Top 25 Most Popular Foods in Tunisia – Top Tunisian Dishes
Tunisia is a one of a kind country; when we say Tunisia, we say beaches, coasts, history and tourism. Tunisia is, indeed, a name that brings with it the image of pristine beaches and translucent waters, and, of course, the hospitable Tunisian people. And despite the similarity with Arabic dishes, Tunisian cuisine is characterized by its own unique twists and sophistication. What sets Tunisian cuisine apart from other culinary traditions and cultures is that is uses original ingredients, many sourced from the sea.
This cuisine is known for its richness in starches, fruits, vegetables, and seafood. And while lamb is traditionally preferred in Tunisia, chicken is now more widely used.
As for cooking methods, food is generally grilled, fried, or braised in olive oil. Butter and cream are rarely used, except in desserts. Although Tunisian cuisine isn’t especially varied, it is known for its use of fresh, seasonal ingredients and the vegetables, fruits and seafood, a very important part of Tunisian cuisine, that are found in the Mediterranean region.
Harissa is used substantially in Tunisian cooking as well as many other spices, olive oil, hot red pepper, tomatoes, and garlic. It offers what is known as “solar cuisine”, which relies heavily on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, fish, and meats.
Bread is an essential ingredient in Tunisian cuisine, as it accompanies almost all dishes and is usually used for dipping, while at breakfast, it is topped with thyme, sesame and olive oil. As for garlic and olive oil, these are two indispensable ingredients: for Tunisians, a meal is not a meal without them. Lunch invariably involves couscous and rice dishes, such as spinach with rice.
Garlic and olive oil are two indispensable ingredients of the Tunisian cuisine.
Tunisian cuisine is full of small, appetizing dishes that provide a unique mixture of ingredients, shapes, colors, and flavors. A meal in Tunisia can include grilled sea fruits, grilled meat, and a variety of cooked or raw salads in addition to sweets and dried fruits, finished off with coffee. Tunisian coffee is strong and dense and rose water is often added. Coffee is a symbol of a warm welcome, and will be offered as soon as the guest arrives, no matter how short the visit is.
Tunisian cuisine is as warm as its people, and is influenced by that of the Maghreb and the Mediterranean. So let’s see the 25 most popular foods in Tunisia that are the sum of many cultures – Berber, Punic, Arab, Jewish, Turkish, Italian, and others.
1. Omek Houria
Omek Houria is an Authentic Tunisian side dish and appetizer. It is a salad that is basically made of boiled and mashed carrots, seasoned with various spices and harissa. According to Tunisians, omek houria was named after a mermaid who dyed her hair with henna, making it the color of a carrot. This side dish has become one of the most popular Tunisian dishes and is made very often. Another famous Tunisian salad is Slata Mechouia. It translates from Arabic as “Grilled Salad” but it is really more of a grilled salsa than a salad. You will find it on just about every Ramadan dinner table in Tunisia. Charred onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are coarsely chopped, salted and seasoned, and drizzled with olive oil. By itself it’s a perfectly vegan dish. However, it’s usually garnished with hard boiled eggs, or olives, or a piece of fish (tuna)–or perhaps some combination of the three–added in moderation a la the Mediterranean style.
Tunisian families have some very special customs and traditions for the arrival of a new baby, the time of “nafess” or ‘Zrir’ in the Tunisian dialect. During nafess, the mother becomes “the princess of her time”, when she receives exceptional and special care from her family and her husband’s family.
One of the most popular customs on this special occasion is the preparation of “Zrir”, a food recommended for women who are breastfeeding as it nourishes the mother’s health and helps generate her milk.
Families have a very “special” program for this sweet food, requiring the breastfeeding mother to eat it at least three times a day. “Zrir” is also found on the reception dining table for well-wishers. It is like “good omen” as it welcomes the “new guest of the world”. It is made from simple inexpensive ingredients that all families can access and it takes no more than 10 minutes to prepare.
