Old Favorite Tunisian Dish + New Favorite Tunisian Jazz

A portrait from Brooklyn and Tunisia

A short and sweet portrait that grew out of the birthday boy’s request to have an old favorite Tunisian dish that I hadn’t made in a very long time.  A friend helped us with the soundtrack, and now they’re a pair.


Tunisian Birthday Dinner

When I asked my husband what he wanted me to make for his birthday dinner, after an apparently detailed mental scan of 16 years of cooking (his birthday is also marks 16 years of being together), he requested a dish I hadn’t made in years:  Lahma bi Betignan from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

I had completely forgotten about it!  I loved it, too, so I was excited to make it again, and introduce our kids to it.

The only thing missing was the music, and a way to introduce Tunisia a bit.


Tunisian Jazz

Not being too familiar with the music in that part of the world, I consulted friend and multi-instrumentalist of the world Ilan whose knowledge is both wide and deep.

He of course had great suggestions and introduced me to Cheikh el Afrit, whose music were actually pretty transporting. 

And it lead to interesting conversation about migration patterns when our 6 year old daughter commented on similarities to some Indian music. 

You can also find music-only “videos” of his music on YouTube if you’d prefer.

I’ve also added a few versions of “A Night in Tunisia,” originally written by Dizzy Gillespie in 1941-2 (when he was with the Benny Carter band), and now a jazz standard recorded by many a musician since then. 

From Ella Fitzgerald to Arturo O’Farrill, and Lamberts, Hendrix and Ross to Miles Davis, it’s so fun to listen to the unique takes, all in a row.  It reminds me of the lazy weekends before kids, when I would listen to the Jonathan Schwartz show, and loved when he would play several versions of a particular song.  That’s now a favorite past time for the kids and I.


Virtual Trip to Tunisia

Introducing Tunisia to 6 and 4 year olds didn’t have to go too deep, so first off we just showed them where it was using both Google maps and then Google Earth, and talking about its location.

We skimmed Wikipedia for things that might pique the interest of the youngsters. They were wide-eyed to hear that that French is spoken there (though there is no official status), which was of particular interest because they are newly-minted Dual Language French students.

Our daughter drew comparisons of the music of Cheikh El Afrit to old Indian music she’s heard, and that launched us into a discussion about migration.

Try it yourself and see where the exploration and conversation goes. You might be surprised how much they pick up and how their curiosity steers the conversation to interesting places


Lahma bi Betignan

lahma bi betignan with olive bread and other half beer

Adapted from the Tunisian variation of Lahma bi Betignan from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.