Well, friends, it it that time again: time to send one country’s culinary culture out of the World Cup of Food. Today we must decide between the African nations of Tunisia and Cape Verde, two lands separated by a the world’s largest desert, a little bit of ocean, and miles of difference in their cooking traditions.
If there is a national dish of Tunisia, it is couscous, tiny pearls of dough steamed until just tender. It is served with most meals and at all gatherings of any size. A special cooking vessel called a kiska:s in Arabic or couscoussière in French (the two national languages), a kind of double boiler with separated segments for meats or vegetables and for couscous stacked on top of each other, is probably what sets Tunisian couscous apart from its North African neighbors and makes it the envy of the region. The lower pot is for meats, vegetables, and spices, and the aromatic and flavorful steam they create is directed into the couscous pot above.
Like most other peoples of North Africa and the Middle East, the Tunisians know their way around the garbanzo bean (or as it is known in some places, chickpea). A local specialty is leblabi (recipe follows), a rich, spicy, garlicky soup that utilizes the bean as its main ingredient.
Tunisian food has a lot in common with its North African neighbors. Meat is eaten with much less frequency than in Western nations, and due to the predominance of kosher Muslims in the culture, pork is rarely served (and is in fact illegal in Tunisia). Beans, especially chickpeas and favas, are used to fill the protein void, and coastal areas use, as you might expect, a lot of seafood in the local diet. Whereas the rest of North Africa enjoys a very mild cuisine, Tunisian cookery uses very spicy chili peppers in just about everything. The origin of Tunisian spicy cooking is unclear, but our guess is that it stems from trade links with Italy, which is Tunisia’s closest European neighbor and also a heat-loving culinary culture. Spicy food is a way of life in Tunisia, so much so that a common Tunisian proverb states that a man can judge his wife’s affection by the amount of chilies in her cooking. If the food becomes mild, the husband is prone to the belief that his wife no longer loves him. Lucky for us, Angie consistently makes spicy food in our home.