Travel With Your Senses Featuring Sarah Ben Romdane
From Tunis to Mahdia, discover the local lifestyle and culture of Tunisia through the creatives’ lens

Travel With Your Senses is a new series on Miilkiina.com profiling creatives around the world and their respective cities. This week, we’re catching up with Sarah Ben Romdane, former journalist and founder of olive oil brand KAÏA, that honors the healing powers of the Mediterranean.

Sarah walks us through the local lifestyle and culture of Tunisia from Tunis to Mahdia, as she shares her ultimate lunch spread, favorite view of the sunset, and what drew her back to launch KAÏA.

Keep reading for the full guide, and deep-dive into Sarah’s world.

What is your earliest memory of Tunisia?

I think the earliest memory is when my brothers and I were kids and we would drive as a family to Mahdia, my father’s town of origin in Tunisia. I remember that when we would come close to the house we jovially shouted: “La porte bleue!! La porte bleue!!”, which means “the blue door”, referring to the house’s traditional front door. This marked the first day of our sunny month of holiday in my family’s ancestral home in Mahdia.

When you return home, what’s the first thing / last thing you love to do?

The first thing I love to do is usually go watch the sunset by the sea; and I’m lucky to live by the sea, which makes it easier! The last thing I used to do before leaving was visiting my grandmother one last time, but she passed away in November. So, probably eat one last couscous? 

Do you have a daily routine?

I don’t have one proper daily routine to be honest. It varies depending on the season and my location. It feels like two different lives whether I am in Tunisia or Paris but I love the duality of it. Both feel like home at the end of the day.

When I’m in Tunisia, I spend a lot of my time with my parents, and most importantly with my father who accompanies me in my KAÏA journey. I also spend a lot of time at the estate, particularly in the fall. I will usually have administrative meetings with clients, suppliers or partners in the morning and then we pause for a generous lunch around 2pm at home. At my parent’s home, we don’t serve dinner meaning lunch is the big meal of the day. It is followed by a little mint tea moment, and then I will do some work on my computer, whether it is for KAÏA or for my freelance work. Evenings are generally quiet when I am in Tunisia. 

In Paris, days are spent working on the day-to-day operations of running a business, working on my orders, connecting with my customers, networking and brainstorming on KAÏA’s development. In the evenings, I usually meet friends for food and drinks.

What drew you back to Tunisia to launch KAÏA?

The idea behind KAÏA was born during summer 2020 in Tunisia, after having spent months of lockdown alone in Paris. The simplified approach to living that we experience in Mahdia really resonated with me at this time and I felt like I needed to “go back to basics”. I realized that there was something missing in me when I was not in Tunisia and that I needed to do something about it. I decided to launch KAÏA to remind myself of the things that I cherish the most: my memories of summer in Tunisia, the legacy I inherit from my family and the Mediterranean. 

What does KAÏA mean?

The brand name KAÏA is rooted in both the Arabic name Rokhaya, which means enchantment and refers to a formula that has magic power, as well as the Arabic term Ruqia, which means to rise. Living à la KAÏA means reclaiming a lost legacy, asserting a sense of humanity, embracing a more holistic approach to life and being your most authentic self.

IMG_9953

Describe the world of KAÏA using the five senses.

If a KAÏA was a colour, it would be a pale tint of pink against a soft blue sky at sunset. KAÏA smells of your grandmother’s cooking. KAÏA feels like walking bare feet on warm, powdery white sand. KAÏA sounds like crickets during summer nights. And it tastes like heaven in between two clouds. 

Tell us about a time you felt inspired.

I feel inspired when I spend time with people who work with their hands. Last month, I baked Tabouna, a traditional Tunisian bread with an old woman not far from our estate. Keeping agricultural traditions of our ancestors alive and encouraging others to do the same inspires me.

What is your favorite way to unwind and pass time?

