the pungent smells of spice and perfume.
The city’s impressive Roman history is another of its highlights, from the exquisite mosaics in the Bardo Museum to the outstanding ruins at Dougga, a daytrip away. The suburbs contain the remnants of an even more ancient empire, Carthage. From here the seafaring Phoenicians dominated the Mediterranean in the 6th century BC. Since then Arab, Ottoman, and French settlers have all influenced Tunisia’s culture and cuisine.
Brik à l’oeuf is one such dish that Tunisians have made their own. This delicious triangular parcel of thin pastry, which may be filled with seafood, minced lamb, beef, or vegetables and herbs, but always includes an egg yolk, is fried in oil and eaten with the fingers.
It has its roots in the deep-fried börek of Turkish cuisine and in fact the unusual name, brik, is simply the local variation on the original Turkish word.
But with brik à l’oeuf, the Tunisians have made this humble snack food into a work of art. The most impressive briks are more than a hand-span wide, their paper-thin shells shaped like a fan and held daintily upright in a sliced lemon. The brik is often enlivened by fiery harissa, a spicy red mix of hot chili peppers and olive oil, mashed together into a paste. If you don’t like hot sauces, don’t even look at harissa – it might make your eyes water. However, it’s so popular with the locals that many brik recipes include harissa in the filling, so if you can’t stomach the heat, make sure to ask for one without. In Tunisia, harissa is almost always put on the table at the start of a meal, perhaps with some olives and bread as an hors d’oeuvre. Each chef or household will have their own recipe, and fancier versions might include cumin, coriander, and other herbs and spices.
The challenge in eating a brik à l’oeuf – especially the large, elaborate ones – is to control the runny egg yolk that explodes with the first bite. Once you can eat one without it running down your chin, then you’ve mastered the trick of the most Tunisian brik.

The crispy pastry of a brik à l’oeuf hides a secret: a golden egg yolk at its heart, waiting to burst at the first bite

Courtyard dining, North African riadh-style, at the Dar El Jeld restaurant in Tunis 

Intricate tiling and stonework at the great mosque complex in Sidi Bou Saïd, a hilltop town a short metro train or taxi ride from the city

Best Places to Eat Brik à l’Oeuf

Dar El Jeld

This atmospheric old place in the heart of the medina is one of the finest restaurants in Tunis. It’s in a beautiful 18th-century town house, and you might need some help to find it, but once through the flame-lit arched doorway and into the covered tiled courtyard that forms the dining area, you will experience everything that is magical and evocative about North Africa.
By Tunisian standards this is an expensive place to eat, but it provides an unforgettable flavor of Tunis. The service is impeccably courteous, and reservations are essential. There is live music on most evenings. Several types of brik are available as appetizers, including a taster selection of mini-briks, and other specialties of the house include lamb couscous, an olive and beef stew, fish couscous, tajines, a North African-style paella, and an array of delicious pastry desserts. It is also the place to discover just how good Tunisian wines can be.
5–10 Rue Dar El Jeld, La Kasbah, Tunis; open for lunch and dinner Mon–Sat; closed for lunch in July and during Ramadan, and for all of August;
Also in Tunis
A venerable institution in the Souk El Trouk (the Turkish or tailors’ souk) in the medina, M’rabet Café Restaurant (+216 71 561 729; inexpensive) is the perfect place to take a break from the hectic bustle of the souks and relax with a coffee or a mint tea, or something more substantial. It has a café downstairs; upstairs is an inexpensive restaurant that serves brik alongside many other Tunisian specialties, including lamb and chicken couscous. Live music is often featured.
Also in Tunisia
Restaurant Chargui (+216 71 740 987; moderate) is one of the best restaurants in Sidi Bou Saïd, the picturesque little hilltop town close to Tunis. Open daily, it has a lovely blueand white-washed terrace with great views over the sea, and its menu includes a choice of briks, a range of couscous dishes, and locally caught fresh grilled fish.
Around the World
An authentic taste of both Tunisia and Morocco can be found on Sutter Street in the heart of San Francisco at Cafe Zitouna (www.; moderate), an unpretentious café/carry-out specializing in the flavors of North Africa. Brik is naturally on the menu, along with a wide range of tajines, couscous dishes, hot and spicy merguez sausages, and sticky baklava desserts.
A Day in Tunis
The medina, Tunis’s walled old town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site harboring a feast of Islamic architecture. From here, a short (and inexpensive) taxi ride will take you to sights in the surrounding new town and farther out along the coast.
MORNING : Wander through the streets of the medina and soak up the atmosphere, admiring the beautifully carved and tiled decoration on the mosques and minarets.
Dodge the carpet-sellers and go shopping in the mesmerizing bazaars of the souks.
AFTERNOON : Visit the Bardo Museum to see the finest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Then take a taxi to Carthage to see the Antonine Baths, the best of the scattered ruins of the once-great Phoenician civilization.
EVENING : With its whitewashed, blue-shuttered houses and elaborate painted doors, the hilltop town of Sidi Bou Saïd is a favorite stop for visitors, just 12 miles (20 km) from Tunis. Its café terraces are grand spots from which to sip a mint tea and watch the sun set over the sea.
What Else to Eat
Couscous, simply meaning “food,” was originally a staple of the nomadic North African Berber tribes. These granules of semolina are typically layered on herbs and cooked in the top half of a kiskas, or double boiler, above a spicy meat, fish, or vegetable stew, absorbing the aromas and flavors as it steams. While any ingredients can form the base – camel and octopus are Tunisian specialties – couscous is always enriched by herbs, spices, and harissa. One delicious version, known as burzqan, is mixed with fresh butter, mutton, saffron, and chickpeas, sprinkled with hot milk, and garnished with raisins, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
Geting to Tunis
Buses and taxis link Tunis-Carthage international airport with the downtown. Explore central Tunis on foot, or take taxis farther afield. Where to stay in Tunis
Hotel Majestic (inexpensive) is located on the edge of the medina. +216 71 332 666
Hotel Carlton (moderate) is a central, three-star Art Deco hotel.
The Oriental Palace (expensive) is luxurious and sumptuously decorated. +216 71 348 846 TOURIST INFORMATION
Tunisia National Office of Tourism, 1 Avenue Mohamed V, Tunis; +216 71 341 077

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