The Sababa Kitchen’s Samantha Cohen, a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, sells babkas at farmers markets throughout Boston. But her treats are more than sweet: They also come with little notecards explaining Jewish history. The name “Sababa” means “great” in Hebrew. And her story definitely is. See (and taste!) for yourself.

For those who aren’t familiar with your business, what do you bake? Tell our readers what you do!

When I first started the business, I wanted to do a bakery that was unique and meaningful to me. I had this idea of bringing Jewish history into food. To tell an Ashkenazi Jew about the Aleppo, Syrian community, for example. My first thought was to do it with specific baked goods or meals from each community. But as a one-person bakery, I realized it would be too difficult to do. So, I decided to focus on one specific baked good, specifically babka, and integrate history through there. Each babka and cookie has its own history.

Samantha Cohen (Courtesy photo)
Samantha Cohen (Courtesy photo)

What does that mean?

Each pastry, whenever you buy it, comes with a little postcard about it. For example, the postcard that comes with the babka called “La Mexicana,” which has chocolate, cinnamon and cajeta, a Mexican caramel, talks about how the babka went on to acquire those flavors. The postcard says: “Senorita Babka was born and raised in the shtetls, the small Jewish towns of Eastern Europe. She was a typical Ashkenazi Jew. She spoke Yiddish in her household, assisted with the family’s business, and visited the big city as age-old restrictions on Jews were lifted. The normal tasks became difficult during the first World War and even more so when she lost her family in the Holocaust 20 years later. After the war, skinny and malnourished, the Senorita fled to Mexico. She was pleased with her new country, intermingling with the locals and fully making a new life for herself. But it wasn’t until she met Cajeta, dulce de leche made from goat’s milk, in the beautiful and colorful state of Guanajuato, that our lovely Babka truly felt at home. A few years later, after learning about the Aztecs’ love for cacao seeds and spicy cacao drinks, she added chocolate and cinnamon to her daily routine.” It tells you the ingredients of the babka but also integrates a real story. Although it didn’t happen to a babka since she’s a made-up food, the shtetl, wars and large Jewish migration to Mexico is all real.

The Sababa Kitchen’s “La Mexicana” postcard (Courtesy photo)

Do you write those all yourself?

That was a big part of what I was doing before the farmers market season started. I was researching very, very heavily. I obviously wanted the food to be delicious, but I also wanted to touch on different aspects of Jewish history. I have one with almond butter and honey that talks about Turkish Jews, and I have another one that’s tahini and fig that’s based in Israel and the Middle East. I focused on the taste, the flavors from a specific region and the history aligned with it. For example, the combo of figs and tahini was something I discovered while recipe testing; both those flavors come from the Middle East, so it only made sense to find a story about the Jewish community in that area.

What is your Jewish background? Can you tell us a little bit about why this is important to you?

My paternal grandmother is from Poland/Lithuania. She’s a Holocaust survivor who fled to Mexico with her parents after the war. My maternal grandparents are also from Eastern Europe, except they immigrated to Mexico before the war. However, my paternal grandfather is from Turkey/Greece. So, while I’m mostly Ashkenazi, I do have a Sephardic side to me. My parents had me and my two sisters in Mexico City, which has a large population of Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. When we moved to Miami when I was 8, I encountered a lot of people who didn’t know about Mexican Jews, let alone other Jews outside of the United States or Israel. Miami’s a bit different because there are a lot of Latin Jews, but I still remember having conversations with Americans being like, “Oh, there are Jews in Mexico?” or “So, is your dad Mexican and your mom Jewish?” There seemed to be a big gap in people’s minds when it came to Jewish history, in the fact that we’ve migrated all across the world. I guess those conversations have always been in the back of my head.

The Sababa Kitchen’s “The Traditionalist” (Courtesy photo)

What sort of response have you been getting at farmers markets? What kind of customers do you have?

It’s definitely a mixed audience. There are a lot of people who just give me back the postcard. But in my head, it’s like, this is such a big part of the pastry! On the other hand, the first or second week of the farmers market season, this woman, who had purchased “The Traditionalist,” a poppy seed babka, came back to my booth to tell me how meaningful she found the postcard, which spoke about a Lithuanian babka who loves poppy seeds. It turns out the woman is Lithuanian and had struggled to find a poppy seed pastry, like the ones they have in her home country, here in Boston. She was so happy that there was this connection between her and this pastry, and even though she wasn’t Jewish and doesn’t have a connection with the exact story, she was so excited to find this pastry that had something from her home.

Were you always interested in food? How did you get your start?


I actually started this blog called when I went abroad to London during my junior year of college. It never got big or anything; it was more of a space for me to write and express myself. It was about art exhibits and museums, restaurants and homemade recipes, and traveling. When I got back to Boston, I would bake and cook a lot, specifically for the blog. And when I was working in marketing, there came a point that I would be counting down the minutes until I could go home and bake up a batch of anything that had inspired me that week. Bringing it to my coworkers to try was my biggest joy. That’s when I decided I wanted to do it full-time instead of just for myself and for a blog.

That’s brave! How did you formally launch the business?

I officially quit my 9-to-5 marketing job in February of this year. I knew I wanted to be in farmers markets during the summer, so I wanted to give myself enough time to go through all the legal work, find a commercial kitchen and create a brand. I wanted to have a set business, with all the small details figured out—like the boxes, for example—before launching it. I had help from my family here and there, but I was basically doing everything from designing the logo to recipe testing by myself.

The Sababa Kitchen’s “Middle Eastern Gold” (Courtesy photo)

A lot of people who have small businesses like mine get a license from their city or town to sell retail from their home kitchen. But Boston has a very specific rule that you can’t do that, so everyone looks for a commercial kitchen instead. I wanted a space that felt similar to my kitchen, in that it inspired me to experiment, and that’s when I found Pilotworks in Providence. I bake everything from there. I’m at three different farmers markets this summer, and I’m still figuring out what I’m going to focus on during the winter.

What’s next?

I’m starting to dive a little bit into the catering side, but I love seeing repeat online orders. Most of my limited-time items are online only. Right now I have a special Rosh Hashanah babka that’s round; it has a mason jar in the middle so you can put honey in it, and the babka filling is apples and honey.

What do people request the most?

Definitely “La Mexicana!” It has Nutella, cinnamon and cajeta, a Mexican dulce de leche. It’s like a caramel made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. People love chocolate, and they love Nutella, so it’s bound to be people’s first choice!