Foods from Yemen - eating communal dish

Yemen shares its northern border with Saudi Arabia, while Oman lies to the east. 

The nation’s west and south coasts are embraced by the azure waters of the Arabian Sea, contributing to its stunning coastal beauty.

The climate of Yemen is dry, hot, and humid, with most of its terrain encompassed by expansive desert landscapes.

In addition to the mainland, Yemen boasts a collection of small islands scattered across the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea.

Yemen on a map

Among these, the island of Socotra stands out as a remarkable gem, earning its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

In addition, Socotra is renowned for its extraordinary biodiversity, housing unique flora such as the iconic Dragon Blood tree, along with rare bird species and reptiles found nowhere else in the world.

We’ve visited this extraordinary place and it’s like no other destination in the world.

You can learn more about Socotra in our detailed post on how to visit Socotra Island in Yemen.

So, let’s talk about the food in Yemen.

What do they eat in this part of the world? What is the most common dish or food in Yemen?

Some foods from Yemen featured here are similar and equally popular dishes in many Arab nations and nearby countries.

Before we list the most popular foods from Yemen, let’s cover the staple foods that make up this exciting cuisine.

About Yemeni Cuisine

Yemeni cuisine is an irresistible fusion of flavours, enriched by various spices and mouthwatering sauces. 

The most common meats in Yemeni cuisine are lamb, goat, and chicken, while pork is strictly avoided due to religious beliefs, as Yemen is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

Along the coastal regions, fish takes centre stage, and when it comes to ingredients, Yemeni cuisine embraces the freshness and quality of both vegetables and meat. 

Rice and flatbreads often accompany many dishes, providing a satisfying base. 

To add a natural sweetness and texture, fruits and nuts find their way into sweet and savoury dishes, creating a harmonious balance of flavours. 

Honey, a prized local product, serves as a delicious sweetener and is incorporated into many Yemeni dishes, lending its distinct taste and fragrance.

Let’s go! 20 Most Popular Foods from Yemen:

1) Saltah

Foods From Yemen - Saltah

Saltah is a beloved dish in Yemeni cuisine and is considered the national dish of Yemen. 

It is a hearty stew typically consumed for lunch or as a main meal. Saltah can be prepared with or without meat, making it suitable for vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.

The key ingredients in Saltah include a unique Yemeni spice blend called hilbeh (based on ground fenugreek seeds) and zhug, a spicy condiment made with chilli peppers, oil, cumin, garlic, and coriander. 

These condiments contribute to the distinctive taste and aroma of the dish.

The meat (typically lamb or chicken) is slow-cooked with spices and other ingredients until it becomes tender. Vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, and onions are added to the stew to enhance flavour.

Saltah is traditionally served hot in a metal or stone bowl. Yemeni flatbread accompanies the dish, which is torn into pieces and used to scoop up the stew.

2) Fahsa

Foods From Yemen - Fahsa
Foods from Yemen – Fahsa. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Fahsa is a rich Yemeni meat stew made with lamb or beef. Slow-cooked with aromatic spices, it offers decadent and robust flavours. The meat becomes delicate, and a blend of seasonings adds depth. 

Thickened with ground fenugreek, Fahsa has a velvety texture.

Served with flatbread or rice, this is one of my favourite foods from Yemen.

3) Mandi

Foods From Yemen - Mandi

Mandi is a culinary delight of Yemeni cuisine, with its flavourful combination of rice and tender red meat or chicken. 

What sets Mandi apart is its unique cooking method. Specially designed ovens, nestled below ground, harness the heat of hot coals to cook the seasoned meat. 

This smoky, flavourful essence from the slow-cooking meat is used to boil the rice and carefully placed underneath the meat in the oven. 

As the rice absorbs the aromatic smoke-infused steam, it takes on a unique taste.

The result is a mouthwatering combination of tender, succulent meat and rice with an unforgettable smoky flavour. 

4) Zurbian

zurbian Yemen Oman

Zurbian is a tasty rice dish generally made with meat, such as chicken or lamb, cooked with aromatic spices like cumin, turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon.

 Meat is first marinated before being cooked with the rice to infuse it with rich flavours. 

The rice is then cooked in the meat’s broth, resulting in a fragrant, delicious dish. 

Zurbian is often garnished with nuts, such as almonds or cashews, and served with a salad or yoghurt. 

