A promised sequence of Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things: The (Hidden) Gems. The hidden gems of Tunis are its restaurants (at least, three of its restaurants) and the biggest mosaics museum in the world, Le Bardo.
The surprising fact is that restaurants are not a big part of the Tunisian culture (coffee shops, on the contrary, are). Food is big in Tunis but people mostly eat at home, cook at home, buy already prepared delights for home and entertain at home. An exception to that are sandwich shops, which are many, (apparently) delicious and as diverse as a sandwich shop can be. That’s why I have marveled that much at Dar El Jed, Fondouk El Attarine and The Cliff.
Dar El Jeld‘s fantastic interior is a reason itself to come dine there. Tucked in the old streets of Medina, Tunis’ center, between its colorful (and soulful) Souks, Dar El Jeld preserves the authentic atmosphere of an old noble Arab mansion, which it was up until 1987. An Arab mansion, or la maison Arabe, used to be a home for several generations of the same family, with parents, grandparents and all their kids sharing the same roof – and the same meal, served in the house’s beautifully decorated internal courtyard, under the stars when the weather was right (which in Tunis should be around 350 days a year). Today Dar El Jeld offers by far the best traditional Tunisian food and the unparalleled setting of beautifully kept mosaic, Ottoman carpets and the finest tableware. Prepare yourself for an enchanting evening with white tablecloth set in an open-air patio. Make sure to visit the rooms upstairs to have a peak at the traditional life of Arab noblesse. A must.
Like Dar El Jeld, Fondouk El Attarine also used to be an Arab mansion, even though of a more humble origin. It was a caravanserai, a roadside inn for where salesmen travelling in a caravan could station for a day and rest. Today Foundouk El Attarine is a place for a luxurious souk (a series of shops) at the ground floor and at the upper gallery, offering the very fine local products. It is also the place for pine and mint tea, pomegranate desserts and listening to the musicians playing traditional Tunisian music.
I did not take my camera to The Cliff and I regret it deeply – even though it would not be exactly appropriate at this glamorous seaside restaurant located in the suburbs of Tunis (predictably, at a cliff). This one really got me surprised. I would expect a restaurant like this – and I have been to restaurants like this – in London, Istanbul and at the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Soft lounge music (becoming house music at some point), beautifully dressed people, diamonds and pearls, French-Italian food. A very different Tunis.
But enough about carnal pursuits, let’s talk about the food for the soul. On this note, Le Bardo Museum, located, again, in the suburbs of Tunis in what used to be a 15th century Hafsid palace, is a pearl. It has many beautiful things, like the ancient jewelry and the Roman marble statues, but its unique collection is that of ancient mosaics, the largest in the world. Not only it is breathtakingly beautiful, the colorful tiles tell a tale of the region: the prosperity of Carthage, the rise of the art, valued by this ancient civilization, the Greek and the Roman influence. Several floors of gorgeous pieces filled with air and light, truly impressive.
That’s the Tunis I experienced the first time I got there. White and blue, authentic and modern, filled with sun rays and sea whispers, made of colors and life. And, at the same time, calm and solemn.