‘We constantly think about food’: a chef’s tour of Tunis

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A local cookbook author guides our writer around the Tunisian capital, from patisseries and upmarket restaurants to the true belly of the city’s food scene

The sun is bouncing off whitewashed houses in the bohemian Tunis seaside suburb of La Marsa. It’s Friday lunchtime and I am waiting for Malek Labidi at a smart cafe called Boulevard des Capucines. The rush is building, everyone scurrying around clutching paper-wrapped sandwiches packed full of meat, eggs and fiery harissa. These transportable meals are sold out of hole-in-the-wall establishments and eaten on the go – a practical option in a city where people are so often in a rush.

When Malek arrives, she is greeted by practically everyone in the cafe. A Tunisian chef who trained at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Paris and cut her teeth with Alain Ducasse before returning home, Malek recently released her first cook book, La Table du Nord. Focused on preserving the culinary culture of north Tunisia, it has been lauded for putting the country’s food scene on the map. (It’s available in French only, but see here for a taste of her recipes.) This is particularly important given the tourist drought that hit after the 2011 revolution and the wave of terrorist attacks in the following years. Visitors have started to return though, arriving on ferries from Marseille and Palermo. As we walk down towards the sea, I catch occasional glimpses of flashy cameras and sunburnt limbs – both silent promises to the local economy.

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