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. Unlike the tradition in most Arab countries, lunch is the main meal of the day in Yemen, not dinner.
Fruits and vegetables
Meat and dairy
Chicken, goat, and lamb are the staple meats in Yemen. They are eaten more often than beef. 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. Pork consumption is forbidden to Muslims in Yemen, in accordance with Islamic dietary laws.
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 flatbread, which serves as a utensil to scoop up the food.
*The story of Saltah* It is said that the word "Saltah" comes from the arabic word "salatah" سلطه which means a mixture. The story behind coming up with this meal is that during the Ottoman occupation of Yemen, those ranking high enjoyed variety of food for their lunch including lamb, potatoes, rice and other contents mentioned earlier in the making of this dish. When those high ranking officers finished eating they usually collected whatever was left of their food, mixed it in one pot, reheated it for a while then added fenugreek or whats known locally as "Holba" and passed that left over food to the guards. When one asked what will we have for lunch the answer was "Salatah" which refers to the mixture of leftover food that will be passed to them. Apparently due to the variety of contents of this dish and with the addition of Holba it turned out to be a healthy and delicious dish which with time moved from being the "Saltah = mixture of leftover" food that guards consumed to a must have meal in every Yemeni lunch.
Aqdah (عقدة), meaning "knot" in Arabic, is a stew made from tying and mixing all the ingredients together. There are many types of ogda, 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.
Yemeni bread varieties
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 baked at home in an earthenware oven called tannour (تنور) in the Arabic dialect, the size of each bread roughly being 2 centimetres (0.79 in) in thickness with a diameter of 20 centimetres (7.9 in) to 30 centimetres (12 in). Tawa, Tameez, Luhuh (prepared from sorghum), Malooga, Kader, Kubane, Fateer, Kudam, Oshar, Khamir, and Muluwah. are also popular breads eaten in Yemen. Malooj, khubz, and khamir are popular homemade breads. Store-bought pita bread and roti (bread rolls like French bread) are also common.
Other Yemeni cooked dishes made of grain
- Harīš – a thick, farinaceous dish (groats), made of broken wheat; either 1/3 or 1/4 of the kernel's regular size, and these broken kernels known collectively as ğašūš. There are some who added either samneh ("clarified butter"), honey or sugar to the harīš. In Yemen, harīš was customarily eaten on cold winter mornings, and, because of its renowned health benefits in strengthening the body, was given to women during the first weeks after childbirth, as also to the infirm, the weak and the frail. Like unto it was harīs – a thick, farinaceous dish (groats), make of either broken wheat, rice, lentils or beans, and which were pre-cooked in water and to which was later added a fatty portion of meat, or bone marrow, along with vegetables: spring onions (scallions), garlic, tomatoes, among other things.
- Našūf – a thin, farinaceous dish (porridge), made of broken wheat. It was cooked with either samneh ("clarified butter"), sugar or honey, and was sipped from a bowl, usually for breakfast. Villagers used to cook the našūf with sour milk, adding zḥug (a hot cayenne-pepper sauce) thereto for added flavoring, a dish known locally as: našūf ʻalā zūm.
- Maṭīṭ – a thin, farinaceous dish (porridge), made of either ground wheat or barley (maṭīṭ šiʻīr), which is drunk with samneh ("clarified butter"), and occasionally with grated onions or sweet marjoram, and which gives to it a bitter taste.
- ʻAṣīṭ – sorghum meal, cornmeal or green barley meal made into a thick paste after being boiled in water. Before its consumption, they added thereto samneh ("clarified butter") or oil. Some would eat the ʻaṣīṭ as a viand during the Afternoon meal (usually scooped up with one's fingers), where soup and meat were served, while others placed it in the soup, along with ḥilba ("fenugreek dollop").
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- Avshalom Mizrachi, The Yemenite Cuisine, First published in Bat-Teman (Heb. "Daughter of Yemen"), edited by Shalom Seri, Tel-Aviv 1993, p. 96 (Hebrew)
- Qafih, Y. (1982). Halichot Teman (Jewish Life in Sanà) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute. p. 207. ISBN 965-17-0137-4. OCLC 863513860., s.v. צלוף
- Avshalom Mizrachi, The Yemenite Cuisine, first published in Bat-Teman (Heb. "Daughter of Yemen"), edited by Shalom Seri, Tel-Aviv 1993, p. 98 (Hebrew)
- Avshalom Mizrachi, The Yemenite Cuisine, first published in Bat-Teman (Heb. "Daughter of Yemen"), edited by Shalom Seri, Tel-Aviv 1993, pp. 98–99 (Hebrew)
- Avshalom Mizrachi, The Yemenite Cuisine, first published in Bat-Teman (Heb. "Daughter of Yemen"), edited by Shalom Seri, Tel-Aviv 1993, p. 99 (Hebrew)
- Avshalom Mizrachi, "The Yemenite Cuisine", in: Ascending the Palm Tree – An Anthology of the Yemenite Jewish Heritage, Rachel Yedid & Danny Bar-Maoz (ed.), E'ele BeTamar: Rehovot 2018, p. 135 OCLC 1041776317