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It’s almost impossible to believe that it has been 10 years since two friends and I adventured from Ireland and the Netherlands to North Africa for spring break. That was certainly the life! Living in Europe made it easy, and relatively inexpensive, to travel throughout Europe, to Africa, and the Middle East, and I am grateful that I was able to take advantage of that.
So, three UMASS college juniors set out to figure out the warmest place we could go nearby, and Tunisia was it. It was in Tunisia where I first discovered the smoky, super spicy paste called harissa.
Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa, whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil.
I have had harissa over the years in restaurant dishes, but I haven’t been able to find it, even in my local Middle Eastern restaurant. On Friday when I discovered the above can of harissa in Whole Foods, I was pretty much beside myself with happiness.
Harissa has many uses, including being used in salad dressings, tuna and chicken salad, in soups, on sandwiches, and of course in a variety of North African dishes. We also discovered it is killer with crème fraiche on a baguette.
I decided to make a Spanish-style patatas bravas dish with harissa oil. It couldn’t have been easier, chunks of potatoes roasted in olive oil at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. I mixed a few teaspoons of harissa with a few teaspoons of olive oil, and then just drizzled the harissa oil over the potatoes. This was my dinner after the Scottish salmon tasting.
So what was a vacation in Tunisia like? Well, we stayed in a hotel, Skanes Beach Resort, for people 16 and older which is something I highly recommend. No screaming children! It was cheap and included breakfast and dinner buffets. The resort had a series of pools and was also located on the Mediterranean, so there were plenty of options for swimming,
The hotel also had a spa with a Turkish bath. This is where I had my first massage, from a man named Mohammed. I happened to have a sunburn, and Tunisian massages happen to include a vigorous rubdown with an exfoliating mitt. Ouch.
Our trip to Tunisia involved a visit to the desert for a camel ride and a Bedouin feast, complete with hookahs and strong coffee. Camel riding is not as fun as it looks, for the record. I ended up on the back of the last camel and spent the whole time thinking I was going to fall to my death.
We spent many nights enjoying the happy hour and entertainment (including lots of Tom Jones and karaoke) in the hotel, but one night we traveled out to the desert for a night of traditional Bedouin food and festivities. Oh yeah, and all the red wine you could drink which, as newly minted 21 year olds, we were all about. This is where I first tried brik, an egg stuffed pastry, and Tunisian tomato soup with couscous.
Ahhh memories. Tunisia was the only time I really took a spring break trip to somewhere warm, and it was quite the experience!
Did you ever take a spring break trip? Where did you go?