First Published: 2017-06-27

Eid revives Tunisian tradition of pastry making
Tunisian bakers are modernising their industry while preserving tradition.
Middle East Online

By Roua Khlifi - TUNIS

Vendor displays traditional sweets in Tunis

Imed Riahi, the owner of a traditional pastry shop in Tuniss medina, slices cake into small pieces, then fills boxes with kaak warqa and baklava. Behind a display of Tunisian traditional sweets, he chats with customers, inviting them to try the delicacies and bargaining the prices.

In the last days before Eid al-Fitr, pastry shops are always crowded with customers. Sweets vary by region and the Eid feast celebrates the richness of Tunisias culinary culture.

It also reveals the difficulties facing the pastry sector, which is struggling to stay alive in the tough economic climate.

I have been working for years as part of the family business. Since I am originally from Nabeul, our shop is famous for my hometowns sweets, such as jwajem. A lot of our customers come here just for that, Riahi said.

For Riahi, pastries are not just a delicious treat to be enjoyed with coffee on Eid, but a crucial part of his familys heritage that spans four generations.

We have been doing this for generations and, even now, we continue the tradition as it is a part of who we are. We dont want these culinary traditions to disappear. Even my wife today learnt the recipes for the traditional sweets that we offer at our shop, Riahi said.

While Riahi said keeping his family traditions alive is a priority, Mohamed Zarrouk, manager at Tunisias famed Ptisserie Madame Zarrouk and a member of the National Union Chamber of Pastry Shops, stressed that a pastry shop is not only a profitable business but a place to preserve culinary traditions and heritage.

In the 1960s Hamouda Haddad, the then head of the Office des Crales, was wondering how it would be possible to preserve traditions that are typically Tunisian. He decided to start a training centre for traditional pastries and he appointed Madame Zarrouk as the head of the centre, Zarrouk said.

They had generations of people who trained in making traditional pastries. Tunisian bakeries were popular. People who trained there opened their own pastry shops and so did Madame Zarrouk. That is how the business started and bakeries spread in many Tunisian towns.

Traditional pastries are made with dough sheets called malsouka baked with a special recipe. Zarrouk said the pastry shop committed to using the homemade recipe to preserve the authenticity of sweets.

We want to keep the traditional aspect of Tunisian pastries. The brik [dough] sheets are made the old way. You can see the difference between the original recipe and the new one, Zarrouk said.

This would be the goal as a member of the National Union Chamber of Pastry Shops. We need to promote Tunisian pastries that reflect our culture. Even the decoration of the pastry boxes should display the influence of Tunisian culture.

Yet amid the revival of tradition and the celebratory aspects of Eid al-Fitr, Zarrouk spoke of hardships facing the sector.

The acquisition of the primary ingredients of good quality can be frustrating for shop owners. In the 70s, butter was monopolised by certain companies and so was flour. Now things are better. For instance, in the past months there were issues with nuts and almonds, Zarrouk said.

With the wave of recent arrest of smugglers, the availability of products was affected but we are working on having this legally sorted. Smuggling these products is not good for the economy.

Zarrouk and Riahi said they have noticed the effect of economic hardships on consumers who limited their purchases due to rising prices.

Over the past years people have had less [to spend] and people cannot make pastries at home anymore because it is not profitable, Zarrouk said.

Riahi said: They do not buy as much as they used to because everything is getting more expensive.

Tunisian bakers are modernising their industry while preserving tradition, offering a variety of Tunisian sweets that are decorated in creative ways.

There is the artistic side but that should not come at the expense of culinary taste. We are trying to revolutionise pastries and the Tunisian culinary art. We have so many good dishes but no one is making use of them or decorating them to make them more popular.

Despite the difficulties and issues, Zarrouk said Tunisian pastries exemplify the richness of the country as well as its culinary history, which has elements of many different civilisations.

Our traditional pastries have many origins. Some pastries are Turkish. Other came from Andalusia like kaak warqa and many were a creation of Tunisians. What matters the most is to keep this tradition, Zarrouk said.

Roua Khlifi a regular Travel and Culture contributor in Tunis.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Saudi finalises drone regulation after security alarm

Israel rubbishes claims Mossad behind Malaysia assassination

Iran vows to resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal

Mass grave discovered under Raqa football pitch

Can Arab satellite TV catch up with social media?

UAE accuses Qatari jets of ‘chasing’ passenger flight

Syrian refugees are not going home anytime soon

Resumption of direct flights from Moscow brings hope to Egypt’s tourism sector

Will Lebanon have more women MPs after May 6 poll?

Saudi shoots down ‘toy drone’

UN Security Council meets over Syria in Sweden

Turkish government rejects criticism of election campaign

Condemnation after Gaza teenager killed by Israeli soldiers

Syrian rebels agree to leave new area outside Damascus

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

Family accuses Israel of killing Palestinian in Malaysia

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack