ALGERIA: Pastries and dates

I feel really lucky that not only is my randomly-chosen country of the month a country renowned for its good food, but I also picked a Muslim country during Ramadan. It’s a beautiful time of celebration, and to a food-lover like me, that means there’s some really great holiday treats available right now! Here in Ottawa, you can order fast delivery of handmade pastries from Bahdja Market. They’ve got a huge variety – the downside for me is my pistachio allergy, which closes off a lot of good options, but I snagged some really special almond-based treats instead!

Qalb el Louz – This is the OG of Algerian sweets – a square of dense sweet almond and semolina cake with a strong orange blossom flavour and dripping with simple syrup. It’s sticky and chewy and doesn’t even pretend to be healthy – it’s fantastic. Comments online say it’s best served with mint tea, which seems like a lovely balance to the richness of the cake.

Dziriyat – A small but very dense pastry with also made from almonds and semolina, though it’s completely distinct from the qalb el louz. It’s sweet without being cloying and really delicious – there’s a lovely honey flavour with a bit of a lemony zip to it.

Oasis Algerian Deglet Nour datesDeglet Nour is a highly sought-after varietal of date that Algeria is famous for. These dates are lighter in colour and have a delicate honey taste – there’s something fruity and complex on the tongue as well, almost like quince. Even for someone who is not particularly a date connoisseur, I can tell these are a very nice treat.

NAURU: Angam Day

Stamps with both Angam Babies – one as a baby and one as an adult. Source: Hipstamp

Angam Day, celebrated on October 26, is a really interesting public holiday celebrated in Nauru. Angam Day commemorates when the Nauruan population hit 1500 people, the number considered necessary for the survival of the Naruan people. “Angam” is a Nauruan word that means “celebration” and has connotations with “meeting goals” or “homecoming”.

Since Nauru’s population has fluctuated, there actually have been two Angams – each celebrated by the birth of official baby #1500. The first Angam Baby, Eidagaruwo, was born on October 26, 1932, and her birth was celebrated with bonfires tinged blue with copper.

Unfortunately, during WWII, the population of Nauru suffered – both between Japanese occupation and forced deportation of Nauruans, as well as Allied bombings. Tragically Eidagaruwo, then a teen, died of malnutrition on Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon, where about half the Naururan population had been taken.

The second Angam Baby, Bethel Enproe Adam, was born on March 31, 1949 – Nauruans began to celebrate Angam Day again, though keeping it on the original baby’s birthdate. I can’t find much else about Bethel Enproe Adam – she would have just turned 72 about a week ago, if she’s still around.

Angam Day is celebrated with parties, sports competitions (including fishing), and traditional dances. There’s a great clip here from Angam Day celebrations in 2016 – there’s some really skilled traditional dance that starts at around the 4 minute mark:

ISRAEL: Tu b’Shevat salad

Tonight is the Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shevat – the New Year of the Trees. In Israel it’s largely celebrated as an environmental awareness holiday, often with tree planting. There’s a special seder where people eat dried fruits and nuts (and drink four cups of wine!). Even if not really observing, fruit and nuts are very “seasonal”. Also seasonal for this holiday are the Seven Species of Israel: wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, dates, grapes, and olives.

I found this recipe at Jewish Food Experience, based off trip to a Tel Aviv farmer’s market, for a Tu b’Shevat salad that incorporates some of the Seven Species. A base of barley, with dates, figs, pomegranate, as well as walnuts, apples, and persimmons. I couldn’t find fresh figs (it’s winter, in Canada, in the pandemic – fruit selection isn’t great) but using dried figs seems like it won’t bring down the house. The dressing includes silan (date syrup). I found it at the Mid-East Food Centre here in Ottawa and it’s got a lovely rich flavour – I think it’ll start sitting it into plain yogurt for breakfast.

This salad is really good warm, though it’s sweet enough I’d almost call it a “healthy dessert” instead of a salad. I like the different fruits in each bite, and the orange and date dressing adds extra flavour. I figured since this recipe only covered five of the Seven Species, I’d have some grapes and whole wheat crackers with cheese on the side to round it out!

EL SALVADOR: La Bala, an unlikely Christmas hit

Christmas in El Salvador has a couple neat distinctive twists, on top of the food, family, and gifts that you see in other countries. One is that everyone wears a new piece of clothing (El Estreno) for festivities on Christmas Eve, and the other is a distinctly non-Christmas song has become a holiday staple – La Bala, with the most popular version recorded by Los Hermanos Flores.

El Salvador Perspectives has an interesting writeup on why a song called “the bullet” has become a popular holiday song, and it’s likely a combination of nostalgia and lighthearted dance elements that resonate with family gatherings – kinda like how the Macarena is reserved for wedding receptions here in Canada.

Happy Christmas all!