Magazine article The Middle East

The Hidden Flavour of Yemen

Magazine article The Middle East

The Hidden Flavour of Yemen

Article excerpt

Anyone who has enjoyed Arab hospitality is aware of the variety of Arabic dishes that are served at any one meal. Some, such as hommus and shawarma are appreciated the world over. But there are other traditional platters, such as those commonly seen in Yemen which are largely unknown - even to other Arabs.

Yemeni cuisine is based around several ethnic dishes which are eaten almost every day. Others show the influence of Ottoman occupation while a taste for spices is the result of contact with Indian traders on the Red Sea coast. Yemeni food is always served fresh and piping hot and where possible, only freshly slaughtered meat, or poultry is used.

Breakfast is often skipped here in favour of a hearty lunch which precedes the afternoon qat chewing session. A mild narcotic, the qat leaf depresses the appetite, the reason why the evening meal is light.

The many types of bread are an important ingredient of every meal. The most popular sorts are khubz, a thin, white leaf made from sorghum flour, and maluj, which also thin and round and eaten with soups and dips.

While few Yemeni dishes are genuinely nourishing, for ingredients tend to be sparse, the result is always flavoursome. Helba, for example, a tasty cross between a dip and a soup, is one of the most innovative flavours in Middle Eastern cookery. It is prepared from ground fenugreek seeds (previously soaked to extract the bitterness) blended with meat and stock. This is whipped to a froth with spring onions, hot peppers, mint and spices and the mixture is served in scalding hot earthenware bowls. Zahawiq is another spicy dip prepared from chillies and tomatoes, to which wasif (small dried fish) are sometimes added.

Soups are very popular, especially in the cooler highlands. Shurba (made from onions, sour milk, wheat flour and butter) and addas (made from onions and lentils) are a lunchtime ritual. …

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