Playdate foods for adults and kids typically involve carrot sticks, graham crackers, chips, juice and the like. Things in Yosr Daoud's household, however, are more exciting than that. It was over a plate of traditional Tunisian brik that Daoud prepared for fellow mom and friend Lisa McLaughlin that the seeds for a new food business were sown.
“Our kids went to the same preschool, so we had a playdate and the first time I went to her house, she cooked brik,” McLaughlin says. Their regular family after school get-togethers became ritual of feeding the kids a snack, and then retreating to the kitchen so that Daoud, a native of Tunis, could prepare McLaughlin, who is from Ireland, the Tunisian foods McLaughlin came to love in Daoud's home. Eventually McLaughlin decided “we have to do this!”
After a test run of renting a truck and joining the mobile food row at First Fridays at Abbot Kinney last year, Daoud and McLaughlin are gradually expanding their plans for A Taste of Tunisia. At the center of this venture is the brik. With its self-contained and hearty qualities, brik has the best hallmarks of comfort and street food. That also helps explain why it's traditional in Tunisia to break the Ramadan fast with brik, and why this dish figures into a superstition involving potential mothers- and sons-in-law.
A paper-thin shell — Daoud finds Filipino lumpia wrappers to be suitable, for example — is filled with either tuna, ground organic Halal beef, or potatoes, and an egg. The skin is then folded in half and lightly fried in vegetable oil. The soft-cooked egg pulls the textures and flavors together, and coats the interior in a layer of silky protein. (Cheese is optional.) Brik is a perfect contrast of crisp and soft, and the tuna in particular captures a specific slightly sweet and tangy Mediterranean quality. (In fact, the combination of onion, tuna, parsley, capers and lemon mirror almost exactly the ingredients in a pasta dish I was taught to make on the island of Pantelleria, which is nearly equidistant between Tunisia and Sicily.) A Tunisian-style salad of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, capers, balsamic vinegar and olive oil tastes ideally refreshing following what's essentially a fried stuffed crepe.
For now, you can get your brik fix every week at the Malibu Farmers' Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A Taste of Tunisia will be cooking inside of Grand Central Market as part of the next Downtown Art Walk's food offerings on the night of Thursday, July 14. Daoud and McLaughlin will also be at the L.A. Street Food Fest at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, July 16th, which they participated in last year, too. These plans are sandwiched between managing families and their other jobs. (McLaughlin is the founder and director of the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival.)
Taste of Tunisia's operation is currently focused on brik, but the menu includes potato kefteh, too. And other items are occasionally added to the menu, such as couscous, especially if Daoud's mother-in-law is visiting from Tunisia, and merguez sausage sandwiches, which will be available during Downtown Art Walk this Thursday. Even though this seems like a food item that's adaptable for experimentation with different fillings, “we want to keep it the Tunisian way,” Daoud says. And yet every family has some variation on brik. Daoud doesn't cook her version “like my mother-in-law or my aunt, but it's exactly like my mom's.” But fortunately for Daoud and McLaughlin, this an item not seen much around Los Angeles, and recent significant news events have raised general awareness of Tunisia.
While Daoud is thrilled to cook and expand the reputation of her native Tunisian cuisine, she initially responded to McLaughlin and friends' compliments by explaining “it's just brik” with a shrug, as folks who adore but also perhaps take their treasured foods a little bit for granted might do. McLaughlin's crusading passion for brik helps keeps this cross-cultural enterprise going.
“I really believe in this,” McLaughlin says.
“She does,” Daoud nods.