I love recharging in solitude. I think people see me as someone who’s quite social and adaptable, but I really cherish stillness and time alone. Now that I have been spending much more time in Tunisia, I realise how much nature and open spaces make me feel happier and more balanced. I love doing wholesome things like listening to a feel good music album, going for a walk in the medina and taking pictures, buying fresh fruits at the market, eating a homemade meal, or just doing anything unproductive to be honest.

IMG_7763

Do you have any personal rituals or traditions?

When I am in Tunisia, watching the sunset is a ritual that helps my soul feel more grounded and rested. It’s a visual reset that inspires me a sense of renewal that I find so powerful. And the skies in Tunisia are just something else! 

What is the most valuable thing you have learned and adapted from local lifestyle and culture?

The most important lesson altogether is to enjoy the space and narrative that is mine instead of always looking to the outside world. I have also learned to appreciate living in a peaceful and rural place. The small town life vibes have been a tremendous catalyst for my creativity actually. I have more space, spatially and financially, to take things easy and grow my business with sincere intention.

Share a photo with us of your last home-cooked meal.

Roasted cauliflower doused in olive oil. Salt and black pepper. Et voila. Simple but delicious.

 

Coffee or tea? Where do you usually get your fix?

I am actually not a coffee person at all, although I love the SWANA region’s coffee culture. I love chamomile and verbena infusions, and mint tea, of course.

 

What’s your favorite way to get around the city? 

Well in Mahdia, I can just walk around because I spend my time in the old town. In Tunis, I can walk around my neighborhood but to get around the city, you gotta drive a car unfortunately. In Paris, I’m a metro girl. My favorite is walking because I get to observe the small, ordinary things that make everyday life so magical.

What would be the ultimate lunch spread in Tunisia and where to find it? 

Mmmm, I have a lot to say about Tunisian food. Unfortunately, looking for sources of local and traditional food pride can be quite difficult in Tunisia; particularly among the youth. We have some classic street food spots and a handful of famous restaurants, but it’s quite obvious that decades of colonialism and authoritarianism have conditioned Tunisians to perceive their identities and heritage in limited constructs. Sadly, people want to eat foreign fast food more than local food because they think it’s cool and modern.

Having said that, I think the ultimate lunch spread in Tunisia might be at La Spigola in La Goulette, a seaside neighborhood of Tunis that has traditionally been famed for its restaurant scene and also where many Tunisian Jews used to live until the 70s. Starters will consist of “Kémias”, which are the Tunisian answer to the Mezzes. You should get Tajine (not the Moroccan version though! In Tunisia, Tajine is a Frittata), sardines, grilled squid, a carrot and cumin dip, potatoes briques, tastira (a variation of Chakchouka), harissa and tuna, etc. And then the classic is to get a spicy fish pasta (usually grouper). This pasta, which is quintessentially Tunisian, is called Fell and it’s shaped in small tubes. And a lemon sorbet to finish it off! 

Favorite local wine?

I wasn’t a wine person until I got into natural wine about a year ago! I can’t really tell you what’s my favorite local wine, but I love to drink some at La Choppe des Artistes in Paris. In Paris, wine culture is very much associated to whiteness; there is still a gatekeeping in the wine scene that reinforces the idea that wine is not synonymous with black and brown people. But La Choppe des Artistes are redefining what wine can mean in Paris. This place really feels like a safe space for the second-gen immigration creative youth of Paris, in my opinion. Also I love Diadié Dombana, the French-Malian, plant-forward chef!

Tell us about a secret spot, and why it’s special to you.

I think it would be my seaside terrace, in my home in Mahdia. It brings mental clarity and inspiration.

Where would you go for the best view of the sunset?

Also my seaside terrace in Mahdia!

Your favorite beach?

Can I say the rocky beach in front of my home in Mahdia again? 

What connects you most to Tunisia?

My family, my identity, my politics.

The best thing about your work?

I love that I was born in Paris, grew up in London and returned to my ancestors’ land to honor their legacy. I also love that I get to spend so much time outdoors and meet great people!

Tell us something people wouldn’t know about Tunisia.

We eat more pasta than couscous!

Something that you are looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to expanding my business, building new relationships and telling more stories about our land and ancestry.

