La Perla: Late late orders
I suppose I didn't choose the best time to visit La Perla, and with good reason. I was catching the 01.15 night train to Tunis, so a restaurant that stayed open until the small hours seemed a good option: checking earlier in the day I was told until three.
La Perla has an upstairs room with live music, and when I arrived at elevenish this is where the action was migrating: the downstairs restaurant was winding down. There were two underemployed toughs on the door but only one waiter, and he was mainly concerned with drinks.
The food was ok but nothing to get overexcited about, and the service what you'd expect from one tired waiter on six tables. I ordered seafood salad and fried crevettes: I got octopus salad (well-cooked octopus but an unimaginative salad in a crude dressing) and as soon as I had discovered this and found out that this was because the seafood salad was finished rather than a mistake I was presented with a large plate of crevettes, chips & salad. Ample and well prepared but again nothing special, and much too soon. And I think this was almost the only place in Tunisia where I didn't get a few olives and some harissa to wake up the tastebuds on sitting down: nor could they do me a coffee. The bill came in a little wallet: its that sort of place. I overtipped - I had a plane in the morning and I'd have ordered the octopus if I'd been told the fruits de mer was off - and left. Luckily there was a late night cafe opposite the train station.
Cafes by port
It's not really the port, but this enclosed pool of water is the only real access to the sea you can get in Sfax's city centre. The area has been done up since my last visit, and there are now several cafes on one side, with good views across the water of the city skyline. They are also close to the Kerkennah Ferry terminal, so if you have to wait a while for your ferry, this is the ideal place to do that waiting.
Favorite Dish: Oh, the usual....black tea, green tea, espresso, gazoz, chapatis...
La Siréne: Fish 'n chips!
This is a great restaurant. It's nothing on the outside, letters are falling off the sign, and the interior isn't smart in any way (apart from the above exuberance). This is because what matters here is the food; eating is a serious business and should be done properly. You don't taste the decor. On the other hand the service is perfect. You don't notice it, but if you want him the waiter is there. And everything arrives when you want it.
There's no menu as such. They do a number of starters, and otherwise there is simply a large tray of wet fish. Pick your fish and they'll grill it for you and serve it up with a green salad and chips. Freshly landed fish cooked to perfection, crisp chunky chips, a bit of green. Who could ask for anything more?
Set into the walls of old Sfax, you can't come to Sfax and miss cafe Diwan...to miss it is to commit a crime! Essentially just a traditional coffeehouse, this one is enhanced by being housed in a tower in the city walls, and for such a traditionally furnished place, I'm surprised there are few if any tourists. The first time I came to Sfax, I escaped the heat to drink tea in Cafe Diwan. It was the first time I'd seen nargile pipes, first time I'd had pine nuts in my tea, first time I'd heard Umm Kalthoum warbling away on a warped cassette in the background. Well, in the intervening years, not a lot has changed...the old men in their chechias are still there puffing away of their nargiles, the tea still comes with pine nuts, and Umm Kalthoum was still playing...
Cafe Diwan is a great place to escape the heat, or I suppose also the cold if you happen to visit in winter. Unlike many Tunisian cafes, this one is not a male-only preserve, as I saw a few groups of Tunisian women.
Favorite Dish: Tea comes with pine nuts or mint (and lots of sugar), coffee comes Turkish style (or "Arabic style, as they prefer to call it here) with rosewater, and the nargile was the best I smoked in Tunisia. The waiters are a friendly bunch too, especially if you return the next day.
Photo: Well, I was disappointed with this one. I took a couple of shots while the two old men opposite were still relaxing with their nargiles, but they were too blurry...while I was preparing to re-take, they got up and left, so the result is this rather empty and blurry shot of my nargile. That'll teach me to try and be arty...
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