Welcoming the Snow in Algeria!
By: Samir Tahraoui/Arab America Contributing Writer
Welcoming snow in Algeria is deeply entrenched in the nation’s traditions and history, and Algerians have been taught through successive generations to treat snow as a special guest that needs to be welcomed and entertained in a unique traditional way. The lucky cold guest always receives a warm welcome in different parts of Algeria: hot spicy dishes served in the warmth of the family reunion. It’s worth mentioning that Algeria is the snowiest Arab country and not as most foreigners think, “a desert in Africa”. Yet, Algeria is a large country with diverse regions and climates, and snow crowns its green mountains every winter. Traditions of welcoming snow in Algeria have undoubtedly changed with the dynamics of time, but gratitude remains the same.
Snow is the most welcomed and entertained guest in Algeria:
It is normal for children to happily stand next to the window or the door, and even open them from time to time, in order to observe snowflakes land on the floor. This brings about the need for parents to use the old common wisdom to keep their children warm and their windows and doors shut by simply telling kids that Mr. Snow feels shy and disappears when being noticed, or by asking them to help to make some traditional baghrir, sfenj, ma’arek or mhadjeb. Women, for their part, entertain the snow by preparing some traditional hot greasy dishes for lunch and dinner of which they share with neighbors who can already guess what is cooking as the smell is a truthful “snitch”.
A hot dish for a cold day:
On snowy days, the tempting advice you’re going to heed is ” there’s nothing better than eating a hot spicy dish to resist the cold weather”. If so, wherever you walk in big cities, the delicious smell of hot spicy mhadjeb will whet your appetite to have some, or better yet for the locals, have your mother’s yummy mhadjeb with the big family. At home, mothers have many options for lunch: if they opt for a sugary dish, they may prepare baghrir or messamen; and if they prefer salty ones, then the list will be long, which will definitely include mhadjeb or m’arek.
For dinner, there is a wealth of spicy traditional dishes for housewives to consider, all that matters to make the right choice is either the availability of ingredients or the mood of the family decision-makers, husbands, or parents-in-law, some of whom are very traditional and pretty selective, and who can even ask for berkoukes with kheli’i (a couscous soup-like with sun-dried lamb meat), or bekbouka (lamb offal). On a typical snowy night, Algerian families have a hot soup as a main dish for dinner, it is either called berkoukes when made of very big grains of couscous or mehamsa when made of middle-sized grains. Yet, on the contrary, couscous is always based on very small grains and is not eaten as a soup or dish on snowy nights.
Snow then and now:
Older Algerians say that it used to snow a lot more than it does now, in terms of frequency and quantity. With a tone filled with nostalgia, eighty-year-old Hadj Ykhlef remembers the old days, when it snowed all winter long leaving up to a 50-inch-high snow mass. At that time, people used to shovel ways through their homes and thatched cottages to bring drinkable water or to feed their animals. As for food, they did not worry as their stocks inside their homes, called khabis, were full of different kinds of food supplies: wheat, barley, dried vegetables, dried figs and raisins, dry meat (kheli’i) acorns, and different kinds of nuts… Heating was not a big concern, either, nor was cooking since wood was abundantly available for their clay wood-burning stoves, heaters, and chimneys. Unlike this modern generation, older ones were self-reliant, and thus readier to deal with large snowstorms. Nowadays, although most Algerian cities and towns have better stocks and more sophisticated means to survive cold snowy winters such as electricity, city gas, snow trucks. These services cannot be reliable because they may be cut at any moment as this often happens during winter storms, and that’s why Hadj Ykhlef highly recommends preserving and developing past traditions and incorporating them into our modern buildings and life, just in case.
Snow and family outings:
Snow is also a great opportunity for some Algerian families to meet and enjoy the white scenery together because children don’t go to school for safety measures, and most workers get a day off. Men, women, and children go out to have some fun while throwing snowballs at each other, taking photos, and making beautiful snowmen. Additionally, they can also go skiing in the mountains and bring joy and happiness to their hearts. Families from lower areas drive up to the higher snowy places to share the fun. Thus, the warmth of the family reunion will, for sure, be more significant and memorable than the hot spicy dishes.
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