 

Travel With Your Senses Featuring Sarah Ben Romdane
From Tunis to Mahdia, discover the local lifestyle and culture of Tunisia through the creatives’ lens

Travel With Your Senses is a new series on Miilkiina.com profiling creatives around the world and their respective cities. This week, we’re catching up with Sarah Ben Romdane, former journalist and founder of olive oil brand KAÏA, that honors the healing powers of the Mediterranean.

Sarah walks us through the local lifestyle and culture of Tunisia from Tunis to Mahdia, as she shares her ultimate lunch spread, favorite view of the sunset, and what drew her back to launch KAÏA.

Keep reading for the full guide, and deep-dive into Sarah’s world.

What is your earliest memory of Tunisia?

I think the earliest memory is when my brothers and I were kids and we would drive as a family to Mahdia, my father’s town of origin in Tunisia. I remember that when we would come close to the house we jovially shouted: “La porte bleue!! La porte bleue!!”, which means “the blue door”, referring to the house’s traditional front door. This marked the first day of our sunny month of holiday in my family’s ancestral home in Mahdia.

When you return home, what’s the first thing / last thing you love to do?

The first thing I love to do is usually go watch the sunset by the sea; and I’m lucky to live by the sea, which makes it easier! The last thing I used to do before leaving was visiting my grandmother one last time, but she passed away in November. So, probably eat one last couscous? 

Do you have a daily routine?

I don’t have one proper daily routine to be honest. It varies depending on the season and my location. It feels like two different lives whether I am in Tunisia or Paris but I love the duality of it. Both feel like home at the end of the day.

When I’m in Tunisia, I spend a lot of my time with my parents, and most importantly with my father who accompanies me in my KAÏA journey. I also spend a lot of time at the estate, particularly in the fall. I will usually have administrative meetings with clients, suppliers or partners in the morning and then we pause for a generous lunch around 2pm at home. At my parent’s home, we don’t serve dinner meaning lunch is the big meal of the day. It is followed by a little mint tea moment, and then I will do some work on my computer, whether it is for KAÏA or for my freelance work. Evenings are generally quiet when I am in Tunisia. 

In Paris, days are spent working on the day-to-day operations of running a business, working on my orders, connecting with my customers, networking and brainstorming on KAÏA’s development. In the evenings, I usually meet friends for food and drinks.

What drew you back to Tunisia to launch KAÏA?

The idea behind KAÏA was born during summer 2020 in Tunisia, after having spent months of lockdown alone in Paris. The simplified approach to living that we experience in Mahdia really resonated with me at this time and I felt like I needed to “go back to basics”. I realized that there was something missing in me when I was not in Tunisia and that I needed to do something about it. I decided to launch KAÏA to remind myself of the things that I cherish the most: my memories of summer in Tunisia, the legacy I inherit from my family and the Mediterranean. 

What does KAÏA mean?

The brand name KAÏA is rooted in both the Arabic name Rokhaya, which means enchantment and refers to a formula that has magic power, as well as the Arabic term Ruqia, which means to rise. Living à la KAÏA means reclaiming a lost legacy, asserting a sense of humanity, embracing a more holistic approach to life and being your most authentic self.

IMG_9953

Describe the world of KAÏA using the five senses.

If a KAÏA was a colour, it would be a pale tint of pink against a soft blue sky at sunset. KAÏA smells of your grandmother’s cooking. KAÏA feels like walking bare feet on warm, powdery white sand. KAÏA sounds like crickets during summer nights. And it tastes like heaven in between two clouds. 

Tell us about a time you felt inspired.

I feel inspired when I spend time with people who work with their hands. Last month, I baked Tabouna, a traditional Tunisian bread with an old woman not far from our estate. Keeping agricultural traditions of our ancestors alive and encouraging others to do the same inspires me.

What is your favorite way to unwind and pass time?

