Yemen, the country in the southern-most corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has a unique cuisine that shares elements of East African, Indian, and Middle Eastern foods. Within Yemen, a country of approximately 25 million people, regional variations in food exist from the coast to the highlands to the desert. Here you will read about some of the most popular Yemeni dishes and the ingredients used prepare them.
The staple eaten at nearly every meal is khubz (bread), usually a large or extra-large round flatbread cooked on the side of a large drum oven. Family members then tear off pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up the food. The bread is made fresh daily, usually at home, and it best right out of the oven!
Lunch is the main meal of the day and family members and school children often return to the home for the midday meal, which is often prepared by the women of the house and takes several hours. The first course might be a savory yogurt dish, made with crushed or pureed garlic, green spicy peppers, and green onions and added to a mixture of yogurt and milk. The yogurt is then poured over a special pancake-type of bread called la-hooh. La-hooh is eaten in Yemen and also Somalia and Ethiopia, where it is called Injeera, and it is made with teff flour and leavened with yeast and has a slightly sour taste. Zhoug is a spicy fresh salsa, made with crushed garlic, green peppers, and tomato which is eaten with yogurt and la-hooh. It may be too hot for your taste!
No Yemeni lunch would be complete without rice, which can vary from plain white rice to zurbian, a yellow rice dish cooked with onions, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cumin, and chicken or meat to add flavor and taste. Next there might be bint al-sahn, a sweet yeast leavened bread covered in honey and black cumin seeds. Interestingly enough, this sweet, dessert-like dish is eaten in the middle of the meal, not at the end! After that, the national Yemeni dish of salta would arrive in a hot, bubbling pot. This dish is especially enjoyed in the highlands and something like it is not found quite elsewhere. It is made with a base of cooked vegetables and spices combined with meat or chicken broth and topped off with whipped ground fenugreek added with more green chili pepper and spices! Stewed meat or chicken usually accompanies the salta. After lunch, a sweet tea served with milk and cardamom is served with cookies or other sweets.
Dinner and breakfast are lesser meals in Yemen and usually consist of scrambled eggs with vegetable and spices, cooked beans or lentils, or yogurt and cheese.
Where can you find Yemeni food to try some? Well if you happen to be in Yemen, the best place is at a Yemeni home as it is regarded as having the freshest and most delicious food. If you live in the New York City area, there are Yemeni restaurants in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue and also in San Francisco.
Enjoy your meal!