Can books change your life? Sure, if you’re lucky, or you find them at the right time.
As an 18-year-old college freshman, I discovered Ed Buryn’s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa. The book is long out of print – this was 1973, mind you – but you can still find the odd copy on eBay.
To call Vagabonding a guidebook is like calling the Bible the chronicle of a late-Bronze-Age tribe. They are equally dangerous tomes. Buryn was a Zen Master of backpacking the world. After reading it, I came within an inch of dropping out of school.
Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. Stay in college, my parents suggested. Go abroad for your junior year. I took their advice, and at Christmas during that year abroad – granted a glorious month-long reprieve from Oxford and my literature studies – found myself in Tunis.
The world was bigger in 1974. To most Americans of the time, Tunisia would never have even registered as a destination. I’d never met anyone who’d been there. It was hard to get to – relatively speaking, at least. It was Africa. It was Islamic. Thanks to its French colonial history, a patina of Paris overlaid it all. You either spoke Arabic or French, or used sign language.
It was sunny, and warm – a place where palm trees grew naturally and bougainvillea blossomed everywhere. It had desert oases, Roman ruins, and an island known as the legendary Land of the Lotus Eaters.
It was perfect.
It also has the benefit of being relatively compact. Over the course of the next three weeks, I traveled south from Tunis to Sousse, Sfax, Gabès and, eventually, to the island of Djerba (made famous by Homer in The Odyssey for its lotus eaters).
I explored the ruins of Carthage, a rambling, open-air museum undisturbed by either guards or visitors. I discovered hot, sweet mint tea – sometimes served with pine nuts, sometimes not. In the seaside hamlet of Sidi Bou Said – recently named by Budget Travel as one of the 16 most picturesque villages in the world – I ate the best doughnut of my life, cooked in front of me in a small pot of oil on a street vendor’s push-cart.
December 25th found me in a dollar-a-night fleabag in the Sousse medina, eating oranges in bed and throwing the peels out the window, trading stories of past Christmases with two Canadian backpackers. It has been the most memorable Christmas morning of my life. Christmas dinner with my Canadian friends was couscous, served with a harissa sauce so hot it made us cry.
I’ve never been able to replicate the food I discovered on that trip – except for one delicious breakfast drink called a lait de poule. You could – and hopefully still can – find them served on any given Tunisian street corner by a smiling man with a cart and a blender. ‘Lait de poule’ translates to ‘eggnog’ in English – I’m not quite sure why, given the difference in ingredients – but I like my own rudimentary translation better: ‘Milk of chicken.’
Besides, I hate eggnog.
The recipe is stupendously simple: a banana, an egg, milk and sugar. Whole milk and cane sugar, that is. You could substitute low-fat, low-cal ingredients, I suppose – but, really, what’s the point?
One banana, peeled and sliced
Yolk of one egg
1 tablespoon of sugar (or, to taste)
1 cup (8 oz.) of whole milk
Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Serve in a tall glass. Enjoy. It doesn’t get much easier.
I originally wrote this for my friend Jordan’s food blog, www.cookedinallston.com in September, 2016, but thought ‘Postcard’ readers would enjoy it as well.
Header image: Courtesy Visual Hunt.
Side Bou Said: Helga Tawil Souri via Visual Hunt.