Home > Travels, Tunisian Life > The Multipurposed Tunisian Cafe

The Multipurposed Tunisian Cafe

Cafe des Delices, captured in all it’s beauty by Patrick Bruel here, is a famed Cafe in Tunisia. I went there for the first time during Ramadan. Each time I visit a Tunisian cafe, I can relive that incredible evening teetering high above the coast, smoking a sheesha and sipping tea with the boys of @.

But this weekend, I got to attach new meaning to my generic idea of the Tunisia cafe. One would think, that with my final month in Tunisia, I would seek out something new, exciting and unexplored. Truth be told, a Tunisian cafe is a wonderful way to get to know the country and its people. 

While the initial  weekend plan was to go to Bardo Museum on Saturday, by the time I reached Passage after work, we were a tad too late to capitalize on the museum’s tomes. We decided that we would go to La Goulette for a walk and dinner instead. La Goulette is a beautiful port of tunisia with delicious but pricey restaurants. Before making our way over there, Anna realized she desperately needed a coffee. Going for a coffee in Tunisia is no Starbucks ordeal: you sit, wait for your order, and  then with the tiniest little cup of coffee, you spend one hour sipping it. I actually quite enjoy the pace of this proper break in the day- even though I always finish my coffee in 10 seconds flat. 

We spent 2 hours at the cafe before taking a taxi to La Goulette. We walked up the beach but then as the sun slid behind the buildings, it got too cold to go any further. We went into another cafe and this time, had tea and a sheesha. Anna and I took an apple flavored sheesh while Houssem took the real deal, a flavor slightly worse than a cheap cigar. 

Omar came by to join us later and as per usual, his presence cranked up the laugh factor. Soon though, it got too cold to stay even in the cafe so we moved on out to search for dinner. As we walked together aimlessly, we saw bright lights and found a restaurant titled Restaurant Cafe The Vert. 

We went inside and were met by an inviting wall of warmth. The place was beautiful, with peach table cloths, candles and flowers. The boys decided to have a feast and ordered the special 3 course meal of assorted Tunisian salads, seafood tapas and a giant grilled fish with white chardonnay. 

I have never before seen how my food goes from the backroom to the frontroom so this restaurant had a surprise in store for me. The waiter took us to the kitchen to chose our fish and I of course went camera happy ( and kept singing that McDonald’s commercial for a fish burger “Give me that little fish, give me that fish!”. )

Filled to the brim such that our ears turned bright red, we decided to head home. On our way to the train station, we ran into Malek, Melissa’s boyfriend. He had heard rowdy crowd of English speakers and came out into the streets to see who it was ( there are only a few English speakers in Tunisia so there’s a large chance if you know one, you are two degrees away from knowing them all!)

“Malek! What are you doing here?” 

“I was in the mosque studying the Koran with my friends”

All of us say , “Oohhhhh” with a nod in appreciation/reverence.

He stares at our solemn faces for a millisecond then bursts out laughing “HAHAHAHA!! Studying the Koran?! Me?! My friend has an apartment attached to the mosque and a bunch of us are drinking there  together.” 

Shocked faces replace our somber ones, “Aren’t you supposed to be studying for exams?!”

“We’re doing that too. Definitely more drinking than studying though. Its better for your brain you see.”

Children will be children.  After chatting with Malek, we wound up huddled one on top of the other, waiting for a train. Once back in Tunis, we met up with the rest of the gang at the Hotel International. There, we had drinks at the bar with a bunch of Austrian travellers before we went  into town.

It was truly freezing that night and we quickly dipped into the first known watering hole. From being a slab of gray wall, the moment the door opened, it was as though I had been pushed into a new world. An authentic Arabic band was beating away at drums and violins as a young girl danced. The chandeliers were on low and candles lay scattered over tables with ancient cigarette burns coloring the table cloths. Men and women sat together, closer than I had ever seen at any cafe, and waiters kept going around refilling glasses. A sole bartender worked his area with spouts and bottles crammed together into one neat corner that could be easily hidden with a drop of a curtain. I almost felt as though I had walked into a 1920’s bootlegger joint.

The following day we woke early to go to Dougga, a set of Roman ruins in the mountains. Constantina, the Greek intern, and I talked the whole way up as Anna snoozed and Houssem studied. Once we debarked, I was stunned with the tranquility. Far from Tunis, we were in blown away by the crispness of the air and the lustrous greenery of the rolling farms that surrounded the Dougga ruins. I think I found the landscape to be more beautiful than the ruins themselves! We were in a perfectly preserved part of Tunisia where you could see every ounce of its Mediterranean connection to Spain, Italy and Croatia.

We meandered the mazes of the Roman leftovers, raced up the colosseum for photos, walked through the country side where a herd of cows nearly mowed us down, soaked up some sun lying in the grass, and then we went for a coffee at the Cafe. 

The Cafe at Dougga is situated right on the side of the mountain, with long leaves from trees draped artfully across the terrace and a small stone wall being our only safety net lest we get too giddy. Incredible is all I can think of. Purely incredible. This cafe was nestled in the most ideal of locations where we could see the mountains, fields, small huts, ancient runs, and olive orchards while we listened to Arabic music and the far away calls of sheep to master.

 Thus, in one weekend, I experienced Tunisia by Cafe….and I would gladly do it again!

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