However, long before hipster kitchens buzzed with the sound of potent smoothies, farmers and caravan drivers in the Maghreb – stretching from Libya in eastern North Africa to the Atlantic coast of Morocco – carried bags of bsissa to ensure they would have a good source of nutrition, even in the middle of the Sahara desert. Serving as an original cooked dish from North Africa, it can either be tossed with olive oil or water and fruit to create a satisfying meal shake called row.
In recent years, living in Tunis, I started noticing new types of bsissa in stores and restaurants, including gluten-free versions, and the food was becoming a regular topic of conversation. One day, during a lunch in the capital, a new acquaintance told me that her mother is from Lamta, where an annual bsissa festival is held, and gave me the contact details of the festival organizers so that I can learn more about why bsissa is so important. towards the city. When I called the number, Khairi Sassi, an enterprising young entrepreneur, picked up and invited me to visit his family’s bsissa business.
The life of Sassi and his family revolves around making and selling bsissa. In their little shop cluttered with shelves housing sachets of bsissa powder, his father Dalel ladled zrir – a Tunisian dessert made with sesame seeds, nuts such as hazelnuts and pine nuts, butter and honey – in plastic jars. Dalel gave me a spoon so I could dig in and taste it, which is often sold alongside bsissa like its more luxurious counterpart, while Sassi showed me all the different types of bsissa available for sale and told me talked about his business.
“We all work together as a family – mom, dad, my sister and I,” Sassi said. “My mum worked in an office and hated it, so we set up the workshop and funded it entirely ourselves.”