Bombalouni: A Tunisian Treat

Sidi Bou Saïd knows how cute it is. The little town perches on a hill, its buildings a remarkably uniform white with blue trim. Its architecture, characterized by Ottoman and Andalusian buildings, is postcard-primed, and the town’s cute architecture is arguably surpassed by the views of the sea and the coast from the town’s hillside. Twenty kilometers (13 miles) from Tunis, Sidi Bou Saïd can be reached by a reliable, inexpensive commuter train service from the Tunisian capital.

The alleys of the town throng with tourists from late morning through late afternoon. Buses lumber into a huge parking lot at the foot of a hill in the town, releasing their daytripping passengers into the town’s quaint streets. The road leading up from the parking lot is congested with stalls and shops selling huge quantities of tchotchkes. There are some nice things among the inventory, though nothing holds a candle to a little edible treat that sells for 500 milim, or half a dinar (31¢): the humble Tunisian doughnut, or bombalouni.

The word “bombalouni” bears strong similarity to the Italian word “bomboloni.” But anyone expecting the dense ball of delight that is the Italian bombaloni (a delicious filled doughnut) will be disappointed. The Tunisian cousin isn’t a dense ball at all but a freshly fried ring of dough dragged through sugar.

The ring of dough is uneven, jagged. It’s also greasy, though not overwhelmingly so. A Tunisian bombalouni should be eaten relatively quickly, while it is still hot. It is served with two sheets of paper, which do the job of sopping up excess grease. Public trashcans near my favorite bombalouni stall in Sidi Bou Saïd are stuffed with these sheets of paper by the end of the day.

There are better reasons for traveling to Tunisia, surely, but the bombalouni’s draw is noble.