25 Most Popular Foods in Tunisia – Tunisian Dishes w/ Recipes
Tunisia is a unique country; its name conjures up images of beaches, coasts, history, and tourism. And, of course, the hospitable Tunisian people.
Despite the similarity with well-known Arabic dishes, Tunisian cuisine is characterized by unique twists and sophistication. What sets Tunisian cuisine apart from other culinary traditions and cultures is the authentic way ingredients, many sourced from the sea, are used.
The cuisine is rich 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 using fresh, seasonal ingredients found in the Mediterranean region.
Spicy Harissa and many other spices, olive oil, hot red pepper, tomatoes, and garlic, are widely used in Tunisian cooking. The approach is often called “solar cuisine”, as it relies heavily on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, fish, and meats.
Bread is a staple of Tunisian cuisine, as it accompanies almost all dishes and is usually used for dipping. It is topped with thyme, sesame, and olive oil at breakfast. Garlic and olive oil 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.
Tunisian cuisine is full of small, appetizing dishes that combine 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; all finished off with coffee.
Tunisian coffee is strong and dense. Rose water is often added. Coffee symbolizes 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. So let’s look at Tunisia’s 25 most popular foods that reflect the many cultures – Berber, Punic, Arab, Jewish, Turkish, Italian, and others of this fascinating nation.
1. Omek Houria
Omek Houria is a popular and authentic Tunisian side dish and appetizer. This salad is made of boiled and mashed carrots, seasoned with various spices and harissa. According to Tunisians, it was named after a mermaid who dyed her hair with henna, making it the color of a carrot.
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 perfect vegan dish.
However, it’s usually garnished with hard-boiled eggs, 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 particular 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”, receiving exceptional 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 breastfeeding women 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 thrice daily.
Zrir is also found on the reception dining table for well-wishers and is served in Ramadan.
3. Tunisian Ojja
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 cooked in olive oil. Other ingredients can be added, such as margarine or seafood.
By adding potatoes or other vegetables, the omelet becomes a shakshuka. It differs from its Egyptian cousin, 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. It’s served hot.
4. Tunisian Kammounia
Tunisian Kammounia is considered one of the most traditional and authentic dishes and is distinguished by its delicious taste and high nutritional value.
Kammounia is very easy to prepare, taking only a few minutes. This dish is made of lamb or beef liver cooked in a tomato sauce and seasoned with cumin.
5. Tunisian Masfouf
Masfouf is a creamy couscous dish made with peas or raisins. Many types of savory or sweet massif are served as a dessert, side dish, or snack.
Masfouf is lighter than couscous and is popularly eaten with vegetables or meat. It is usually eaten at dinner or at the end of the meal.
Its sweet version, massif, 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-Masouf is accompanied by pomegranate seeds and sweet sprouts and garnished with raisins, dates, and dried fruits.
6. Tunisian Hlalem
This tasty dish of pasta and beans was introduced from southern Spain to Tunisia, during the Andalusian migration to the countries of North Africa in 1906 and 1908.
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.
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.
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 name comes from the verb taboun, meaning to cover the fire so that it does not go out. The oven is fed with wood until it is heated well when the dough of semolina and water is shaped into rounds placed on one side of the oven until it is well cooked. It is served hot.
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. It originated among the 11th and 12th century Berbers, 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 muloukhian (mallow) is one of the nation’s best-loved side dishes. But, contrary to what most Tunisians think, it originated in Egypt and the origin of mulokhia and involves an exciting legend.
When the Hyksos army invaded 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, called “kheya”, because they believed a poisonous plant grew alongside it. So when the Hyksos forced some Egyptians to eat “kheya”, they were sure they would die. They didn’t, of course. Instead, they 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. Then the Ottomans came across it, and through them, it reached Tunisia. And that’s how it became a Tunisian staple that’s served frequently when it’s in season.
10. Tunisian Kaftaji
Kaftaji in Tunisia is a popular dish comprising chopped, fried vegetables and fried eggs. Vegetables can be whatever is in season, but typically include eggplants, bell peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. You may also find squash and sometimes lamb’s liver included,
The word kaftaji comes from the word kofta, but the Tunisian recipe is entirely different and features honey, lemon, ginger and spices to flavor the dish. Whatever its origins, Kaftaji is a must-try when you visit Tunisia.
11. Tunisian Bread, Khobz Mbassas
Throughout the year, Tunisians consume different types of bread excessively – whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or sandwiches, you will find bread everywhere in Tunisia. During the month of Ramadan, you will often find three or more types of bread on the breakfast table.
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.
Tunisian bakeries make their own specialties using spices to attract more customers. Aromatic plants are included in the bread, adding flavor and interest. For example, wheat bread may add thyme, cinnamon, and peppers.
12. Tunisian Brik
Tunisian brik is an appetizer based on a circle of filo pastry. It is one of the most popular staples of Tunisian cuisine, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. It is a dish that unites Tunisians: cooking sometimes does what politics cannot do, creating a common bond that unites peoples and nations.
