Resto Cafe (Chenini)

One place we thought was very intriguing while visiting the ruins of Chenini (see "sights") was the “Resto Cafe” restaurant and hotel.  Hugging the side of the very steep mountain, we used the interior stairwells of the Resto Cafe to travel to the top level of Chenini.

This eccentric structure features a variety of small rooms on a number of different levels.  The white- washed interiors are perfectly chic in their rustic, somewhat unfinished state.  It was kind of like a spacey tree-house, complete with an occasional bedroom or two, a couple of small bar areas, and some truly intense views!  And while this is probably the last place in the world we would expected to see a functioning espresso machine, resting proudly on the kitchen counter just out of view, there one was - beaming tomato red in color nonetheless!

At the top of the cafe, you meet the main path that takes you to the to the main mosque of the village.  We were so tired from this steep walk, we decided to stay put and knock back a soda before heading out to the sites.  The owners were very nice and encouraged us to take pictures of the phenomenal views, and to tell others about their business.  (So here ya go!)

The "Resto Cafe" is also a hotel, and while the quarters are perhaps a bit cramped, this would certainly be a once-in-a-lifetime location to, um, rest your head for the evening.  Set of Drifters tip:  If you are challenged in your mobility in any way, we would not recommend this trek as the stairwells are narrow, steep and, in some places, unfinished.

Resto Cafe - about 20 km west and slightly south of Tataouine; look for signs to “Chenini” via C207, off of the main   road (P19) in Tataouine

cous cous tunisienne (throughout Tunisia)

Cous cous is one of the national staple dishes of Tunisia, and it is often found and prepared in many different ways.  Depending on your personal taste, you can select from a variety of proteins such as lamb, chicken or fish.  (Vegetarian cous cous is also readily available everywhere.)

While staying at the Sangho Privilege Hotel (see "digs"), we opted in for the extensive dinner buffet which featured many Tunisian favorites alongside tourist-friendly European cuisine.  Yes, we had multiple portions of cous cous along with fantastic fresh Tunisienne salad, various vegetable side-dishes, and breads.  Brady chose the fresh fish cous cous and he couldn’t get enough of it; neither could the dozen or so cats and kittens that live in the bushes nearby.  Although signs are posted throughout the restaurant asking guests not to feed the hungry cats, we found it very difficult to resist.  While the Euros at the table next door treated the emaciated kittens as if they were really pesky rats, we could not help but accidentally drop a few pieces of meat and a fish bone by our feet!  These furry little creatures know which way their bread is buttered, and they certainly love the Sangho Privilege restaurant!   As they lick their chops, you can tell by the smile on their precious feline faces, that this is good food!

A buffet is also available at breakfast time, though this meal was less inspired.  Still, yogurts, pastries and fruit will get you going on your early-morning trek into the vast surrounding wilderness.  

Sangho Privilege Tataouine - Route de Chenini, Tataouine, 011 (216) 75 860 102

cafe at Hôtel Matmata (Matmata)

Upon arriving in Matmata (see "sights"), we were immediately interested in trying some of the local fare.  (That long drive up the Jebel Dahar assuredly left us starving!)  Unfortunately, as is customary throughout the country, dinner was not to be served until “around 7:30” (presumably after sunset).  While grabbing a quick drink at the nearby Hôtel Marhala, we were advised by multiple people who lived in town that we should go to “this” or “that restaurant.”  One local even went as far as to offer us transportation to his friend’s hilltop eatery where fresh live chickens would be surrendered in honor of our dinner ~ yikes!  We realized quickly that tourism truly drives this small town and people are hungry to make their dinars any way they can!

Being reasonably suspicious of anyone too eager to please, we decided to forgo any meals that involved door to door drivers.  We looked around for places within walking distance of our hotel instead.

The big competitor to the Hôtel Sidi Driss is the Hôtel Matmata (see “digs”).  After a glance at the menu and brief exchange with the maître d, we felt comfortable that the poolside establishment could offer us an amazing dinner.  Since we were unsure of the ingredients of many of the dishes, we decided to throw caution to the wind and allowed our waiter to choose the components of our three-course meal.  (We were even open to dromadaire steak if they had it on the menu!)

To start, our waiter brought us a Tunisian staple, a round of French baguette dressed with harissa, the oily curry-esque dip that somewhat has the consistency of hoummas.  Harissa is actually the hot spice that flavors the dip; its bite can set your mouth afire if you aren’t careful.  (You may want to keep some bottled water nearby!)  With French bread, this delightful delicacy is quite filling.  Make sure you don’t fill up on too much before your main courses.

The appetizer course was called “brick.”  Though the name may initially turn some away, it is not as unusual, or weighty, as it may sound.  The Tunisian favorite is of Middle East descent, and is easily described as a large “empanada” filled with a delicately fried egg, local spices and other odds ‘n ends made to order.  Our “briq” dish at the Hôtel Matmata included tuna, a resulting combination that tempted our taste buds with every new bite!

Next up was a flavorful chicken dish accompanied by a side of "salade tunisienne" that boasted some incredibly tasty marinated tomato slices!  (No confirmation yet if the chicken was as “fresh” as other establishments had promised us.)  We paired the entire meal with a couple bottles of Celtia, really enjoying the laid back atmosphere offered by the staff.  They made us feel as though we were the only ones in the restaurant.  (Come to think of it... aside from one other French duo, we were the only ones in the restaurant!)

