Some friends and I were on a brief trip from our temporary home in Malta to the, at the time, stable, North African nation of Tunisia.  We had gone there for a few days, since it was close to Malta, the flights were cheap and we wanted to explore the world as much as possible.

We had already spent a night there in another city, but had travelled by train down to Matmata, on a “pilgrimage” to the area where the original Star Wars films were made.  The original movies apparently take place partially in a place called Tatouin, but the actual filming took place a few miles over in Matmata – basically, a waste of a town that didn’t really have much going for it, other than the filming locations (more on those later).

Matmata only really had one place to stay, so at least they had something going for them.  Mind you, it wasn’t a Hilton or really even a Days Inn, but it had clean (at least, compared to the ones that we had in Tunis) beds, and bathrooms that didn’t share the same space as the bedroom part of each unit.  In order to be safe, since there were four of us – two girls and two guys – we had split it up, so that one guy would stay in the same room as each of us girls, which was fine….at least in Matmata and Sous, they were separate beds.  Too bad that I couldn’t say the same for Tunis.

The night went by quickly, as we were all tired.  The previous hotel hadn’t offered breakfast, so we had been on our own.  This one, however, offered a very basic breakfast.  And one that would go down in my memory as being one of the most memorable breakfasts, certainly one of the most memorable hotel breakfasts, that I have ever had.

No, it wasn’t a buffet, like Wurzburg in Germany; nor was it the cold board from Oslo.  It was, however, where I was introduced to fig jam.  Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like a revelation, but when you a) have never eaten figs before – isolated in the US suburbs as you had been while growing up; b) didn’t have a long history of trying new foods by that age just yet (that would come slowly, but certainly it started around this time in Malta) and finally; c) were just plain starving and willing to eat dried camel if they gave it to you, it was like manna from heaven.

Served with just plain, almost stale, yet sort-of warmed up sliced french-style baguettes and weak coffee, we found a basket of individual fig jam packets on the table before us and each one of us gingerly took one to spread on the bread slices.  I think that Megan and I were the first to smile as the flavor hit us.  Not too sweet, not chunky, but with bits of actual figs still in it, the jam spread easily, and had a richness of flavor that I hadn’t experienced before.  Not tart, like other fruit spreads, and not creamy like a peanut butter.  Somehow, this jam managed to straddle both worlds, being thicker than normal jams (closer to peanut butter than jam) and yet with a hint of just something extra.

Now, I know that we were hungry, but to say that we ate it all and asked for more is an understatement.  As I recall, we managed to polish off all of the packets available.  As in, not just the ones in the basket set before us, which by the midway point had been reduced to a couple of strawberry packets that we had abandoned in favor of the fig jam, but the entire hotel’s worth of fig jam.  There simply wasn’t any more left.

We were so disappointed.  Megan and I, at least, were planning on taking a few for the road, but no such luck.  We were left to try to locate it once we arrived in Sous for the final night of the trip.

We ended up not even being able to find it there, nor anywhere in Malta, to tell the truth.  Instead, I had to wait until I moved back to the US and managed to locate some “high-end” fig jam at a local upscale supermarket.  It wasn’t the same, though.  It was too thick, it tore bread when you tried to spread it, and the taste was all wrong.  Artificial somehow.  Not right.

I bought it a few times, and every now and then I go back to it, hoping that the recipe with either have been magically altered to the one that we had in Tunisia, or that my memory will fade enough that I will love it just as much.  It never seems to work.  At least I still have that memory, though.  Sitting in a quiet hotel “restaurant,” just my friends and I, enjoying a slow start to the morning, watching the Sahara desert slowing come awake, while stuffing ourselves with stale bread and the best fig jam in the world.

Advertisements