Citizens, the ancient and proud country of Yemen has suffered for several years now as a bloody civil war and a terrible famine have ravaged the people and land equally. A sad state of affairs indeed, as I have long been fascinated by the history and cuisine of this cradle of civilization!
If you are so inclined, please give what you can to help the starving people of this war-torn land – this link will get you where you need to go.
The cuisine of Yemen is both complex and delicious, although many of its citizens can barely find enough food right now to survive. All the more reason to remind people of its ancient pedigree and unmatched flavors!
Yemeni cuisine is distinct from the wider Middle Eastern cuisines but with a degree of regional variation. Some foreign influences are evident in some regions of the country (with Ottoman influences showing in the north, while Mughlai Indian influence is evident in the southern areas around Aden), the Yemeni kitchen is based on similar foundations across the country.
The generous offering of food to guests is one of the customs in Yemeni culture, and a guest not accepting the offering is considered as an insult. Meals are typically consumed while sitting on the floor or ground. Another thing to mention is that unlike most Arab countries, lunch is the main meal of the day in Yemen, not dinner.
In Yemen, many kitchens have a tandoor (also called tannur), which is a round clay oven.
Tomatoes, onions, and potatoes are some of the staple fruits and vegetables in Yemen. Chicken, goat, and lamb are the staple meats. They are eaten more often than beef, which is expensive. Fish is also eaten, especially in the coastal areas.
Cheese, butter, and other dairy products are less common in the Yemeni diet. Buttermilk, however, is enjoyed almost daily in some villages where it is most available. The most commonly used fats are vegetable oil and ghee used in savory dishes, while clarified butter, known as semn (سمن), is the choice of fat used in pastries.
Breads are an integral part of Yemeni cuisine, most of which are prepared from local grains. Unleavened flat breads are common. Ṣalūf – a flatbread made from wheat flour, is the most common of all breadstuffs. The dough was allowed to ferment with ḫamīrah (“leaven”), while some would baste the surface of the dough with a prepared batch of unseasoned fenugreek (ḥilba) prior to baking.
These were almost always backed at home in an earthenware oven called taboon (تبون) in the Arabic dialect. Tawa, Tameez, Luhuh, Malooga, Kader, Kubane, Fateer, Kudam, Rashoosh, Oshar, Khamira, and Malawah (A Yemenite Jewish fried bread) are also popular breads eaten in Yemen. Malooga, khubz, and khamira are popular homemade breads. Store-bought pita bread and roti (bread rolls like French bread) are also common.
A spice mixture known as hawaij and as “xawaash” is employed in many Yemeni and Somali dishes. Hawaij includes aniseeds, fennel seeds, ginger, and cardamom.
Yemeni cuisine is often prepared hot and spicy with the use of chili peppers, cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, and other spices. Herbs such as fenugreek, mint, and cilantro are also used. Fenugreek is used as one of the main ingredients in the preparation of a paste or sauce called holba (also spelled hulba). A popular spice used in breads (including kubane and sabayah) is black cumin, which is also known by its Arabic name habasoda (habbat as sowda).
Bint Al-Sahn (sabayah) is a sweet honey cake or bread from Yemeni cuisine. It is prepared from a dough with white flour, eggs, and yeast, which is then served dipped in a honey and butter mixture.
Other common desserts include: fresh fruit (mangoes, bananas, grapes, etc.), baklava, zalābiya, halwa, rawani, and masoob. Masoob is a banana-based dessert made from over-ripe bananas, ground flat bread, cream, cheese, dates, and honey.
In Yemen, honey is produced within the country, and is considered a delicacy. Locally produced honey has a high demand, and it is also considered as a status symbol in the country.
Shahi Haleeb (milk tea, served after qat), black tea (with cardamom, clove, or mint), qishr (coffee husks), Qahwa (coffee), Karkade (an infusion of dried hibiscus flowers), Naqe’e Al Zabib (cold raisin drink), and diba’a (squash nectar) are examples of popular Yemeni drinks. Mango and guava juices are also popular.
Although coffee and tea are consumed throughout Yemen, coffee is the preferred drink in Sana’a, whereas black tea is the beverage of choice in Aden and Hadhramaut. Tea is consumed along with breakfast, after lunch (occasionally with sweets and pastries), and along with dinner. Popular flavorings include cloves with cardamom and mint. A drink made from coffee husks, called qishr, is also enjoyed.
Alcoholic beverages are considered improper due to cultural and religious reasons, but they are available in the country. Among Yemeni Jews, wine is popular, especially in the form of raisin wine. Arak is also consumed.
As noted on the great blog calmlycookingcurry.blogspot.com where I first discovered the recipe for the delicious condiment known as Bisbas Khudra:
This zingy hot sauce recipe hails from Yemen. Khudra means green and bisbas means something spicy. Vibrant with the piquant flavors of peppers, cumin, coriander and garlic this chutney-like recipe packs a punch! Whip this delicious vegan dip up in minutes to accompany everything from tandoori to falafels.
A Yemeni friend I’ve known for years gave me this recipe a while back. Traditionally, it is made with a mortar and pestle but you know Bibi’s going to run it through the mixie. I served it on Eid with the mutton and chicken kebabs we made on the barbecue and it was a hit! It works just as well as a vegan chutney with rice, rotis, and dal too. It’s a great way to use up all those capsicum (bell peppers) that are in abundance this time of year in every market or garden.
This recipe for a green pepper ‘dip’ is actually very similar to Ethiopian koch-kocha. An unsurprising fact, given the extremely close geographic proximity of the two countries, which are separated only by a narrow strait. Citizens, please remember the plight of the Yemeni as you enjoy this and always remember that we are one great family as members of humanity.
Battle on – The Generalissimo