Yemeni cuisine is entirely distinct from the more widely known Middle Eastern cuisines, and even differs slightly from region to region. Throughout history, Yemeni cuisine has had a little bit of Ottoman influence in some parts of the north, and very little Mughlai-style Indian influence in Aden and the surrounding areas in the south, but these influences have only come within the last 300 years. Yemeni cuisine is extremely popular among the Arab States of the Persian Gulf.
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 taboon (also called tannur), which is a round clay oven.
Fruits and vegetables
Meat and dairy
Chicken, goat, and lamb are the staple meats in Yemen. 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.
Yemeni people prefer to have warm dishes in the morning. Typically, the meal would often consist of different types of pastries with a cup of Yemeni coffee or tea. A more hearty meal would often include legumes, eggs, or even roasted meat or kebab, which is usually served with a type of bread either aside or as a sandwich. People in Yemen also make a breakfast dish that is made from lamb or beef liver, which is considered a bizarre delicacy to non-Yemenis.
Unlike most countries, lunch is the main meal of the day in Yemen, not dinner. The largest amount of meat, poultry, and grains are consumed at lunch. Dishes common at lunch include: aseed, fahsa, fattah, haneeth, harees, jachnun, kabsa, komroh, mandi, Samak Mofa, shafut, Shawiyah, thareed, and Zurbiyan.
Although each region has their own variation, Saltah (سلتة) is considered the national dish. The base is a brown meat stew called maraq (مرق), a dollop of fenugreek froth (holba), and sahawiq (سحاوق) or sahowqa (a mixture of chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a salsa). Rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables are common additions to saltah. Meats used in the preparation of this dish are typically lamb or chicken. It is eaten traditionally with Yemeni flat bread, which serves as a utensil to scoop up the food.
Ogdat (عقدة), meaning "knot" in Arabic, is a stew made from tying and mixing all the ingredients together. There are many types of ogdat, and it can be made with small pieces of lamb, chicken, or fish that is mixed and cooked together with vegetables, including tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions, zucchini, etc.
Dinner dishes are not much different than the breakfast dishes. However, pastries are not very popular at dinner, as they are only eaten for breakfast.
Yemeni bread varieties
Breads are an integral part of Yemeni cuisine, most of which are prepared from local grains. Unleavened flat breads are common. Tawa, Tameez, Laxoox, Malooga, Kader, Kubane, Fateer, Kudam, Rashoosh, Oshar, Khamira, and Malawah are popular breads eaten in Yemen. Flat bread is usually baked at home in a tandoor called taboon (تبون). Malooga, khubz, and khamira are popular homemade breads. Store-bought pita bread and roti (bread rolls like French bread) are also common.
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).
Desserts and sweets
Other common desserts include: fresh fruit (mangoes, bananas, grapes, etc.), zalābiya, halwa, rawani, and masoob. Masoob is a banana-based dessert made from over-ripe bananas, ground flat bread, cream, cheese, dates, and honey.
Shahi Haleeb (milk tea, served after qat), black tea (with cardamom, clove, or mint), qishr (coffee husks), Qahwa (coffee), Karkadin (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.
Yemeni food overseas
- Hestler, Anna; Spilling, Jo-Ann (2009). Yemen. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 125–131. ISBN 0761448500.
- Etheredge, Laura (2011). Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 111–112. ISBN 1615303359.
- Salloum, Habeeb (2014). Asian Cooking Made Simple: A Culinary Journey along the Silk Road and Beyond. Habeeb Salloum. pp. 154–162. ISBN 1591521343.