Baking this bread will make you feel like food Indiana Jones – OZY

Because it’s a good skill to have if you ever get lost in the wilderness.

Sometimes eating is about filling the belly. Maybe even most of the time. But sometimes it’s all about the preparation, gleaning cultural information and the history of a particular dish. That’s why it’s so exciting to spend an afternoon baking bread in the desert with Amazigh Shepherds – as they’ve been doing for eons.

Many people associate the process of baking unleavened flatbread in desert sand with the Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe who call it taguella. Shepherds don’t have a name for their bread, but a quick online search produces names like “Berber bread” or “Berber pizza”. A word of warning though: the Amazighs themselves consider “Berber” to be a derogatory term. Still, what they cook is basically the same, except for a few ingredients.

It’s surprisingly easy to bake bread in the middle of nowhere.

In Food cultures of the world Encyclopedia, 2nd volume, Author Ken Albala says the “Libyan Berbers” spice up their dough with sesame seeds, fennel seeds and anise before digging a hole in the center and baking. They then serve the bread with a “thick green or black tea”. In Tunisia, a light version is prepared, a simple mixture of semolina, water and salt which is nonetheless tasty.

It’s surprisingly easy to bake bread in the middle of nowhere. In the south of Tunisia – not far from the caves of Matmata where Star wars was filmed – a shepherd named Salem mixes unmeasured amounts of the above ingredients into a simple clay dish, kneading the dough as dozens of goats and sheep watch. Meanwhile, the other men light a small fire a few yards away, making the process community-based. When the fire simmers, the dough is ready to be buried in a bowl of sand covered with embers.

If life is more about travel than destination, then waiting for the bread to bake is just as satisfying as the end result. Sitting under an old olive tree with a group of calm-voiced men whose life in the sun is etched on their skin, miles from the nearest waterhole, you will either experience pure panic or a renewed feeling. earth connection.

After about 30 minutes, a heavy, hot loaf comes out of its grainy oven. Hard on the outside but soft on the inside, it’s salty and delicious. It is not a leaven, but its pleasure lies squarely in the incredible simplicity with which it is made. You will feel like the Indiana Jones of fine dining.

Like me, you might worry about eating dirt. But it didn’t matter at all. Thanks to a translator, the shepherds say the trick is to bake the bread in loose sand without debris and make sure it doesn’t get too hot. They normally eat theirs in the morning with milk and freshly prepared cheese.

Even more divine than the bread itself is the kindness of the bakers. Azzedine Antol, an elderly man with laughing-eyed cataracts, said to me: “In our civilization, if you come to visit once, you have to come back.

GO: Baking bread in the Tunisian desert

  • Site: A little bit of a place, Al Zraoua Nouvelle is not easy to find, in large part because it is written in Arabic characters on Google Maps and the road has no name. It is 285 miles from Tunis and 14 miles from Matmata Nouvelle, the nearest town. Traveling west from Matmata Nouvelle, if you reach old Matmata, you missed the sign on the right side of the road indicating Al Zraoua Nouvelle. (I learned it the hard way).
  • Meeting with the shepherds: It is not an official tourist destination. However, if you want to meet the Amazigh Shepherds, Tarek Laabidi, a local photographer and explorer, will be happy to guide you – you can find him on Facebook as Tarek Laabidi II. (He recommends that you contact him ahead of time and plan to camp. And you’ll need your own vehicle.)
  • The bread: While the shepherds were so generous in baking me bread with their own flour, I humbly recommend that you bring a bag of semolina flour with you, as they will be insulted by offers of money.
  • Pro tip: As with anything deserted, it is best to arrive early in the morning. And you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to orient yourself.

About Wesley V. Finley

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