Many of Sanaani finest dishes are centuries old. Over time many exotic dishes from India, Syria, Indonesia, Turkey, and Central Asia have been adopted.
They have been assimilated so completely that it is nowadays difficult to think of those dishes as foreign. Part of the Sanaani gastronomy comes from a common culinary conception, partly developed from the Eastern, inland traditions, partly from the coastal ones.
Long favoured vegetable and meat dishes, white beans, cubed potatoes, okra – lady fingers, peas or other available vegetables are prepared with meat and a variety of spices and sauces. Stuffed vegetables, originated from the Mediterranean or Turkish area, are also popular.
Lamb, chicken, fish cooked in gravy, or kuftah are served with lemon wedges and Yemeni bread.
Rice dishes, widely considered the supreme test of culinary skill, are another trait of Sanaani gastronomy. Flavored with rose water or saffron, garnished with raisins, onions, dried limes and various mixed spices, rice is also used for celebrations of all kind.
Dried limes, cloves, cinnamon sticks and each household proprietary spice mixture give Sanaani gastronomy its zest. The meal is completed with fresh fruits and desserts, followed by mint of green tea or Yemeni coffee.
During the month of Ramadan, elaborate sweets are considered essential. The preference is likely to be fruit, local apples, apricots, grapes, figs, pomegranates.
The common denominator is the flat, round Yemeni bread. In Yemen, the art of cooking is still passed on from mother to daughter as it has always been.
Nowadays, Sanaani women have begun to prepare dishes from other regions of Yemen different from their own. Traditional dishes are thus preserved, but are also creating new variations and possibilities.
As in the rest of Arabia, hospitality is an important cultural trait, and the hallmark of the Yemeni people, who have always linked gastronomy to welcoming others into their homes and lives.
A special thanks to Irena Knehtl for the text and the pictures
Article collected by Carole Sahebzadah (Carolexpat)