3. Tunisian Ojja
Tunisian Ojja is a well-known appetizer, given the ease and speed with which it can be prepared. The main ingredients are eggs, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices (garlic, salt, pepper kohl and cumin), all of which are cooked in olive oil. Other ingredients can be added such as margarine or seafood. By adding potatoes or other vegetables, the omelette becomes a shakshuka. It differs in Egypt, where it is called koshari. Wheat flour is added to the ingredients and it is put in the oven for five minutes until it browns, then it is cut up and served hot.
4. Tunisian Kammounia
Tunisian cammounia is considered one of the most traditional and authentic Tunisian dishes and it is distinguished by its delicious taste and the high nutritional value. Kammounia is very easy to prepare, taking only a few minutes. This dish is basically made of lamb or beef liver cooked in a tomato sauce and seasoned with cumin.
5. Tunisian Masfouf
Masfouf is a creamy couscous made with peas or raisins. There are many types of savory or sweet masfouf that are served as a dessert or as a side dish or snack. Masfouf s lighter than couscous and is popularly eaten with vegetables or meat. It is usually eaten at dinner or at the end of the meal. In its sweet version, masfouf is widely served at traditional occasions and family meals. Al-Masfouf was a popular dish for suhoor during Ramadan. With the spring or summer season, al-Misouf is accompanied with pomegranate seeds and sweet sprouts, and garnished with raisins, dates, and dried fruits.
6. Tunisian Hlalem
From Andalusia to Tunisia, the dish of hlalem was transported overseas during the Andalusian migration to the countries of North Africa in 1906 and 1908. Passed down the generations, Hlalem has become one of the most popular dishes served on Tunisian tables on festive days and during the blessed month of Ramadan. Hlalem first became popular in the northern cities where Andalusian immigrants settled, such as Bizerte, Rafaf, Ras al-Jabal, Al-Alya, Andalus Castle, and Setour, and later spread to the coastal and interior regions and even the countryside.
7. Tabouna Bread
Tabouneh, or tabouneh bread, is a traditional type of Tunisian bread cooked in an oven made of soft clay, called a tabouneh. The oven is fed with wood until it is heated well, then the dough of semolina and water is prepared and shaped into rounds which are placed on one side of the oven until it is well cooked. It is served hot. Taboon is the place where the fire burns and the name comes from the verb taboun, meaning to cover the fire so that it is not go out. In the northwest, for example in Beja, tabunah is known as jerada (singular) and jarrada (plural), and the furnace is called a jujah
8. Tunisian Couscous
Couscous is one of the most authentic Tunisian foods and is said to be the king of the Tunisian table. Couscous derives its originality from the land in which it grows. Couscous originated among the Berbers of the 11th and 12th century, so the Tunisians have become quite expert at preparing original couscous dishes.
Eating couscous is said to increase the individual’s belonging to his environment and his soil. It is consumed today in several types, from fine to thick.
9. Tunisian Muloukhia
Tunisian muloukhia, which is a very popular Tunisian meal, is known for being one of the most favored Tunisian dishes. But, contrary to what most Tunisians think, it originated in Egypt.
The origin of mulokhia is Pharaonic Egypt and involves a very funny story. When the Hyksos occupied Pharaonic Egypt, they wanted to obliterate all the Pharaonic landmarks. They demolished many temples and looked for anything the Egyptians loved. They taunted the Egyptians, restricting the things they enjoyed and forcing on them things they didn’t. At that time, the Egyptians didn’t eat mallow, which they called “kheya”, because they believed that a poisonous plant grew alongside it.
But when the Hyksos forced some Egyptians to eat “kheya”, they were all certain that they would die. They didn’t, of course. Instead, it turned out they rather liked the taste and it became one of their main meals. They began to call it “mulukhia” in mockery of the Hyksos. At one time, eating mulukhia was restricted to royalty, until the Ottomans came across it and through them, it reached Tunisia. And that’s how it became a Tunisian tradition. They love this dish and make it on a regular basis.
