Yemeni cuisine is as surprisingly diverse as the landscape of a country I visited in its last days of stability. Although the security situation has changed considerably in Yemen since 2013, these tastes flavor a culture that’s often obscured by bomb smoke for many around the world.
Yemeni breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables only begin like the photo below from At Hameeda, a completely woman owned and run restaurant near the city of Shibam (northwest of Sana’a). After the first course, plus some lounging, the tabletop is replaced with several new dishes.
Rice With Hawaij Spice
Common in many Yemeni foods, hawaij is a spice mix that varies but the primary ingredients are cardamon, tumeric, and cumin. Also varied is how much (if any) clarified butter is used for flavor.
Fried or poached eggs on a layer of tomatoes spicy enough to make your temples glow with perspiration.
Bread heavily buttered with a touch of egg.
A spongy flat bread served warm with a cool mixture of yogurt, cucumbers with carrots on top.
Yemen’s national dish, it never looked the same twice. Saltah’s main ingredient is a meat (often lamb) in a broth with the strong flavor of fenugreek – an unexpected taste that probably takes more than a few tries to acquire.
Minced lamb with tomatoes and onion. The okra isn’t standard but your appetite will appreciate the culinary creativity.
Cooked Peas (Bezelye)
Those of you familiar with Turkish vegetarian foods might recognize this green pea dish with a tomato base.
A chicken or lamb broth soup that is tastier than its short ingredient list implies.
A variation of saltah, fahsa is cooked at much higher heat until the lamb meat slides off the bone, boiling inside a soup of garlic, onions. It is then topped off with fenugreek paste mixed with tomatoes (which is cooked separately) so you have a layer of bread dip on top of dinner. Well, at least 6% of a dinner if it’s Yemeni proportions.
You’ll probably notice as well that many of the pictures a selected above are from the same meal or two to show you that Yemenis like to eat. Meals are often largest in early noon, since after 2pm most people take some time to get high on khat. I didn’t even mention the coffee a drink introduced to the world from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Unfortunately much of the coffee crops – and the potential export income it could bring in – has been replaced by thirsty khat trees.
The world’s world’s most neglected tourist destination Socotra Island, hundreds of kilometers off the mainland coast of Yemen, still remains accessible by air but for now, getting to one of the world’s best kitchens will have to wait for a distant future trip.