I love recharging in solitude. I think people see me as someone who’s quite social and adaptable, but I really cherish stillness and time alone. Now that I have been spending much more time in Tunisia, I realise how much nature and open spaces make me feel happier and more balanced. I love doing wholesome things like listening to a feel good music album, going for a walk in the medina and taking pictures, buying fresh fruits at the market, eating a homemade meal, or just doing anything unproductive to be honest.

IMG_7763

Do you have any personal rituals or traditions?

When I am in Tunisia, watching the sunset is a ritual that helps my soul feel more grounded and rested. It’s a visual reset that inspires me a sense of renewal that I find so powerful. And the skies in Tunisia are just something else! 

What is the most valuable thing you have learned and adapted from local lifestyle and culture?

The most important lesson altogether is to enjoy the space and narrative that is mine instead of always looking to the outside world. I have also learned to appreciate living in a peaceful and rural place. The small town life vibes have been a tremendous catalyst for my creativity actually. I have more space, spatially and financially, to take things easy and grow my business with sincere intention.

Share a photo with us of your last home-cooked meal.

Roasted cauliflower doused in olive oil. Salt and black pepper. Et voila. Simple but delicious.

 

Coffee or tea? Where do you usually get your fix?

I am actually not a coffee person at all, although I love the SWANA region’s coffee culture. I love chamomile and verbena infusions, and mint tea, of course.

 

What’s your favorite way to get around the city? 

Well in Mahdia, I can just walk around because I spend my time in the old town. In Tunis, I can walk around my neighborhood but to get around the city, you gotta drive a car unfortunately. In Paris, I’m a metro girl. My favorite is walking because I get to observe the small, ordinary things that make everyday life so magical.

What would be the ultimate lunch spread in Tunisia and where to find it? 

Mmmm, I have a lot to say about Tunisian food. Unfortunately, looking for sources of local and traditional food pride can be quite difficult in Tunisia; particularly among the youth. We have some classic street food spots and a handful of famous restaurants, but it’s quite obvious that decades of colonialism and authoritarianism have conditioned Tunisians to perceive their identities and heritage in limited constructs. Sadly, people want to eat foreign fast food more than local food because they think it’s cool and modern.

Having said that, I think the ultimate lunch spread in Tunisia might be at La Spigola in La Goulette, a seaside neighborhood of Tunis that has traditionally been famed for its restaurant scene and also where many Tunisian Jews used to live until the 70s. Starters will consist of “Kémias”, which are the Tunisian answer to the Mezzes. You should get Tajine (not the Moroccan version though! In Tunisia, Tajine is a Frittata), sardines, grilled squid, a carrot and cumin dip, potatoes briques, tastira (a variation of Chakchouka), harissa and tuna, etc. And then the classic is to get a spicy fish pasta (usually grouper). This pasta, which is quintessentially Tunisian, is called Fell and it’s shaped in small tubes. And a lemon sorbet to finish it off! 

Favorite local wine?

I wasn’t a wine person until I got into natural wine about a year ago! I can’t really tell you what’s my favorite local wine, but I love to drink some at La Choppe des Artistes in Paris. In Paris, wine culture is very much associated to whiteness; there is still a gatekeeping in the wine scene that reinforces the idea that wine is not synonymous with black and brown people. But La Choppe des Artistes are redefining what wine can mean in Paris. This place really feels like a safe space for the second-gen immigration creative youth of Paris, in my opinion. Also I love Diadié Dombana, the French-Malian, plant-forward chef!

Tell us about a secret spot, and why it’s special to you.

I think it would be my seaside terrace, in my home in Mahdia. It brings mental clarity and inspiration.

Where would you go for the best view of the sunset?

Also my seaside terrace in Mahdia!

Your favorite beach?

Can I say the rocky beach in front of my home in Mahdia again? 

What connects you most to Tunisia?

My family, my identity, my politics.

The best thing about your work?

I love that I was born in Paris, grew up in London and returned to my ancestors’ land to honor their legacy. I also love that I get to spend so much time outdoors and meet great people!

Tell us something people wouldn’t know about Tunisia.

We eat more pasta than couscous!

Something that you are looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to expanding my business, building new relationships and telling more stories about our land and ancestry.

 

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