5) Aseeda

Foods from Yemen - Aseeda
Foods from Yemen – Aseeda. Photo Credit: ShebaYemenifood.com

Aseeda, also known as asida, is a Yemeni dish with a moist and silky dough created from a blend of flour, water, yoghurt, salt, and sunflower oil. 

This dough becomes the canvas for a rich chicken broth that crowns the dish. 

Embracing tradition, traditionally, aseeda is typically eaten without utensils. Instead, it is savoured with the fingertips, encouraging a communal dining experience as it is shared from a single bowl.

Preparation of aseeda requires a careful hand, with constant stirring to prevent the formation of any lumps, ensuring a smooth and flawless texture.

Try and recreate this dish at home with this excellent aseeda recipe from Sheba Yemeni Food.

6) Samak Mofa

Foods from Yemen - Samak Mofa

Samak Mofa is a popular food in Yemen, especially along the coastal regions.

A whole fish is marinated with spices, including turmeric, cumin, coriander, garlic, and lemon juice, enhancing its taste and aroma. 

The marinated fish is then wrapped in banana leaves or aluminium foil and baked or grilled, allowing it to steam and retain moisture.

Samak Mofa is often served with fragrant rice, salad, and a zingy dipping sauce. Yum!

7) Maraq

Maraq is a staple of Yemeni cuisine and refers to a savoury broth or soup base traditionally served at the beginning of the meal. Maraq is the foundation for many popular dishes and foods from Yemen.

To make the broth, simmer a combination of meat (such as lamb, chicken, or beef), vegetables, and fragrant spices for an extended period. The slow cooking process allows the flavours to combine, resulting in a rich and hearty liquid.

The versatility of Maraq lies in its ability to serve as a base for other Yemeni dishes. 

It forms the flavour-packed liquid for dishes like saltah (Yemeni stew), soups, and other meat-based dishes.

8) Bint al-Sahn

Foods of Yemen - Bint al-Sahn
Foods of Yemen – Bint al-Sahn. Credit: Wikipedia

This delicious Yemeni sweet treat is a true crowd-pleaser, widely enjoyed nationwide. 

Bint al-Sahn is a multi-layered, flaky pastry with an irresistible combination of sweetness and richness. 

After baking to perfection, the pastry is generously drizzled with a luscious blend of honey and ghee, infusing each layer with a generous glaze. 

To add a touch of complexity, a sprinkle of sesame and black cumin adds a subtle hint of nuttiness and earthiness to the dessert.

Served hot, Bint Al-Sahn is one of the most beloved sweet foods from Yemen. 

9) Zalabia

Foods from Yemen - Zalabia.
Food in Yemen – Zalabia. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Zalabia is a satisfying Yemeni pastry. Some would refer to it as a fritter, cake or donut. 

Variations of this sweet food in Yemen are found in several cuisines across the Middle East, Europe and Northern Africa. 

For instance, this is called a Sfenj in Moroccan cuisine; I explain more about it in my Complete Food Guide to Morocco.

Zalabia can be enjoyed on its own, drizzled with honey for sweetness, or savoured with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

10) Foul Mudammas

Yemeni foul mudammas

Foul Mudammas is a popular dish in Yemeni cuisine, as well as in many other Middle Eastern countries. 

It is a hearty and nutritious dish made primarily from fava beans. The beans are cooked until they become soft and tender, then mashed or lightly crushed.

The dish is flavoured with various ingredients, including garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices like cumin and paprika. 

These seasonings add depth and enhance the flavour profile of the dish.

Foul Mudammas is typically served as a breakfast or brunch dish. You will usually have various toppings and garnishes to add to this dish, such as chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, and olive oil.

Enjoy it with some warm bread or flatbread. Delicious!

RELATED POST – 15 Most Popular Foods of Lebanon

11) Shafoot 

Foods from Yemen - Shafoot.
Food in Yemen – Shaft. Photo Credit: yemenidishes.com

Shafoot or shafut, a zesty and savoury yoghurt sauce, offers a satisfying burst of flavour.

This Yemeni speciality combines creamy yoghurt with tomatoes, garlic and chilli, a crunch of cucumbers and a touch of salt. 

Shafoot is served chilled, providing a refreshing break in Yemen’s hot climate. 

