Tips for a vegetarian in Tunisia

Essem

Moderator
Staff member
#1
Some cities are wonderful for vegetarian food. Any traveler who has been to Sydney, Mumbai, London or Singapore for example, is spoilt for choice with meat-free food that is fresh, tasty and creative.

In these cities you can find many restaurants that are producing innovative vegetarian cuisine, either exclusively or as part of a wider menu. Most of these places have moved beyond understanding vegetarian cuisine primarily in terms of its health benefits or good karma, and offer great food without a lecture about baby animals or your bowels.

Tunisia, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. Not only is the city short on restaurants serving international cuisines which are vegetarian-friendly, the concept of vegetarianism is unfamiliar to many people. Don’t want the lambs’ brains? Just pick them out. Or try the grilled fish instead.

Although there is a general (though not total) absence of pork and other pig-based products in the country, the notion that someone would not want to eat any animal products still seems to baffle many waiters and chefs here.

Despite the challenges however, it is possible for a vegetarian to eat well in Tunisia, either by choosing carefully from a Tunisian restaurant, hunting down one of the few vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Tunis (and other large cities), or self-catering at one of the many fresh produce markets.

Several dishes in traditional Tunisian cuisine do not contain meat. One of Tunisia’s most famous dishes, the spicy salade mechouia, is vegetarian, as is salade tunisienne – a blend of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. Be aware, however that restaurants will often add tinned tuna to these dishes, unless you ask for them not to do so.

Other dishes are sometimes vegetarian – vegetable couscous can be meat-free, but the sauce is often made with lamb. Ojja, an egg-based dish sometimes has lamb’s brains and sometimes doesn’t.

Tajine (a kind of omelet) is usually vegetarian, except for when it has chicken in it, and kefteji, an oily, tasty mix of potatoes, capsicum, pumpkin and eggs can be served with liver. The hearty, chick pea-based winter soup lablabi is another dish that is likely to be vegetarian but often has tuna as a condiment.

Alternatively, in Tunis, and other big cities, vegetarians can eat at a number of restaurants serving non-Tunisian cuisine that is vegetarian friendly, including Indian, Japanese, Lebanese and Italian.

Although few restaurants in Tunisia can reproduce the quality and diversity available in the homelands of these cuisines (often due to the limited availability of ingredients), vegetarians will be able to find something to eat. These restaurants are not as common as in many other cities and can often be a little pricey by local standards.

The third option, and often the best, is self-catering by shopping at one of the many excellent fresh produce markets that cover the country. The most famous is probably the central market in Tunis, located between the train station and the medina, a block back from Avenue de France.

Here you can buy seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as bread, dried fruits and nuts, pasta and cheese. The soft cheeses such as ricotta are especially tasty and good value. There is also a daily covered market in the beach suburb of La Marsa and in many other neighborhoods. Most markets only operate until early afternoon.

Tips for a vegetarian traveler in Tunisia
The concept of vegetarianism does not exist in traditional Tunisian society, so it might be difficult to make your wishes understood, even if you have a good handle on Arabic or French. As a rule of thumb, the closer you get to major tourist centers, the easier things get.

If you are eating in a restaurant, take your time with the waiter to check that there is no meat, but also no chicken, fish or other animal products you don’t want to eat. It is worth noting that in French the word viande (meat) only refers to red meat, not fish and poultry. In Arabic the word is (لحم) or (lahem).

Vegetarians staying in a resort hotel should be fine as most places are used to catering to international guests and many offer buffets. However, don’t be afraid to venture beyond the pool to try the food in local restaurants.

Here is an incomplete list of some vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Tunis.

Um Punto Macrobiotico.
Where: rue du Bresil. Not far from Avenue de la Liberté and the Belvedère Park.
Style of food: macrobiotic.
Almost always vegetarian and usually vegan.

Price guide: fixed menu 8 dinars (4 dinars for under 25s)

Ambiance: austere and health-focused
Comment: one of the best options for strict vegetarians to eat out in Tunis. It’s cheap and popular with students.

Café, Resto Alna
Where: Avenue Principale, Les Berges du Lac
Style of food: sometimes vegetarian

Price guide: 20 dinars

Ambiance: rundown 80s kitsch
Comment: this restaurant claims to be vegetarian but when Tunsia Live went there we were offered the choice of fish or steak. Apparently if you call ahead you can arrange for a fixed vegetarian menu. We won’t be bothering.

Mamie Lily
Where: Avenue Pasteur, La Goulette

Style of food: Jewish-Tunisian, meat and meat-free dishes

Price guide: 30 dinars or more per person

Ambiance: elegant and relaxed

Comments: an institution in Tunisia, this restaurant offers food that is both homely and refined. The location in an old house in La Goulette is charming. A few of the dishes are vegetarian or are adaptable.

Dum Pukht
Where: Avenue Principale, Les berges du Lac
Style of food: Indian

Price guide: around 15 dinars per person
Ambiance: Eclectic Indian
Comment: this restaurant is popular with Americans as it is near the embassy and school. It doesn’t stray very far from the usual dishes, but like all Indian restaurants of its type, it has a separate vegetarian section. The naan bread is terrific.

Calcutta
Where: Golden Tulip Hotel, Gammarth

Style of food: Indian

Price guide: 30 dinars
Ambiance: elegant and international

Comment: Out of town and difficult to get to without a car, it also has a vegetarian section on the menu. It serves alcohol and the service is good.

Bambou
Where: Avenue Hédi Nouira, Ennasr 2

Style of food: Korean-inspired

Price guide: 15 – 25 dinars

Ambiance: modern and relaxed

Comments: One of the best Asian restaurants in town, serving a variety of cuisines including sushi. Vegetarian options are limited, but exist.

Other options:
Vegetarians will also find the usual fallback options in Italian restaurants (pizza, pasta etc). Lebanese food is another good option with a number of restaurants in the city center as well as at the beach in La Marsa. A few unremarkable Japanese restaurants have also opened recently which offer vegetable maki, salad and the like. Major hotels usually have more vegetarian options, since they cater to international tourists and often have buffets.

Language:
I don’t eat meat, chicken or fish

Je ne mange pas de viande, ni de poulet, ni de poisson
أنا لا آكل اللحم و الدجاج و السمك

Without tuna please
Sans thon s’il vous plait.
بلا تونة من فضلك

Is there any meat / chicken / fish in this?

Est-ce qu’il y a de la viande / du poulet / du poisson dedans ?
هل يحتوي على اللحم او الدجاج أو السمك؟

Is there meat in the sauce?

Est-ce qu’il y a de la viande dans la sauce ?
هل يوجد لحم في الصلصة؟


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Trulymadlydeeply

Well-Known Member
#2
Thanks for that Essem a friend of mine was thinking of a trip over at Christmas with her husband and family but she is vegetarian and was asking me if she would be catered for. I will forward this info to her :)
 
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