Hôtel Matmata - C104, Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, 011 (216) 75 240 066 

Restaurant le Minaret (Tozeur)

Hungry for a snack after a bout of haggling Tozeur’s busy souk (see "goodies")?  You are in luck as the surrounding environs offer many options.  Thankfully, Brady and myself seem to have a “Sixth Sense” when it comes to picking out restaurants.  In avoidance of a mild rain shower we ducked into the alley adjacent to the nearby Mosque el-Ferdous.  It is here where we found Restaurant le Minaret.  We were instantly attracted to the spot as it was slightly off the beaten path from the other eateries that were rammed with customers.  In addition, the entrance to its pleasing courtyard featured large doors that showcased some of the best metal rivet work we had seen yet in Tunisia!

Le Minaret’s interiors were equally as special, welcoming guests with comfortable “poof” seating, hanging lanterns and other familiar accoutrement you would expect to see in any Tunisian/ Moroccan style setting.  Nonetheless, the decor of le Minaret is turned up a notch thanks to its brilliant turquoise painted walls and sexy, yet subtle, draped wooden bungalow booths.  Owner Pierre-Maurice, an expat from Paris, pairs the alluring design with chill-out music that is played quiet enough for you to engage in conversation with those at your table and beyond.

Oh yeah, and there is good food too!  Subtle tweaks made to the mostly Tunisian staple menu further help this stylish cafe rise up above its competition.  While a simple salade tunisienne was further explored here, other dishes were more inventive:  tagine with local dates and peaches, and even lasagna with dromadaire!

Restaurant le Minaret is open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Sundays; closed Mondays.  You can get a full-course meal that includes appetizer, main course, dessert and tea for about TD 15 (about $11 USD).  Le Minaret does not serve alcohol.  Set of Drifters tip:  Look out for the restaurant’s cute little dog whom works the crowd more like a mascot/ host rather than a beggar of scraps!  And don’t miss the strong coffee!  It’s the best in town!

Restaurant le Minaret - Avenue Habib Bourguiba Bourguiba (located in alleyway behind the Mosque el-Ferdous), Zone Touristique, Tozeur, 011 (216) 23 524 203

Restaurant de la République (Tozeur)

It had been a long, eventful day, and yet it was our final night in Tozeur so we had to make the most of it!  Instead of simply dining within the safe confines of our resort, we hopped back into our car and headed straight for the heart of the Zone Touristique.  Returning to the vaulted brick arcade just a hop, skip and a jump beyond le Minaret (see above), we ventured inside Restaurant de la République, an eatery that had pulsed with locals earlier in the day.  (Crowded restaurants = safe bets.)

Making the most of the environs, Set of Drifter Brady opted for the dromedary steak from the restaurant’s otherwise extensive menu!  (Hey, when in Tunisia...)  What did it taste like? It was actually very good, not “gamey” at all, and no, nothing like chicken!  Dromedary meat is a fun gag while in Tozeur, though there is a reason it has not caught on in other parts of the world:  it is simply not as flavorful as regular meat!

Restaurant de la République offers friendly, and oddly hip, service daily.  Dishes range in price from around TND 5 to TND 8 (roughly $4 - $6 USD).  Though the ambiance was unique, the eatery did have a couple drawbacks.  The patio’s plastic chairs were entirely uncomfortable, and sadly, Restaurant de la République does not serve alcohol outside!   (We suppose the proximity to the neighboring mosque had something to do with it.)  Set of Drifters tip:  Don’t bother with the non-alcoholic version of Celtia.  The taste is inadequate, yet costs just as much as the regular variety!

Restaurant de la   République - 108 Avenue Habib Bourguiba (located in arcade near Mosque el-Ferdous), Zone Touristique, Tozeur, 011 (216) 76 452 354

Restaurant Hannibal (Tozeur)

While Tozeur certainly seemed more lively than any town we had passed through earlier in the the day on our way across the chott, we still were hard-pressed to find any restaurant willing to serve us dinner before, you guessed it, 7:30 PM!  During a scout-around of the town after checking in to the El Mouradi Tozeur, we finally found some sustenence in the form of “Tunisian pizza” at a restaurant called Hannibal.

Named after the Carthaginian military strategizer who is often credited as one of the most talented commanders in history (though he looks more like a football player to us), Restaurant Hannibal at first appeared like one of those no-frills places often frequented by people in a hurry.  You can equate that description however you like, but to us, it meant that we expected a cheap, completely adequate meal delivered in under 25 minutes or so.  I guess two out of three ain’t bad...we waited over 35 minutes for our meal to be served!

While Hannibal’s version of pizza is tasty, it certainly will not satisfy those brought up in cities like New York or Chicago where the intermediate snack is king!  Still, if you are tired of cous cous and harissa, Hannibal may just offer the perfect interval.

Hannibal features inside and patio dining, though you can be assured that wherever there is street side food in Tunisia, malnourished cats are soon to follow!  Be warned, the ones at Restaurant Hannibal are particular brazen!

Restaurant Hannibal - Route Touristique (across from Musée Dar Cheraït), Zone Touristique, Tozeur, 011 (216) 96 130 705