This simple dish is inexpensive and easy to make. Fillings vary from one city to another and from one social class to another. Some use meat, some put in ground tuna, while others are satisfied with potatoes. But in every variation, cheese and eggs are essential.
13. Rouz Jerbi
Rouz jerbi is an authentic Tunisian dish usually prepared from rice, meat, liver, chickpeas, and vegetables such as chard, peas and carrots, and parsley.
The ingredients are mixed well and then cooked in a steamer. This dish is made during the weekends in Tunisia, and its elements differ from one family to the next and usually depend on what’s in season and their household traditions.
14. Tunisian Zgougou Asida
Tunisian zgougou is a sumptuous porridge. According to historians, “zgougou”, an extract from pine trees, began to be used in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when famine hit the country’s northwest. With no wheat and barley, residents discovered zgougou.
They found it so delicious that people still eat it and even enhance its flavor by adding dried fruits.
15. Markat Gnawia, Cooked Okra
Markat Gnawia is a dish common in Africa, Asia, and India.
Stewed okra (aka ladies fingers) is one of the most famous Tunisian main courses, and what could be better than an aromatic okra stew cooked with lamb?
16. Tunisian Madfouna
Madfouna is a specialty of the people of Tunis, the capital. It consists mainly of herbs, beef, chard, beans, and spices.
This recipe is made easy to make. 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 lablabil is one of the most famous Tunisian breakfast dishes, the original recipe is Turkish, as it was the official meal of the Ottoman army.
Some love their lablabil full of spices, paprika and harissa, so it tastes hot, and others prefer to add only nutrients such as eggs, olive oil and tuna, while others prefer their lablabil ultra-simple, with only a little olive oil.
18. Tunisian Tagine
Tunisian Tagine is a dish that dates back in history and is considered one of the country’s most popular traditional dishes. There are various ways of preparing the dish, and the ingredients differ. The ingredients vary according to the food culture of each region.
A typical Tunisian tagine is prepared by chopping parsley, onions, several spices, and meat, depending on your preference, mixing in eggs, and cooking in the oven. During Ramadan or at weddings, there is hardly a Tunisian table that isn’t groaning under the weight of all kinds of tagines.
19. Tunisian Fricasse
The most popular Tunisian snack food is fricassee. It’s 100% Tunisian and is basically fried dough, prepared with only a few ingredients: flour, water, salt, oil, and bread yeast. They are combined, then rolled into small balls, fried, and stuffed with Tunisian harissa (prepared by grinding together dried hot red pepper, garlic and spices), mashed potatoes, tuna, boiled eggs, and olives.
Fricasse is low in cost and high in flavor. It is available everywhere, and the price of one piece won’t cost more than 0.6 KD. Having said that, you may not stop at one piece!
20. Zlabia and Mukhareq
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 names of zlabia and al-mukhareq come from the fact that they’re only being consumed during the Holy month. These sweet dumplings contain a large amount of ghee and honey and are prepared in round or rectangular shapes.
The city of Beja, in the northwest of Tunisia, is renowned for its zlabia and mukhareq, and people will make arduous journeys to get some of these delicious honey dumplings.
They originate from Turkey and, according to popular myth, were 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
Makrouth is an original Kairouanian sweet pastry, whose popularity goes far beyond the borders of that city. Fans travel here from Libya, Algeria, and all the governorates of Tunisia just to purchase Makrouth.
Al-maqrouth is made from semolina, stuffed with dates, and dipped in honey. It is similar to maamoul, another much-loved Tunisian treat.
Tastira is very similar to the kaftaji in terms of taste and ingredients, and in some Tunisian cities, it’s easy to get confused between the two dishes.
The main ingredients are peppers, tomatoes, and eggs, which are fried and cut across with a knife. The difference between tastira and 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 unique Tunisian sandwich bread made with flour, semolina, yeast, warm water, salt and oil. It is shaped into a circle, and patted out so it is very thin. For the filling, various ingredients are used, including harissa, eggs, cheese, and more.
This authentic Tunisian bread is difficult to find in other countries.
24. Jouajem Drink
The Jouajem drink is an irresistible 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 has become part of the city’s identity. It is a popular street food as well as a favorite dessert drink in the month of Ramadan.
25. Ain Sbanioria
Ain Sbniorba is a popular dish made with simple ingredients mixed with ground meat rolled over hard-boiled eggs. It is a delicious dish usually served on special occasions, especially as an appetizer during weddings. The name of this recipe originates with the eyes of a beautiful Spanish woman, Ain Sbanioria.
Tunisia has a rich and varied food heritage, comprising authentic dishes that deepen the people’s attachment to the customs and traditions of the country. Tunisian heritage is not simply fantastic architecture and art, it includes a rich food heritage built on the succession of ages and civilizations.