10. Tunisian Kaftaji
Kaftaji in Tunisia is a popular dish that is mainly chopped and fried vegetables and fried eggs. The word kaftaji comes from the word kofta, but the recipe is completely different. The words kofta and kaftaji entered the Tunisian dialect through Ottoman Turkish, which in turn derived it from the Persian language. In the Turkish language (and in the Arab East), köfte is ground meat served in the shape of a sausage or a burger and either fired or roasted on skewers over a fire.
The common denominator, therefore, is chopping, which is the meaning that is taken from the Persian verb “koftan” meaning to break, hit, tamp, crush, stomp. Farsi also has a dish that is called kofta that has many local varieties, the most popular of which is Tabriz kofta.
11. Tunisian Bread, Khobz Mbassas
Throughout the year, Tunisians consume different types of bread, excessively – whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or for sandwiches, you will find bread everywhere in Tunisia. Tunisian bakeries are expert at making their own specialities using spices to attract more consumers.
Tunisians have a long relationship with bread and have many different varieties. Among them are mabssas bread, mizan bread, wheat bread, barley bread, and shield bread, as well as unleavened bread and mutabbaq bread. Some aromatic plants are added to bread, making them very tasty food, for example, wheat bread with thyme, cinnamon, and peppers
During the month of Ramadan, you will often find three or more types of bread on the breakfast table, some of them Tunisian and others European in origin, and every member of the family will have brought their own favorite.
12. Tunisian Brik
The brik appetizer is one of the most popular and essential dishes we can find in the Tunisian cuisine, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. It is based on a circle of filo pastry. The “holiness” increases with the holy month of Ramadan, as brik can be found on tables north to south. It is a dish that unites Tunisians: cooking sometimes does what politics cannot do, turning into a language for peoples and nations.
It is a simple dish and making it is inexpensive and easy, as it uses fillings that vary from one city to another and from one social class to another. There are those who use the meat and there are those who put in ground tuna, and there are those who are satisfied with potatoes. But in them all, cheese and eggs are essential.
13. Rouz Jerbi
Rouz jerbi is an authentic Tunisian dish that is usually prepared from rice, meat, liver, chickpeas, and vegetables such as chard, peas and carrots, and parsley. The ingredients are mixed together well and then cooked in steamer. This dish is made during the weekends in Tunisia and its ingredients differ from one family to the next and usually depend on each families wealth.
14. Tunisian Zgougou Asida
Tunisian zgougou is a porridge that is considered a luxurious dish in Tunisia and abroad. According to historians, the use of “zgougou”, an extract from pine trees, began in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when famine hit the northwest. With no wheat and barley, residents discovered zgougou. But it is so delicious people still eat it and even enhance its flavor by adding dried fruits.
15. Markat Gnawia, Cooked Okra
Markat Gnawia is a dish that is common in Africa, Asia, and, specifically, India. The West rejected it due to the sticky mucus and have only begun to appreciate it over the past few decades. Okra first moved to Europe during the Islamic conquest of Andalusia and moved to the world New with the discovery of the Americas. There are now several local varieties of okra in the southern United States, where it enjoys great popularity. Okra is one of the most popular Tunisian main courses and what could be better than okra stew cooked with lamb.
16. Tunisian Madfouna
Madfouna is a speciality of the people of the Tunisian capital and consists mainly of herbs, beef, chard, beans and some spices. This recipe is made easy to make. Simply boil some water, then add the beans, tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients and leave it to cook until the pieces of meat are beautifully tender.
17. Tunisian Lablabi
While lablabi is one of the most popular Tunisian breakfast dishes, the recipe is Ottoman in origin. According to many historians, this delicious dish can be traced back to Turkey. Many say that lababe is a Turkish dish that has its roots in the time when the Ottoman Empire ruled Tunisia and was the official meal of the Ottoman army. Some prefer to eat lababe full of spices, paprika and harissa, so it tastes spicy, and others prefer to add only nutrients such as eggs, olive oil and tuna, while others prefer lababe with only a little olive oil.
