08 Feb 2016

Djerbian cuisine: mtabga and malsouka

Yesterday I went on another cultural outing. This time it was to try my hand at local cooking!

Mtabga is a local favorite. The best American equivalent I can think of is a pizza pocket.

You take some bread dough, roll it out, spread harissa (the pepper paste) on it, then place salami and soft cheese across half. Finally, you fold it over, pinch the edges to seal them, and put them on a hot filling mtabga with meat and cheese(ungreased) skillet to fry. A couple minutes later they’re ready to eat, or be delivered to the local hanout (shop) for school children to buy.

Malsouka is quite a different story. The dough is goopy and glutenous, quickly creating a mess in your hands as it attempts to drip away. The mistress of ceremonies (my teacher du jour) expertly grabbed some with her fingertips, bouncing it around in her hand before quickly rubbing/spreading it in a paper-thin layer on the bottom of an upside-down frying pan. No sooner had she finished spreading it out than it was already finished cooking. She loosened one edge, grabbed it, then rrriiipppp! It was off. Just like ripping off a piece of tape from a present. And the next one was already being cooked.

Now, that’s how an expert does it. I, on the other hand, grab some dough, realize how soupy it is, then try to make it a ball… and fail. Eventually I just spread the dough on the back of the pan, realizing sections were too thick already and yet were cooked before I’d finished spreading. Too slow girl, too slow. The next one was better, but it’s easy to burn your fingers when spreading stuff on a hot skillet.

It didn’t take much to realize what an art it is to produce good malsouka.

What’s malsouka used for? it’s like a paper wrapper, used for samosas and brik. It’s not much to write home about, but what it’s used for is delicious!

And, as usual, the hostess welcomed us for a meal afterward. We enjoyed the fruit of our efforts, along with a delicious bean and grain soup. Ah, Tunisian hospitality!

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