Yemeni cuisine is best described as simple, easy to prepare, and very filling. The dishes reflect much of the characteristics of the landscape, as well as the people who call the harsh land their home.
Bread is the staple food, while chicken, lamb and fish are the common viands. The most widely-used condiment is the hawayij, a ground spice mixture made up of aniseed, fennel seed, ginger and cardamom.
Yemeni cuisine is seldom found outside of Yemen, nor is it talked about by foreigners. Travelers who choose to visit this strange land of strife and mystery must try these gustatory pleasures before they return to their homeland:
There are many variations of saltah across Yemen. Each region has its own recipe, and in general, Yemenis consider this their national dish.
Saltah is made up of a meat broth base, chunks of beef, and a mixture of chilies, tomatoes, and onions known as sahawiq. Grounded Fenugreek seeds are added for texture, while scrambled eggs, potatoes, and sometimes rice are added for variety.
Saltah is often eaten during lunchtime with flatbread.
Bint al sahn
Bint al sahn has many meanings to its name. It may mean “the son of the dish” or “the daughter of the plate,” depending on your gender outlook. To mostly everyone though, it is known as “honey cake” – a unique dessert smothered in liberal amounts of Yemeni honey.
The cake is made of flattened layers of dough. Eggs and melted butter are added while kneading the bread. It is traditionally cooked in a stone oven and served before the main course.
Jachnun is another traditional Yemeni bread made from rolled dough and baked at very low heat. Generous chunks of margarine are smothered onto the dough, and then rolled into cylinders. The rolled dough is brushed with shortening before being put in an oven. The bread is then baked overnight or until its outer skin turns dark brown.
Jachnun tastes sweet and is usually served with fresh tomato dip, hard-boiled eggs and a local hot sauce known as skhug. Since the bread was once prepared by Yemeni Jews, jachnun is also popular in Israel.
Despite the harsh landscape, Yemen is blessed with little patches of fertile land. What are grown on those pockets of rich soil are coffee beans bound for other lands.
With little supply and huge demand, only few Yemenis could afford their own coffee. For this reason, qishr was born and has become a popular hot beverage in the country.
Qishr is made from spiced coffee husks, ginger and cinnamon. It is also called ginger coffee because of the ground ginger that is added to the boiling coffee.
The drink is sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes, cardamom is added to weaken the ginger flavor.
A country as dry and humid as Yemen has to make the best of its arable land. This means choosing the best crops to plant including the type of wheat to grow.
Lahoh is the answer to a Yemeni’s hungry tummy. The bread is similar in texture to that of typical Western pancakes. The flour used is made from sorghum, a kind of wheat crop that grows in arid places. Salt and yeast are added to the flour to make the bread.
The mixture is beaten, traditionally by hand, until it becomes creamy. It is then left to ferment before baking it in a circular stove called daawo. Sometimes eggs and butter are added to improve the bread’s bitter taste.
Often sold by street peddlers, lahoh is one of the more popular snacks in Yemen.