Culture Trip

Hot like the Saharan Desert, Sweet as the Mediterranean Sea

By CYRINE ETTRIKI | April 26, 2020

Cover photo by @tunisianvintage on Instagram 

Studying in Amsterdam as an international student, people often ask me about my country of origin, to which I reply “I’m from Tunisia”. This usually provokes an array of different responses: some people have never heard of Tunisia, others confuse the country with its capital Tunis, and a select few have actually travelled to this wonderful place and hold it dear in their memory. Whatever the case may be, I do not ever expect people to know much about Tunisia, which makes it all the more exciting for me to tell you about my home country to hopefully teach you something new. 

 Nestled between the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia is a nation full to the brim with history and beautiful sights. Initiator of the Arab spring, the movement which triggered pro-democratic uprisings throughout the Arab world in 2011, Tunisia currently stands as the only democracy in the entire Maghreb region in Northern Africa. This recent change has added to the charm and soul of the nation, reflected by a newly found pride of its people. 

When visiting Tunisia, seeing its capital Tunis is non-negotiable. To make your way around the city, it is best to avoid public transportation, which is not very reliable, and opt for taxis instead. Unlike European taxi services, taxis here charge very low rates which is ideal for the strained student budget. On top of that, there is simply no better way to discover the city than on a quiet ride while looking through a car window. Okay, maybe not that quiet considering the amount of traffic which usually clogs the capital’s streets but if the locals do it, so can you!

Photo by @tunisieanna on Instagram

Aside from Tunis, Tunisia has many more wonderful cities you should visit. Sidi Bou Said, a small town about 20 km north of Tunis, is known as the city of “blue and white”. It is the perfect place to spend an afternoon drinking mint tea, while admiring the blue sea and the white buildings which gave the city its nickname. I recommend taking the time to explore this tiny town especially if you appreciate Mediterranean architecture. 

Not far from Sidi Bou Said lies the ancient city of Carthage. Carthage bears a long history but what you can visit today is mostly of roman origin, dating back to 146 BC. During your stay, you should definitely take a look at the roman sites, including the Antonine baths. A visit to the Carthage museum should also be on your list, where you can see the archeological remains which have surfaced during the modernisation of the city. Foreign visitors are advised to travel further to El Medina, the old town, famous for its many souks, marketplaces, where you can purchase locally handcrafted products.

Photo by Cyrine Ettriki / The Amsterdammer
Photo by Cyrine Ettriki / The Amsterdammer

Finally, we have arrived at my favorite part, where I can rave about my country’s cuisine. A dish that you have probably heard about, as it is a popular student staple, is the famous Couscous. This popular “maghrebi dish” can be prepared in several different ways, according to the tradition of each region. The Tunisian version is known for being red in color and spicy in taste. Tunisians truly do love and appreciate spice, and that’s why they also can’t live without Harissa. Harissa is a paste made from chilli peppers and garlic which is usually served as a condiment or dip.

If you have a sweet tooth, you should try the Tunisian version of the American doughnut: the Bambalouni. They are made of flour, hot water, yeast, and salt, and then fried in hot oil until crisp. Finished off with a sprinkle of sugar, or more like a generous dash for some servings, you will be transported right to dessert heaven.

Photo by @couscoustunisien on Instagram
Photo by @lucile_in_wonderland on Instagram

At the end of your stay, you will hopefully leave with this image of Tunisia in mind: a country full of different spices, clashing cultures, sharp scents and vibrant colours, where the smell of Jasmine is carried by the summer breeze wherever you go.

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