Being a “happy eater” and not picky, I found it easy to adapt to Tunisian eating habits. Tunisian cuisine is healthy and very good, in part because it is seasonal, although some items, like tomatoes, can now be bought year round thanks to greenhouses. Obviously, the best tasting fruits and vegetables must be bought when in season. And the taste of local fruits and vegetables is one of the things that I, and other visitors to Tunisia, marvel about. Take the humble turnip, for example—how often do you eat turnips in the States? I remember them as being lifeless. Ahh, but in Tunisia, they’re delicious, with lots of taste and there are a couple of good Tunisian dishes with turnips as the main ingredient. Or they can be sliced and put in a spicy salt brine to make a sort of pickled turnip, eaten raw, called “Torshi,” an addition to the salad menu. Just writing about it has made me put turnips on my shopping list for today.
However, there’s a catch: everything has to be cooked from scratch, and as everyone who I know sits down to three meals a day (well, maybe they cheat on breakfast because they’re in a hurry), that means a good deal of time spent in the kitchen, mostly by the mother of the family. In Tunisia, food = love: expect ot be stuffed. When I first arrived in Tunisia, my mother-in-law served me a large plate of couscous, which I polished off. You’re supposed to clean your plate, right? Well, no. Although my mother-in-law was impressed that I did honor to her cooking (she was an excellent cook) and tried to serve me a second helping, everyone else at the table was astonished. It didn’t take me long to figure out that you’re supposed to leave a little bit uneaten on your plate to show that you’re full or else the cook will fill up your plate again, and again and again. An empty plate signals hunger.
Consequently, with all the this cooking on a daily basis, a kitchen with a door that separates it from the rest of the house is desirable. I like the idea of a kitchen that opens onto the dining area and/or living room, but, between the heat factor and the smells of cooking it simply isn’t practical. My kitchen has a particular smell of olive oil (which I use daily) that I only notice when I come home after travelling—not unpleasant, but I try to keep it in the kitchen.
This kitchen might be classified as a country kitchen. It has evolved over time, so the design isn’t perfect, but it’s a good work area for me. The gutting process:
The same white tiles with green horizontal stripes as the main bathroom were used on the walls.
I wanted to keep the cabinet doors that had taken three weeks to paint some 30 years ago. But when I examined them carefully, I once again found shabby without the chic. It took two weeks to restore them.
On the kitchen door, the bread sack is an absolute necessity as bread is the major staple and is bought daily. The sack’s placement on the door may appear odd, but this is just the right height for me to pop in and fish out the large loaves, which may be as many as six per day. I nearly tore my hair out until I figured out this solution--I mean, where to put all that bread? Once, however, a couple of kittens found the sack to be the perfect place to sleep at night, and nibble on the bread when they felt like a little snack. So I had to wash it and pin the top closed until they outgrew it. They were disappointed.
The fabrics (from my stash) match the colors of the cabinet doors and I played with buttons across the top, using different colored threads to attach them. The edges unravel a bit more with each washing for a shaggy look. This was a fun and fast project, a nice change from the weeks or months that most projects usually take.