Tunisian Turkey: A Feast to be Thankful For

21 Nov

I love this photo. A typical street in Kairouan, Tunisia, scene of my Thanksgiving, 1987.

My final Tunisian post…the Thanksgiving conclusion of a pilgrim in a new land.

We’ve all read books (or blog posts, or magazine stories), or seen movies about Americans in foreign lands feeling horribly homesick at Thanksgiving. They go to the local markets, search for turkey (settle for partridges), substitute breadfruit for potatoes and learn that they can be thankful even without cranberries. Right?

My Thanksgiving in Northern Africa didn’t even come close to such menu approximations.

And that was just fine.

I think of this as “Tunisian Blue”.

As we entered the hotel restaurant – a hotel which was far more Tunisian than Hilton – we harbored no expectations that there would be any reference to Thanksgiving. Five days in Tunisia had taught us that anything American was verboten.

A street in Sousse, Tunisia.

Having just come in from a stroll through town, where the inexplicable phrase, “between the sheets,” was shouted at us by giggling teenaged boys, we also harbored no expectations that the waiters would be overly sympathetic to our plight.

We chose to be away from home for Thanksgiving: our expectations had been changed the day we signed up.

“So,” I figured, “if I’m not even bothering to recreate the pilgrim’s meal, how about I go for something local? Something totally different; something unforgettable.”

I learned that when there is no roast turkey to be had, you opt for paella.

It came: a platter of aromatic saffron-colored rice, peppers, mysterious meats and vegetables, and several whole, baby octopus.

I wasn’t prepared for the octopus.

My traveling companions had ordered ordinary things, like French Onion Soup. I had ordered Northern Africa on a plate.

And I ate every bite.

There are many things in my life to be thankful for. Many experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanksgiving Paella in Tunisia is one of those things.

A Thanksgiving feast, indeed.

A friend of mine, along with her family, fixed a paella feast out on Orcas Island, Washington, last summer. I wish I’d been there! Isn’t her paella pan marvelous?!


29 Responses to “Tunisian Turkey: A Feast to be Thankful For”

  1. Kathleen November 21, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    I want to see this Tunisian blue for myself, now. Gorgeous.

  2. free penny press November 21, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    North Africa on a plate looks delicious.. How wonderful to have been able to experience this place.. yes, the Tunsia Blue is gorgeous!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      No paella since has been quite the same! Blue is not my favorite color…that THAT blue…it’s marvelous!

  3. Kucker,Sheryl November 21, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    I’m ready for a visit to Tunisia. The stories and pictures are awesome!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks so much, Sheryl! I’m so glad! 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  4. marimann November 21, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    I have really enjoyed reading this story, Gretchen! And I like that you spread it out over several posts, it was sort of like reading a serial in a magazine, like Dickens, et al, used to do (only without having to wait for months in-between). I think I would have done exactly as you did, gone totally native. That paella looks delicious (minus the mystery meats!). Reminds me of when we were in Paris, we ate pain au chocolat and madeleines but we also ate some of the best Chinese food we’ve ever had and the absolute best Turkish food ever. miam miam

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the Tunisian trip! When I lived in Berlin the statistics at that time were that there were more Turkish people there than in any other city except for Istanbul. As a result, the Turkish food stands were – and still are, I think – synonymous with Berlin food. Interesting, isn’t it? The foods you can find in different countries…that you might not have expected to find! Whenever I put Nutella on a nice, soft roll, I think of Pain au Chocolat…so yummy!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      OH, and can you even imagine having to read Dickens serialy? That would have been torture.

  5. Minnesota Prairie Roots November 21, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    I have a feeling that you would make the best of any place, any time, as you did on that Thanksgiving so many years ago.

    Thank you for taking us on this journey via your images and words. You are the most talented of storytellers and I feel so blessed to have found you online, met you and your family, and consider you a friend.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      You too, have been – and continue to be – a blessing! Thanks for your encouragement and friendship. May your Thanksgiving be full of joy!

  6. treadlemusic November 21, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    I so hate that the “story”/journal is finished!!! Such a far away and mysterious place! That iridescent, Tunisian blue is stunning….reminds me of the blue in pieces of Belgian/French cottons a friend of mine gave me. You definitely had me with the paella…and I really like octopus/squid, too!! Mystery meats are ok if they remain exactly that—-mystery! LOL! Blessings to you on this Thanksgiving, D

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! I’m so glad you enjoyed the journey with me! It was fun to re-live…

  7. cravesadventure November 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Have a Great Thanksgiving – Be Blessed!!!

  8. whatimeant2say November 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I’m not married to the traditional Thanksgiving feast anyway, so that would have been just fine for me – except maybe the octopus. Was the octopus cut up, at least? Once, when I was in Japan, I was served an entire octopus in a pot. Not appetizing, and very hard to figure out how to eat with only a pair of chopsticks on hand.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

      No, they were whole, tiny little guys – like about two inches long – pretty wild. I can’t imagine having to eat a big one with only chopsticks, though! Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

  9. prairiewisdom November 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    You are so adventurous and how wonderful to have Northern Africa on a plate. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      I’m not as adventurous now as I used to be! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! I hope you have a lovely day.

  10. hotlyspiced November 22, 2012 at 4:48 am #

    I was pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to get a roast turkey in Tunisia but also as sure that you wouldn’t be able to get a paella. I thought that was Spanish! Anyway, I’m glad you were able to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving so far from home and I hope your 2012 Thanksgiving is particularly wonderful xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      Thank you, Charlie! I have a feeling that the paella was for Spanish tourists…but with an African twist! I guess that Northern Africa isn’t too far from Spain, I guess!

  11. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen November 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I’d love to own that paella pan! I’m not sure I’d go for paella for Thanksgiving.. I love turkey too much!! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

      Given the choice, in a normal year…yeah, turkey would win out! I forgot to wish you a Happy Canadian Thanksgiving a few weeks back – I hope you had a happy one!

  12. Sartenada November 25, 2012 at 5:31 am #

    I have never been in Tunisia and it seems to be worth for visit according to Your great photos.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      My photos from 1987 were all terrible and faded. None of these are mine. I looked up Tunisia and Kairouan and Sousse and that’s what turned up!


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