Harissa is a Tunisian condiment, made from red peppers and garlic and olive oil. It burns like fire. In Tunisia, when you go to a restaurant, they begin by giving you a little plate of bread and olive oil and harissa; you learn, after burning your mouth a few times, the right way to combine them.

Harissa is delicious, once you get used to it. I, frankly, can’t live without it. But it’s not easy to find in the United States. I bought a tube of it – yes, a tube, like a toothpaste tube – in the Morocco section of Epcot in Disney World, over a year ago. I use it up very slowly, in eggs and vegetable dishes. And it always reminds me of my time in Tunisia.

My Tunisian friends always got a kick out of how Americans reacted to harissa. They’d trick them into eating it straight, and hoot with laughter when the Americans choked and spat it out. What fun!

Then an American friend spent a few weeks back in the USA, and came back with assorted oddball American delicacies you couldn’t find in Tunisia: nori, and graham crackers, and pickled jalapeno peppers. She and I were eating jalapenos straight out of the jar in ecstasy. “What’s the big deal?” a Tunisian friend said. “Are they hot?”

“Very hot,” we both said. “But delicious.”

“They can’t be that bad,” he said. And he fished one out of the jar, and ate one.

And my American friend and I hooted with laughter as he shrieked and ran around the house in pain, because the jalapeno was too hot for him.

Evidently, “hot” in one culture is not the same as “hot” in another culture.

Now: how about some nice wasabi?

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

2 Responses to Harissa

  1. starproms says:

    How interesting. I’ll look out for it over here. We have many Asian and West Indian stalls in the market.

    • It’s very hot, but delicious. Nice with olives and bread and a little olive oil. Sometimes, depending on what I’m cooking, I’ll put a bit in, just to see what happens.

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