The Republic of Yemen is a country in the Middle East with a rich culinary heritage part of the Asian continent. As a part of the Arab world, it has some similarities to the general Arabic dishes, however, the tradition of this country plays a part in giving uniqueness to every dish. No matter if you pass through this country or if you chose to embark on a culinary adventure in the Arab world, I’ll show which is the most popular food to try out in Yemen.
The people of Yemen normally prefer their breakfast warm, and they have a variety of dishes they love to eat in the morning, including cooked vegetables, eggs, and meat. One of the foods the Yemeni don’t stay without is bread, and there are many types of bread they eat. Similar to the rest of the Arab countries, they have a high affinity for flatbread. Among them are Malawa, Kidem, Lahoh Sana’ani, Thamool, and Rooti, which are served with the breakfast dish or used during other meals to scoop up soft foods and stews.
Aseeda is one of the traditional breakfasts which is meant to boost one’s energy, as it’s very high in carbohydrates. A dumpling that was probably imported from the African countries, it’s made of a mix of water, flour, yogurt, and salt, dunked in chicken broth with spices.
Another traditional Yemeni breakfast food, preferred especially during holidays, is a type of baked bread called Jachnun, served with eggs and margarine
The locals like sweet dishes as well, and they tend to incorporate them into their breakfast meals quite often. Masoub was a popular dish in all Arab countries, but in Yemen, it comes with a twist given by the use of their traditional spices. This is a pudding made of bananas and bread, served with cream, honey, or other toppings preferred by restaurants or locals who make it.
As like in many other countries, this is also a place where the meal is split into multiple courses for lunch and dinner. In Yemeni culture soup is served as the first course of a meal and every one of them is incredibly aromatic, as part of their traditional cuisine.
Maraq is probably the most famous soup of Yemen and it’s a spicy dish made with a traditional spice blend called hawaj, which is used in various recipes. It’s normally cooked with beef and chicken and with little broth, as to give it a richer consistency. Depending on who is cooking it, it can sometimes resemble a stew more than a soup. If you want to try it out in the comfort of your home you can find the traditional Yemenite spices at the Jewish markets.
Yemen also has an abundance of stews, spreads, and soft foods as their second course. The types of bread we mentioned above are a part of every meal, and for lunch dishes, they like using vegetables, cereals, eggs, and light meat, such as chicken. Maraq broth for example is used in the cooking of Yemen’s national dish, Saltah, which is a stew made with or without meat, with coriander, garlic, and cumin. It’s served with bread or as a side dish for rice, potatoes, or omelettes.
Talking of stews, Tabeekh is another stew that was imported from Africa and turned into a vegetarian dish in Yemen. The popularity of fenugreek is shown by the way it’s used in various dishes, among which is Fahsa, a vegetable stew with pieces of lamb meat. Ogda is cooked with various types of meat, even fish mixed with vegetables, that is often a favorite of the tourists that visit Yemen for the first time. Fish, especially king fish, is also used when cooking Matfaiya, another stew that is popular in Yemen’s cuisine.
Dinner in Yemen is rich in all sorts of meat, cooked with rice or potatoes. Lamb is a cultural favorite, part of many traditional dishes such as Madfoun and Zurbiyaan, which are both mixed with rice and lots of spices. Of course, depending on the restaurants you choose, the dishes based on meat can be different, chicken or beef is used for them sometimes.
People who like fish might enjoy Mashwi, which is similar to other recipes from other countries, which consists of a whole grilled fish served with slices of lemon.
One reason why the local population of Yemen has an abundance of sauces is that they love to eat them with their various types of bread. Because much of their cuisine is spicy, so are the sauces. Probably the most popular sauce is Zhoug. This green hot sauce that is enjoyed all over the Middle East has actually originated in Yemen, has a puree-like consistency, always spicy, and most of the time is cilantro based. Hilbeh is also native to Yemen, made of spicy green chilies, lemon juice, fenugreek, garlic, and coriander.
Aside from Masoub, which seems to be a tourist favorite when visiting Yemen, locals are fond of their sweets and desserts, especially the ones made with honey, which is a highly demanded product all over the country. Bint Al-Sahn is one such example, a delicious honey cake baked in multiple layers. Khaliat Nahal is a type of honeybun filled with cream cheese and spiced with saffron. Other popular desserts in Yemen are Mahalabiya, which is a milk custard that Muslims eat during Ramadan, Areeka, Rawani cake, and Zalabiyeh.
What makes the food in Yemen unique?
The countries of the Middle East all share similarities when it comes to the cuisine of this part of the world, however, Yemen started using its own spices and imported Asian spices by being on the trade route. While experimenting in the past with them, creating new blends and modifying the already well-known Arabic recipes, they’ve managed to create foods that are unique to their nation, and unfortunately, not as famous as their “relatives’ from the rest of the Arab world.
Pepper, cardamom, saffron, turmeric, and caraway seeds mixed together made the national spice of Yemen, Hawaj, which stays at the foundation of many of Yemen’s dishes and has a place of honor in most kitchens here.
If this sparked your interest, you can try recreating any of these dishes in your own kitchen and take your time to relish everything they have to offer.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of it!