Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Joe's comments on food and the Djerba Beach Hotel

Our Hotel

We arrived late at night on Tuesday, April 6, at the Djerba Beach Hotel. The staff at the reception desk greeted us warmly and served some hot, mint tea before the necessary paper work. The restaurant was closed but when we got to our room there were two plates with cakes, oranges, figs and some seedy tangerines.

The hotel used to to called the Iberostar Djerba Beach Hotel but, it appears, the hotel is now on is own, although the Iberostar name is still on everything. It's a four star hotel and the grounds are quite lovely with a beautiful pool, lots of palm trees and flower beds everywhere. The hotel is right on the Mediterranean Sea. It's quite idyllic if you're a guest. If you work there, and there are lots of staff because wages are low, you work your buns off. I'm sure they're not unionized and they have no fringe benefits. They don't even get tips since the hotel is mainly "all inclusive" and the guests don't carry money while they are there. However, they're very friendly to the guests always asking, "alles gut?” (If you’re not speaking French the staff assume you’re German.) I would reply, “Ya, alles gut,” and I wanted to add, “aber ich spreche kein Deutsch,” or something like that, but that may have encouraged them to continue speaking German to us, so I didn’t.

We did not hear any guests speak English while we were there. Most of the guests were German or French. I would guess the place was 60% German and 40% French. I saw a couple of women tourists with head scarves and, needless to say, we were the only Canadians. We were the exotic ones.

The hotel is in the Tourist Zone, which means that pretty well anything goes. Wayne saw a women with no top on and a man with no bottom on, while I only saw one woman topless. None of this is very surprising in most Mediterranean countries. The Tourist Zone is full of hotels, at least one big casino and a large golf course, none of which interested us. The shops all have “fixed prices,” which means no haggling. Along the road you could see some horses, mules and the occasional camel.


The food at the hotel was quite good and Tunisian cuisine was offered every day. Pizza, pasta, crêpes, salads, and desserts, etc. were available for the less adventurous. I was surprised how many guest ate their “comfort” food and avoided the Tunisian dishes. Muslims don’t eat pork but some form of it was available every day, probably to please the German guests. I should mention that foods from steam tables are not the way to explore a new cuisine but there were enough chefs cooking, grilling and sautéing food to order that it made dining better than I expected. It was a great way to try many Tunisian dishes. If we ate at regular restaurants we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sample such a large variety.

Breakfasts were quite good and I had an omelet every morning, along with fresh baguette, olives, yogurt and coffee and orange juice. One morning I also has a “langos” because I wanted to know if it was the real thing. It was but it was quite greasy.

For supper I ate couscous with lamb, octopus stew, Tandoori chicken, grilled beef and turkey. I also tried the cutlet Lyonnaise, kaffta, paella, mixed salads with yogurt sauce, a variety of soups, all kinds of olives, strawberries and orange sorbet. I also tried some of the side-dishes which were very good but, unfortunately, I have no idea what they were called.

One of the more interesting foods at breakfast was called a Briq or Brik (click here for the recipe). It's a delicate deep-fried envelope of Middle Eastern origin filled with an egg and tuna. If fried properly, the egg white is cooked but the yolk should be runny. I thought it was rather bland but it sure looked impressive.

We also had a couple of bottles of Tunisian Merlot, which I really enjoyed. The wine had an “appellation contrôlée” designation. Celtia is a Tunisian beer and it's as good as any beer in Canada. One night, after several beers, we also partook in an apple flavoured hookah. All very nice.

Final Impressions

Tunisia is a very interesting place and has lots to offer. If you ever have the chance to go there, go and you won't be disappointed. Parts of Tunis could be mistaken for any major European city. During our stay I only heard emergency sirens once and only for a brief time. The traffic and driving is crazy and the centre lines on the roads are more theoretical than practical, which may explain why so many cars have lots of small dents. Tunisia is not a democracy and photos of the President are everywhere.

A few pictures of Djerba Beach Hotel and Houmt Souk.


Anonymous said...

This is to comment on some aspects of your posting on your trip to Djerba.

1. You mentioned accurately that wages are low and certainly with no fringe benefits. Wages are always low in the hospitality industry whether in Tunisia, in France, in the US or in Canada. Tourists generally want cheap vacations. How would that be possible with high wages?

2. You wrote that the employees are most certainly not unionized. Although in most countries most hospitality employees are not unionized, in Tunisia there is the UGTT (Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens) that covers this industry as well.

3. Regarding tips, European and North American practices are different. In the US for instance, hospitality non-salaried front of the house employees are paid below the minimum wage but tips are high. In Europe, the same wages are mandated by regulations and tips are considered incidental. The Tunisian model is copied of the European system.

4. You realized that many tourists were of German descent. Most of the tourism in Tunisia is from Europe. So in order not to cannibalize each other, resorts have specialized themselves into European regions. In Djerba, many sites have specialized in Central Europe including Switerland, Austria, Czechia and Germany. In addition, Djerba also targets Jewish tourism either from Germany or from Israel.

5. Regarding activities in Djerba, there is more than just the one casino and a large golf course. If you are interested in archeology, there are several Punic and Roman villas and the Fort of Ghazi Mustapha. If you like outdoor sports, there are horseback riding tours and one can rent water scooters and boats. If you are more adventurous, there are hunting events at Medenine and the troglodytes of Matmata.

6. The dominant reason for fixed prices in the souk is that the tourist audience is of Germanic culture where there is no haggling. The no haggling policy is to protect those tourists from being taken for a ride by a local merchant.

7. Langos are fried bread made with butter. The greasiness ought to be expected. They are also popular with the Southern Slavic people (Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania) and were brought to Tunisia by the Turks.

8. The brik is a simple filling of tuna and egg in a phyllo dough pastry. For foreigners, it is served with a lemon wedge. But for local consumption, it is served with hrissa, a spicy sauce blend with tomato, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin and garlic. The local custom has it that the spicier the wife makes her husband's brik the more she loves him. A pinch of this hrissa would set you ablaze and that's why it is usually not served by default to tourists.

9. Finally, you wrote that Tunisia was not a democracy which seems like an out of context sentence. To be a democracy is not necessarily a good thing. Israel and India are said to be democracies but I wouldn't want any of their style of democracy. The French and American democracies were forged by the killing of 600 000 to one million people each during the liberating revolutions, and the enslavement of many more.

The concept of democracy is touted by the very nations that tortured, decapitated and massacred some of their own people but mostly other nations.

Steam Tables said...
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Jaz said...

Hostels are just as safe as hotels.

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piter said...

You have shared very nice experience of your tour and stay of hotel. I always like this type of blog.

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