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At a media reception held the opening day of the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, presented by the Specialty Food Association and taking place June 26-28 at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City, Tunisia, a partner country of the show, highlighted its culture and products in a bid to win more American customers.
Kicked off by an all-female band playing authentic music, and an address in French by Minister of Industry Zakaria Hamad, the event provided a brief overview of Tunisia’s long history, stretching back thousands of years and involving periods of rule by the Romans and the French, as well as a spot in science fiction movie history as the setting for the planet Tatooine in “Star Wars,” and its flourishing agribusiness today. The country ranks second in the world in olive oil production, just behind Italy, and is the top worldwide exporter of the product, although only 18 percent of its olive oil is currently exported directly to the United States – a number it hopes to increase. At least 75 percent of its olive oil production is now extra virgin, which is perhaps fitting in a country known for having the highest number of olive trees in the world, with seven trees for every person.
Tunisia is also, unsurprisingly, a top exporter of dates, sending them to 70 countries across five continents, and perhaps more unexpectedly, exports more organic products than any other country in Africa, except for South Africa, with some companies already branching into the biodynamic sphere. The nation currently sends more than 60 organic products abroad, including organic olive oil, of which it is the No. 1 importer, according to Hamad. Overall, the Tunisia exports just 8.8 percent of its products to the United States, but is looking to grow that figure as well.
Prospective American trading partners were reminded of Tunisia’s trade agreement with the United States, TIFA, signed in 2003, and the country’s GSP (Generalized System of Preference) status, which eliminates duties on Tunisian olive oil.
As far as up-and-coming products from the country go, Harissa, a spicy paste made from red peppers, was singled out as a unique taste sensation, although novices were cautioned to go easy on it.
Among the dignitaries in attendance was the NBA’s Salah Al-Mejri, who plays center for the Dallas Mavericks. A literally towering figure at more than 7 feet tall, Mejri spoke extemporaneously – and charmingly – about how he was nourished on Tunisian cuisine, although he added that he didn’t expect it would help him grow so much.
Following a brief question-and-answer period, attendees were invited to sample some dishes created with Tunisian ingredients, including artichoke tapenade, slatet blanquit, dates and sesame, and baklava.
Tunisia has been exhibiting at the Fancy Food Show since 1999 and this year has more than 35 food companies displaying a range of products in a special pavilion.