Salam alaikum! And, as a nod to Algeria’s colonial past, I’ll also add: Bonjour! Good thing I’ve been keeping up with my French lessons, non? (Duolingo, however, doesn’t offer Arabic, Algeria’s official language. But a quick Google search can save the day in this case.)
Even though Boston doesn’t appear to have a significant Algerian American population, Derek and I still managed to have a pretty full Algerian weekend.
We started Saturday with chakchouka (also sometimes known as shakshuka), a stew-like dish with bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions, topped with poached eggs, and mint tea.
Derek found and downloaded an iPad app for Spanish checkers, a game that many Algerians enjoy playing. After running morning errands, we decided to have lunch at Cafe Algiers in Harvard Square. The cafe is charmingly decorated, with octagonal tables, prints of Arabic texts, books, and its geometric wood-paneled domed ceiling.
We sipped more mint tea and played Spanish checkers as we waited for our food, a combination salad plate (tabbouli, baba ghanoush, hummus, mujaddara and falafel) for me, and the hummus ajami, barbecued lamb with hummus, for Derek.
While we were tempted by dessert, we decided to skip it, since our afternoon activity took us back into our own kitchen: baking Algerian sables while listening to Arabic folk music. Sables are butter cookies that are French in origin, and although it’s unclear what was distinctively Algerian about the sables we made, one thing was obvious: they were delicious. Et très jolies, non?
We must sound like gluttons at this point, but after assembling our cookies, we let them set and went out again, this time to dinner at Baraka Cafe, a small Algerian-Tunisian restaurant not too far from Cambridge’s Central Square. (The opening photo is from the restaurant, and what we now imagine an Algerian home might look like.) The owner is also the main chef, hostess and server, so she bustled about the tiny dining room, talking to one diner in French, and taking a liking to one family with two small boys. While she wasn’t quite as talkative with us, Derek did get her to crack a smile when, after I had ordered a vegetarian starter and a vegetarian entree, he followed with his entree order, and said, “I like meat.”
Meat or no meat, everything in our meal was delicious. Here are our glasses of cherbat, rosewater lemonade, and our appetizer, the mahdjouba, a grilled Algerian crepe with a jam-like tomato and onion filling, and a side of greens.
Our entrees certainly didn’t disappoint, either. I had the melkha, a roasted eggplant stuffed with spinach, cheese, scallions, olives and parsley, while Derek enjoyed the melfouf la Kasbah, a variety of grilled meat kebabs with pomme frites, more stewed tomatoes and onions, and greens. We shuffled back to the subway feeling very satisfied.
Back home, we watched The Battle of Algiers, an Italo-Algerian film from 1966 that tells the story of the Algerian struggle for independence from French rule. The film was fairly balanced in that it showed the attacks perpetrated by both the Algerian guerillas and the French, and, as Derek pointed out, showed how civilians who weren’t directly involved in the violence were still complicit. We munched on a few sables, too, once we started to feel less stuffed from our dinner.
We greeted Sunday morning with m’shewsha, a breakfast dish very similar to a pancake. It’s traditionally thought of as a dish that gives you a lot of strength, commonly eaten by manual laborers and women who have recently given birth. It was definitely very filling.
We went to Boston mid-day to visit an Algerian-owned market near Haymarket Station and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. The signage is a bit unclear, but Internet sources refer to it as the Garden Halal Market, an extension of the Garden Halal Restaurant above it. It’s pretty unassuming on the outside, especially when it isn’t surrounded by the outdoor Haymarket produce stalls on Fridays and Saturdays.
“$10 for a photo,” the store clerk joked, when we went into the market and he noticed Derek taking pictures of the olives.
Here’s their wide variety of juices:
Derek purchased some green tea with mint, and we went to the upstairs eatery. The menu featured subs, wraps, and pizzas, but after struggling with a slight language barrier with the woman at the counter, we went a little off menu. Derek had the merguez, lamb sausage, with a variety of salads.
I envied the heaping mounds of vegetables on his platter, and hoped that my veggie wrap would be similar, but alas, it was mostly lettuce, tomato, roasted red pepper, some green olives and a little spicy harissa sauce. I did steal the occasional beet and potato from his plate, though. He ate all the vegetables and about half the sausages before giving up, and we also purchased a large piece of flatbread, m’semmen, to go. The woman at the counter offered to heat it up and put honey on it, but we were too full to eat it right away, so we asked for it as is, and made a mental note on how we should eat it when we were ready.
We did some walking in Boston in the afternoon, though nothing Algerian to note, and in the evening, we prepared our final Algerian-esque meal, a chickpea and date tagine with couscous.
We watched our second film of the weekend, Monsieur Lazhar, a Canadian French-language film about an Algerian immigrant who becomes a teacher in Montreal. Even though our Algerian weekend was almost over, we didn’t forget our m’semmen, which we warmed after finishing the movie, and ate with honey, as the woman at the Garden Halal Restaurant had said. It was both flaky and chewy, and though it would still have been tasty plain, the honey was a nice addition.
Algeria Boston-style has certainly left us well-fed, and with a greater appreciation for the resources we have in our community. We can go back to places like Baraka Cafe and the Garden Halal Market, and not just because we happen to be doing all things Algerian on a specific weekend. While we’ll be moving onto other countries in future blog posts, I hope that we won’t forget to revisit Algeria from time to time.