Ottoman and Andalusian Influences

In a region like North Africa, where tea is the beverage of choice, the Tunisian coast is an exception; coffee was introduced here during the period of Ottoman rule in the 16th century, and has remained popular today. The Turks also introduced the cafe culture; in 1846, of the 102 cafes in Tunis, half were owned by Turks. French colonization introduced Western-style coffee, with “dehors” and a cosmopolitan clientele. You can, however, still find the traditional local coffee bars, hidden away among the narrow alleys where old men still gather to play backgammon and smoke the hookah. The Tunisian coffee pot (the zézoua) is still very similar to the one introduced by the Ottomans, but the coffee is different from Turkish coffee because of the degree of roasting and Andalusian-inspired orange flower flavoring. The Andalusian combination of coffee and flowers has also been preserved in the custom of drinking coffee together with a bunch of jasmine flowers, a tradition which developed in aristocratic palaces and soon became common everywhere on feast days.

The recipes
Couscous semolina cookies with date paste
200 g fine semolina
½ teaspoon saffron
20 g clarified butter
100 ml seed oil
1 pinch of salt
150 g Tunisian dates (deglet el nour)
1 orange
½ teaspoon powered cinnamon
Ingredients for the syrup
250 g sugar
250 ml water
75 g honey
½ lemon
50 ml geranium flower water (optional)

Knead the semolina with the saffron, melted butter and seed oil. Moisten the mixture with ten centiliters of lukewarm water and mix until an elastic dough is formed. On a worktop, knead vigorously and then let the dough rest for 30 minutes, wrapping it in a damp tea towel. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by chopping the pitted dates together with the spices. Mix together and form three long strips. Take the semolina dough, divide it into 3 equal parts and lay them on the worktop to obtain 3 strips to fill with the date paste. Seal the paste inside the dough to obtain three long, slightly flattened strips. Cut them into diamond-shaped pieces and fry them for about 4 minutes in plenty of boiling oil, and coat them immediately after with the syrup prepared by melting together all the ingredients. Allow them to cool, drain the excess syrup and decorate with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Café Turk à l’eau de fleur oranger
Turkish coffee with orange blossom water
4 espresso cups of water
4 heaped teaspoons of Turkish coffee powder
Sugar to taste
A few drops of orange blossom water

Pour the water into a traditional zézoua coffee maker and bring to a boil. Remove the coffee pot from the heat, add the sugar and the coffee powder, mix thoroughly and place over moderate heat until it boils again. Then pour the coffee into small cups, distributing some of the coffee mousse that forms on the surface into each one. Complete by adding a few drops of orange blossom water and serve hot.


As an alternative to orange blossom water, you can scent the coffee with rose water or a little dried orange zest power.