Last time, I shared our iftar experience at Essaraya for a traditional iftar dinner in a traditional setting. This week, I’ve got another iftar dinner experience to share at El Ali, also in the Tunis medina.
Charming yet modern setting
Walking into El Ali, I was charmed by the warm lighting and the sleek, modern take on traditional Tunisian interiors. El Ali is really nestled in the heart of the medina so even though Google maps offers great walking directions, plan to get a little lost along the way. Getting lost is part of the medina experience! Finding El Ali requires some walking on the narrow, winding, and uneven streets of the medina and climbing the steep stairs to the restaurant, so it may not be ideal for those with limited mobility. Lucky for us, a friend of ours guided us through the medina to the restaurant where we were meeting friends from the Tunis Wine Tasting Club. After two steep flights of stairs (um, that counts as a pre-dinner workout, right?), we entered a small foyer surrounded by smaller dining areas.
The iftar menu
- Dates and B’sissa
- Octopus Soup
- Brik with other appetizers
- Grilled Liver with Salad Mechouia
- Braised Lamb with Couscous
- Mint Tea (duh!)
I was immediately impressed because the restaurant handled our group of nine with ease. We were seated at a long table which was set with bottled water, stuffed dates, and b’sissa. What is b’sissa? Glad you asked! It’s a thick, sweet drink that is made from roasted grains. I’ve never had b’sissa before and when I tried it I was completed shocked to find that it has an uncanny resemblance to Taiwanese brown rice milk. Yes, it tastes like rice milk that is usually served at breakfast in Taiwan. My brain was having some major confusion when I first tasted the b’sissa. It was so odd to find such a familiar taste in a completely different part of the world. Personally, rice milk isn’t my favorite Taiwanese food, but I found myself drawn to the b’sissa for it’s familiarity.
Octopus Soup & Brik
As we broke the fast with the stuffed dates and b’sissa, our waiter came to take our order for the dinner. There was a set menu for iftar, but we chose our soups and main courses. I went for the octopus soup, which is a tomato based seafood soup that is quite popular in Tunis. The octopus was tender and delicious!
Soup was served with a brik (of course!) and a few other finger foods, including fried shrimp and meatballs. My brik was a little soggy from the lemon slice that was resting on it, but I still ate the entire thing 😉
Grilled Liver with Salad Mechouia (my favorite course of the menu!)
Next, the table shared large plates of grilled liver over a bed of Tunisian salad mechouia. I realize that liver isn’t the most popular food for Americans, but I enjoy liver from time to time. This liver was well-seasoned and grilled until just tender – not overcooked. The salad mechouia was the perfect complement for the heavy flavors of the liver and I gobbled.this.up. This was my favorite part of the meal and I would have had the liver as a main course if it was an option. It was delicious and different. Honestly, if you like liver, this is the dish to order at El Ali. I’m not sure if it is available on their regular menu, but it should be!
For the main course, there were four options: a lamb couscous, chicken with risotto, M’selli (a beef stew), and swordfish with pasta. I’ve been craving Moroccan couscous for months, so I ordered the lamb couscous. I was given fair warning that this would NOT resemble the Moroccan couscous, but I ordered it anyway. And, yup, there is no resemblance to the Moroccan couscous. The dish did have it’s own charm, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.
The lamb was braised and fall off the bone tender, but just a bit too fatty for my tastes. A few bites of the lamb were enough, and a bit too heavy, for me. The couscous was served in squares, similar to grilled polenta. I’ve never seen couscous presented this way in Tunisia or Morocco. Maybe this is a “modern” take on the couscous? The couscous was “sweet”, resembling the sweetness of a Moroccan pastilla. Flavors of cinnamon and cloves were prominent in the couscous and it came topped with almonds, pistachios, and a dusting of powdered sugar. Even though it was a nice change from the traditional braised lamb or grilled fish that is served at the restaurants throughout Tunis, it was just too sweet for my tastes.
Ugh, I don’t have room for dessert!
At this point in the meal, I was utterly stuffed. Like on the verge of a stomach ache, stuffed. But, there was still dessert to be had! we had a choice of Tunisian custard, chocolate mousse, or fruit. I opted for some simple fruit. And of course, the meal ended with the obligatory mint tea.
I was uncomfortably full after dinner (which I’m beginning to learn is the norm for iftar). One thing that continues to surprise me at iftar is the speed at which dinner is served. We went through a five course dinner in less than two hours. It’s crazy how fast they plow through iftar. My stomach can’t handle it. No wonder I was uncomfortably full! Thank goodness for elastic waistbands.
A stroll through the medina
After dinner, the rest of our group went for shisha. Since I was recovering from a cold, Omar and I opted to take a stroll through the medina and head home for an early night. The medina is really fun on Ramadan evenings because it takes on a lively spirit. The vibe is energetic, but relaxed and lighthearted. Here are a few shots of our walk through the medina on the way back to our car.
45 bis Rue Jemâa Zitouna – La Médina
Tunis, Tunisia 1006
Click here for a Map & Directions
For reservations call:
(+216) 71 321 927
(+216) 23 811 511
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ElAliRestoEtCafeCulturel/
Ramadan is coming to an end soon, but I’ve still got one more iftar to share! Stay tuned!