Behind the Sweet Tooth

I doubt the Cookie Monster would have any self-control at an Algerian wedding. And I don’t blame him—how could one ever listen to their dentist when in the presence of infinite amounts of Algerian cookies? For a whole summer, I ignored my inner health-nut and allowed my sweet tooth to sink into the cookie-fest known as Algerian weddings.

Three years had passed since my family visited our native country of Algeria, so we decided to spend the summer there to be a part of my uncle’s wedding. As my family prepared for the ceremony in my mother’s village, Tizi Rached, I was given the job of messenger: I went back and forth between houses, collecting trays of cookies from relatives and family friends.

I walked down the block into a dirt-covered alleyway to pick up the first batch of cookies. Upon entering a crowded, humid home, I saw countless women working in an assembly line as they created their masterpieces. The sables are elegant, jelly-filled flower cookies that are the essence of beauty and luxury, yet they juxtapose what goes on behind the dough; this family’s father had abandoned them, leaving the women to live under their in-laws in a dim-lit, single-room house and bake cookies as their only source of profit. The glossy, cream-covered arayaches shaped like stars in the night sky were made by the family of my Alzheimer’s-ridden grandaunt. They, too, use these cookies as a source of income. To someone who is trying baklava cookies for the first time, the desserts may seem minimalist in decoration and detail—but after you take a bite and fully understand the inside, you’ll realize that baklava is filled with layers of honey and nuts that are essential to enjoying it. Like the cookies these people make, there are many stories and meanings behind their creation. 

Yet there are stories that we don’t see behind the cookies—the stories of the cookie creators themselves. And then there’s me. I try my best to make cookies like those of my people, yet I can never succeed in doing so. But although I forget the flour, add too much sugar, and add yeast instead of baking powder my typically-inedible cookies tell the story of who I am. They tell the story of a girl who perseveres even when she fails, a girl who takes great pride in her culture—a culture that has served as the foundation for her passion of uncovering the stories that we don’t usually hear about.

Algerians use cookies as an expression of the world they want to live in versus their actual reality; they turn their struggles into works of art. I want to write of the untold stories of those worlds, combining the cookie and its deeper meaning. Cookies bring me closer to my culture, as I am able to discover the stories of worlds unknown through these pastries.

By Melissa Ouhocine

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