Hotel Majestic, Tunis
Where’s my briq?
The Hotel Majestic is a French colonial hotel on the Avenue de Paris in Tunis, past its glory days but a treasure for the nostalgic traveller. It was built in 1914 with Art Nouveau architecture, a white façade, blue shutters, and gently curved corners. The hotel has a terrace overlooking the Jardin Habib Thameur.
I had come up in the world. On the right side of the tram tracks at last. I had been staying at a beautifully tiled hotel in the Arab quarter at first. I turned the garbage bin over the smelly hole in the bathroom floor. Had to pay in advance in cash. Woken up by the muezzin. In the morning I went up to the breakfast room controlled by Omar and had a reasonable breakfast with the TV glowering the CNN news at me. Then Omar sidled over to my table and decided to teach me to count in Arabic. He needed my fingers of course and he had to sit close. Then he told me his name meant “Amour.” Despite the golden rays of the sun streaming through the coloured glass, I felt a chill.
My self-adopted minder, he of the sky blue puffy jacket (it was 18 degrees Celsius in January), Mohammed, insisted that I move to the Majestic in the colonial area of Tunis. This is where I had briq for breakfast. In the Arab quarter I had scouted around for food, as one does, not knowing which local “delicacies” to try. I’d spotted a Pizza Hut (which I don’t go to in real life) and thought it would at least be a known quantity and reasonably clean. Got to the door. Found it was monopolized by Arab men who seemed to live there, so I ordered a take out. I wandered off to the market and bought sackfuls of the best mandarins I’ve ever eaten, and lived off pizza and mandarins for several days, praying I wouldn’t get food poisoning.
The Hotel Majestic had a real restaurant. Controlled by Mohammed II. It had tablecloths and nice old-fashioned meals. A few expats. Maitre de Mohammed was the soul of politesse. No Arabic numbers. His name did not mean Amour. But an opportunity was not to be wasted. He insisted if I was alone in a strange city I could visit him after 9 pm when he stopped work. Un vrai gentilhomme! Nevertheless, I walked up the grand staircase to my room. I couldn’t prevent myself from using the shoe-brushing machine in the hall, which cleaned the dust off infidels’ shoes. A wise precaution.
I had a wonderfully royal blue room above the disco. Miles of space and a big window over the garden and tram tracks. A tiled bathroom, but with boring white tiles. The room was situated above the disco, which wasn’t apparent during the day. I dropped off to sleep, finally, with Arabic trills and innuendos influencing my heartbeat. My consciousness expanded to the rhythm of an ancient universe and I melted into the royal blue bedcover.
The next morning, compensation for the disco music was a breakfast of briq. They tell me it’s the Tunisian tradition that the bride-to-be’s mother makes a briq for the bridegroom. If the bridegroom eats it without spilling any of the egg yolk, he may marry the bride. The best test I’ve ever heard of.
Briq or Brik or Brick (pronounced breek) is a Tunisian version of the borek. Non! you say. Impossible! C’est vrai? It consists of thin warka pastry around a filling that is usually deep-fried. Not warka too! Tres magnifique. The best-known version is the egg brik, a whole egg in a triangular pastry pocket with chopped onion, tuna, harissa (hot chilli sauce) and parsley. Of course you knew that.
Brik pastry is made by slapping a sticky lump of dough onto a hot non-stick surface in overlapping circles to produce the desired size, and cooked for a minute or two.
It’s your choice, but regular fillings include tuna, ground meat, chopped boiled egg, chicken, or anchovies garnished with a fried egg and harissa, capers or cheese. Do with it what you will.
For 4 servings use 4 eggs
4 sheets of malsouka or briq pastry (phyllo). Where did the warka go? That was the best bit.
1 small can of tuna in olive oil
Handful of capers
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped with intention
Salt and pepper, comme d’habitude
Vegetable oil for frying
1 lemon, sliced
Chop the onion finely, please.
Mash the tuna on a plate with a fork and with gusto!
Cook the onion over medium heat with a little water until tender and translucent.
Turn off the heat and add the parsley in dainty sprinkles.
Place the mixture in a bowl and add the tuna and capers or what you fancy.
Place a circle of the filling in the centre of each sheet of briq.
Fold the 4 edges in to form a square.
Add the whole egg (white and yolk) to the middle of the filling, adding a pinch of salt and pepper, comme d’habitude.
Fold the sheet in half diagonally to form a triangle – could be teaching a geometry class here.
Drop into hot oil, being careful not to pierce the briq or yourself.
Immediately baste the top of the briq with hot oil, using a fork or spoon to stick the two edges of the triangle together.
Carefully remove the pastry from the oil with a spatula and drain on paper towel. Gosh, it’s hot!
Serve hot with lemon wedges. Ta da! Comme ca!