18. Tunisian Tagine
Tunisia Tagine is a dish that dates back in history and is considered one of the most popular traditional dishes in Tunisia. There are various ways of preparing the dish and the ingredients differ. The most important of ways are the malsouqah tagine and the tagine margaz, meaning sausage. The ingredients vary according to the food culture of each region.
The regular Tunisian tagine is prepared by chopping parsley, onions, a number of spices and meat depending on your preference, mixing in eggs and cooking in the oven. On the month of Ramadan or at wedding, there is hardly a Tunisian table devoid of all kinds of tagines.
19. Tunisian Fricasse
The most popular Tunisian snack food par excellence is fricasse. This is 100% Tunisian and is basically fried dough. It is prepared with only a few ingredients: flour, water, salt, oil and bread yeast. They are mixed together and then rolled into small balls, fried, and then stuffed with Tunisian harissa (prepared by grinding together dried hot red pepper, garlic and spices), and hot sauce, mashed potatoes, tuna, boiled eggs, and olives. Fricasse is widespread in Tunisian as it is low cost and high flavor. It is available everywhere, and the price of one piece is not more than 0.6 KD.
20. Zlabia and Mukhareq
In addition to the array of appetizing dishes, Tunisians love sweets during the month of Ramadan. Dishes of sweets of many different shapes, sizes and methods of preparation fill the tables of Tunisian families during this time. The name of zalabia and al-mukhareq is comes from it only being consumed during the Ramadan month. This sweet contains a large amount of ghee and honey and is prepared in round or rectangular shapes.
The city of Beja, in the northwest of Tunisia, is renowned for its zalabia and mukhareq, and people will make arduous journeys to get some of these delicious honey dumplings. The origin of these sweets is Turkey and, according to popular myth, was brought to the ancient city of Baja by a Turkish soldier who went to live there to escape military service. He met a family there and prepared this sweet for them. They were so taken by it, they asked him to teach them to make it.
21. Tunisian Makrouth
The original Kairouanian sweet pastry, whose popularity goes far beyond the borders of the city of Kairouan, is the number one Tunisian sweet pastry. Customer travel here from Libya, Algeria, and all the governorates of Tunisia just to purchase Makrouth. And “al-maqrouth” is a type of sweet made from semolina, stuffed with dates, and dipped in honey. It is similar to “maamoul”.
Tastira is very similar to the kaftaji in terms of taste and ingredients, and in some Tunisian cities, people get confused between the two dishes. The main ingredient is pepper, tomato, and egg, which are fried and cut across with a knife. The difference between it and the kaftaji is that the latter contains red squash, potatoes, and sometimes liver, which are popular in the Tunisian tradition.
23. Tunisian Mlawi
This is a popular Tunisian bread for making sandwiches and to prepare it you need flour, semolina, yeast, warm water, salt and oil. It is prepared in a round shape, and patted out so it is very thin. For the filling various ingredients are used, including harissa, eggs, cheese, and more. It is a pure Tunisian bread that is difficult to find in other countries.
24. Jouajem Drink
The “Jouajem” drink is a mixture of fruits and ice cream that comes from the city of Sfax in southern Tunisia. It is very popular outside the city, too, and so it has become part of the city’s identity. No one who lives in the city of Sfax, or, as Tunisians call it, the capital of the South or who has passed through has not had the honor of tasting the juice of “Jouajem”. It is a favorite dessert drink in the month of Ramadan.
25. Ain Sbanioria
Ain Sbniorba is a popular dish that is basically made with minced meat. Ain sbanioria is basically made with a few simple ingredients, mixed with ground meat which is rolled over hard-boiled eggs. It is a delicious dish that is usually served on special occasions and especially as an appetizer during weddings. And name of this recipe originates with the eyes of a beautiful Spanish woman, Ain Sbanioria.
Tunisia has a rich and varied food heritage, enjoying authentic dishes that deepens the people’s attachment to the customs and traditions of the country. Tunisian heritage is not simply amazing architecture and art, is also includes a rich food heritage built on the succession of ages and succession of civilizations.