This is a guest post by my friend Bruce MacDonald of Postcard from the Edge, who graciously contributed this Tunisian street food recipe because he thought it was well-suited for Cooked in Allston. I agree, and I’m very thankful to Bruce.
Dangerous Books and Tunisian Eggnog
By Bruce MacDonald
Can books change your life? Sure, if you’re lucky, or you find them at the right time.
As an 18-year-old college freshman, I discovered Ed Buryn’s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa. The book is long out of print – this was 1973, mind you – but you can still find the odd copy on eBay.
To call Vagabonding a guidebook is like calling the Bible the chronicle of a late-Bronze-Age tribe. And it is equally dangerous. Buryn was a Zen Master of backpacking the world. After reading it, I came within an inch of dropping out of school.
Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. Stay in college, my parents suggested; go abroad for your junior year. I took their advice and reward, and at Christmas during that year abroad – granted a glorious month-long reprieve from Oxford and my literature studies – found myself in Tunis.
The world was bigger in 1974. To most Americans of the time, Tunisia would never have even registered as a destination. I’d never met anyone who’d been there. It was hard to get to – relatively speaking, at least. It was Africa. It was Islamic. Thanks to its French colonial history, a patina of Paris overlaid it all. You either spoke Arabic or French, or used sign language. It was sunny, and warm – a place where palm trees grew naturally and bougainvillea blossomed. It had desert oases, Roman ruins, and an island known as the legendary Land of the Lotus Eaters.
It was perfect.
It also has the benefit of being relatively compact. Over the course of the next three weeks, I traveled south from Tunis to Sousse, Sfax, Gabès and, eventually, to the island of Djerba (made famous by Homer in The Odyssey for its lotus-eating). I explored the ruins of Carthage, a rambling, open-air museum undisturbed by either guards or visitors. I discovered hot, sweet mint tea – sometimes served with pine nuts, sometimes not.
In the seaside hamlet of Sidi Bou Said – recently named by Budget Travel as one of the 16 most picturesque villages in the world – I ate the best donut of my life, cooked in front of me in a small pot of oil on a street vendor’s push-cart.
December 25th found me in a dollar-a-night fleabag in the Sousse medina, eating oranges in bed and throwing the peels out the window, trading stories of past Christmases with two Canadian backpackers. It has been the most memorable Christmas morning I’ve had. Christmas dinner was couscous, served with a harissa sauce so hot it made us cry.
I’ve never been able to replicate the food I discovered on that trip – except for one delicious breakfast drink called a lait de poule. You could – and hopefully still can – find them served on any given Tunisian street corner, served by a smiling man with a blender. ‘Lait de poule’ translates to ‘eggnog’ in English – I’m not quite sure why, given the difference – but I like my own rudimentary translation better: ‘Milk of chicken.’ Besides, I hate eggnog.
The ingredients are stupendously simple: a banana, an egg, milk and sugar. The recipe calls for whole milk and cane sugar. You could substitute low-fat, low-cal ingredients, I suppose – but what’s the point?
- One banana, peeled and sliced
- Yolk of one egg
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 cup (8 oz.) of whole milk
- Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
- Serve in a tall glass. Enjoy. It doesn’t get much easier.
By Bruce MacDonald, Postcard from the Edge, a blog about travels in international development