Zarzis: The Quiet Fishing Port at the Heart of Tunisian Culture

A beach resort at Zarzis
Zarzis: The Quiet Fishing Port at the Heart of Tunisian Culture

At the crossroads of cultures and people is a small, quiet fishing port on the Tunisian coastline. Zarzis is home to indigenous black Tunisians, a small Jewish community, migrants looking for a way into Europe, and European retirees living the dream.

Zarzis Is Home to Some 75,000 People

One of the possible reasons for Zarzis keeping a low profile is the fact it exists in the shadow of a popular tourist hotspot by the name of Djerba. Zarzis boasts a reminiscent French colonial architecture, tranquil farmhouses, the old Jewish Hara neighborhood, a way too big military base, and a colonial-era church that has been turned into a museum. You wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that this small fishing port is actually a curious hub of cultures and historical periods.

Spice of Zarzis

Lasaad Nawaili cooking fish in his Zarzis restaurant
Zarzis: The Quiet Fishing Port at the Heart of Tunisian Culture

When you move past the European tourists seeking a cheap vacation spot, the Tunisian Jewish jewelers, and the rich retirees looking to flaunt their wealth, you will reach the authentic Zarzis restaurants. There, you’ll fill your nostrils with cumin, turmeric, red pepper, and a bouquet of other spices, and heaven-like meals will pamper your taste buds.

Lasaad Nawaili is a local native who runs a busy eatery — Restaurant Le Grand Bleu. One of his specialties is grilled cuttlefish, wolffish, and seafood platters. Much like his colleagues, the pandemic managed to kill off the majority of his business, but it’s the ferries that come in summer that keep him afloat.

The Hara

Inside one of the synagogues in the Hara neighborhood
Zarzis: The Quiet Fishing Port at the Heart of Tunisian Culture

In addition to all its cultural facets, Zarzis is also home to the Hara, the tiny Jewish neighborhood where you will find many small synagogues, narrow streets, arches, and gold jewelry shops. What’s curious about this fishing port, where everyone seems to co-exist in peace, is that everyone is free to practice their own religion and people have respect for their differences. It really is a special place worth visiting.