Yesterday Tony and I went on our last date in Tunisia, to Hammamet Centre. We hadn’t been on a date in a month, since our babysitter was doing Ramadan. And somehow in the intervening time we forgot how much we hate going out to eat in Hammamet. Unlike most places I’ve been, the only really good meals I’ve had here in Tunisia were at people’s houses. Apparently, none of the good cooks here work at restaurants. None of the good waiters do either, unfortunately, so the whole “going out to eat for the experience, not the food” doesn’t really work.
As a result, we haven’t been out to eat in months. We usually just take a picnic to the beach on our date. But we decided for our last date here we would go out to a restaurant in downtown Hammamet, next to the Medina. We’d been to the restaurant before, so we had no illusions about the excellence of the food, but it was in a nice location and had outdoor seating (a must, since we’re having a hot, muggy spell and in every one of the restaurants advertising air conditioning last night we could see it mounted on the wall, but they weren’t running it).
We sat down with the menu and ordered. I had briq and mechouia salad, both Tunisian staples. Tony decided to be adventurous and order spaghetti carbonara. They might as well have christened it “pasta surprise,” since pancetta, (Italian bacon) an important component of the dish, lacks even a remote equivalent here in Tunisia. I was horrified to see the pasta come out topped with pale pink floppy slices of Tunisian bologna. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our camera with us. Just imagine a plate of spaghetti mixed with mysterious lumps that on further inspection appear to be thin, flaccid, wadded-up slices of a gigantic hot dog.
After taking a bite, Tony realized that they also hadn’t seasoned his food at all (black pepper is another key ingredient of pasta carbonara). It took him a few minutes to attract the waiter’s attention to ask for salt and pepper, and several more before the waiter reappeared with only salt. By the time Tony had flagged the waiter down again to persist in his request for pepper, the pasta was getting cold. When the waiter never returned, Tony finally went back to the kitchen to search for pepper himself. He was able to find a lone pepper shaker and returned triumphantly to the table, only to discover upon attempting to pepper his food that the shaker was virtually empty. He even took off the top and tried to dig out some pepper with a knife, but to no avail.
At this point it was obvious that #1 The restaurant didn’t have any pepper; #2 The waiter knew very well that there wasn’t any pepper; #3 Instead of telling Tony he didn’t have it, his solution was to just bring salt and then disappear; #4 Had we confronted him, he would have found it unreasonable in the extreme that we would expect a restaurant to always have pepper, or him to acknowledge and apologize about the lack thereof. Sigh.
I’m sure the strength of our feelings about the dastardly lack of pepper had more to do with our personal frustrations and stresses than the actual deficiencies of the restaurant/waiter. Still, it was one of those “in case you weren’t 100% sure you were ready to leave” moments.
By the time we’d finished our meal, it was dark, and we walked out on the beach. As we were watching the waves roll in, we noticed a little black dog scrounging among the fishing nets, and of course couldn’t help but think of Luca, whom we had given to the sweet little Italian lady in the gelato shop a few days before. He was supposed to be in his new yard, with his new papillon-mix girlfriend Lucy, but at that moment we were sure he must have escaped and be wandering hungry and homeless on the beach. We walked toward the dog, calling, “Luca!” He watched us warily for a moment, turned and barked (at which point we realized he was more heavyset than Luca, with the wrong ears a much bushier tail), and then trotted off on his merry feral way. Yes, we miss our dog.