My best meal in Tunisia wasn’t regional food, but instead, complex Indian dishes paired with Tunisian wine: a match made in globalization heaven!
I did not expect to write that my best meal in Tunisia was Indian food. Yes, I expected great couscous or perhaps the depth of flavor in Moroccan style tagines, maybe an eastern influence of good Shawarma (Chawarma in Tunis), or French dishes with a nod to Tunisia. While my last post about Moroccan food proves one expectation was met, in general, I found food in Tunisia to be decent, but not amazing. I spent plenty of time searching great dining experiences, but I acknowledge that I didn’t get out and around to the very finest Tunisia has to offer. While I had several good meals, the best were not fully “Tunisian.”
If you read my post about Stockpot in Riga, you saw that my favorite meals in Latvia were not the country’s ‘own’ cuisine. One can argue about the negatives of globalization, but by my observation, globalization allows us to experience another culture without traveling far from home. Or in this case, it allows both locals and travelers alike to savor the exotic together.
The best meal I had in Tunis came at the end of my stay in Tunisia. I’m not sure whether the lack of a meal that wowed me for weeks caused me to lower my standards, or perhaps it really was that good. I would argue that the meal would have been fantastic no matter the setting or meal context. Good food is good food!
This particular experience was made possible by Calcutta, one of the restaurants in the Golden Tulip Hotel – Carthage. Once inside, this restaurant’s traditional atmosphere could be anywhere in the world. Its lengthy menu offers many recognizable specialties, with a few interesting selections. The ‘chicken cooked in pickle spices’ sounded a bit odd, but its rich sauce had a slightly smoky quality to it and so many subtle layers of flavor. I tasted a friend’s but wished I could have returned, because I’d order it myself. My murgh tikka masala, though not a truly ‘Indian’ dish (thank you, British colonists) had depth in its slow-simmered tomato and onion gravy with a slow-burning heat (I requested spicy – their spicy was more of an Indian ‘medium hot’ rather than true hot). I also tried another friend’s chicken makhani (ordered spicy). Again, the makhani curry was outstanding – a complex interplay of sweet, velvety, tangy and meaty at once, with the essence of garlic. On the vegetarian side, yellow dal (lentils) were not quite as good. They tasted as if they came from a mix, I’m sorry to say, but palak paneer was tasty, if not as complex or rich as other versions I’ve had. The garlic naan was nicely charred and full of garlic.
Though I ate wonderful Indian meals throughout the next several weeks, the complexity of Calcutta’s traditional dishes remains a standout among restaurants in several countries.