Shafoot, also known as Shafout or Shafut, may have variations incorporating additional ingredients like mint or pomegranate.

This adaptable sauce is often enjoyed as an appetiser, accompanied by soft and fluffy pita bread.

During Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting, shafoot holds a special significance.

As the daily fast is observed from dawn till sunset, shafoot is relished as a pre-dawn meal, providing nourishment and energy to sustain individuals throughout fasting.

12) Maamoul

Foods from Yemen - Maamoul
Sweet food in Yemen – Maamoul

Maamoul are small, buttery shortbread cookies filled with dried figs, dates or nuts such as walnuts or pistachios. And yes, they’re delicious and universally loved. You can find variations of these blissful sweets in many countries.

These cookies have intricate shapes, achieved by using special moulds. 

They are prevalent during festive occasions and celebrations and are often purchased in large quantities to share with family or gift to loved ones.

13) Saloona

Foods from Yemen - Saloona

Saloona, or Salona or Salo, is a comforting stew typically featuring a combination of vegetables, tender meat, and aromatic spices.

The base of Saloona is a combination of tomatoes, onions, and garlic, sauteed until fragrant and then simmered to create a tasty broth. 

The choice of meat varies, with popular options being lamb, chicken, or beef, although vegetarian versions with beans or lentils are enjoyed. 

Saloona can be eaten with steamed rice or Yemeni flatbread, perfect for scooping up the rich sauce. 

14) Mashwi

Foods from Yemen - Mashwi.
Foods from Yemen – Mashwi. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mashwi, or Yemeni-style grilled meat, is popular in Yemeni cuisine. It refers to various types of meat, such as lamb, chicken, or fish, that are marinated and then grilled to perfection.

The meat is first seasoned with a blend of spices, including cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, and black pepper. The marinade helps to infuse the meat with flavour and tenderise it.

In Yemen, traditional grilling methods involve using open flame grills, charcoal, or underground pits to cook the meat. 

This cooking technique adds a distinct smoky flavour to the dish, enhancing its overall taste.

15) Sahawiq

Sahawiq, a fiery Middle Eastern sauce, hails from the vibrant culinary tradition of Yemen and is an indispensable staple in every meal. 

This spicy condiment is made from a medley of hot chillis infused with garlic, coriander, and spices. 

Similar to Mexican cuisine, there are a few varieties of fiery sauces to choose from. For example, the red Sahawiq is prepared using red chillis and the green one is made with green chillis.

For those desiring a milder option, the brown Sahawiq is for you; it blends the tanginess of tomatoes with a kick of hot green peppers. 

16) Zhug

Foods from Yemen - Zhug

Zhug is a favoured sauce and condiment that finds its roots in the rich culinary traditions of the Middle East, believed to have originated in Yemen while also gaining popularity in Israel. 

Typically, zhug is crafted using a blend of green or red chilli plus ingredients such as garlic, coriander, cumin, cardamom, salt, and various spices.

It is commonly served as an accompaniment to grilled meats, adding a vibrant and aromatic dimension to each bite. The sauce also serves as a satisfying topping or dip for various vegetables, infusing them with flavour. 

Additionally, zhug can be used as a tangy sauce in sandwiches, bringing a fiery zing to each mouthful.

17) Mutabbaq

Foods from Yemen - Mutabbaq

Mutabbaq or murtabak is an indulgent dish that resembles a stuffed and fried pancake, often enjoyed as a beloved street food in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, and Malaysia. 

This culinary gem goes by different names, such as mutabbaq in Arabic, signifying its characteristic folded appearance during cooking.

The fillings of murtabak can vary; however, popular options include minced meat, eggs, garlic, onions, chillis, curry, and ghee. 

Fresh herbs such as coriander and mint are added to enhance the taste.

Preparing murtabak requires skill and finesse, particularly in achieving a delicately thin and stretchy dough. 

The expertise lies in folding the dough neatly around the flavoured filling, creating a delightful contrast between the crisp exterior and the delicious interior.

18) Malawach

Foods from Yemen - Malawach

Malawach, a beloved delicacy in Yemen and Israel, is a traditional folded and layered bread.

This food in Yemen resembles a pancake, and the bread is crafted from a simple mixture of flour, water, salt, and ghee, resulting in a soft and flaky texture. 

It is often adorned with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, adding visual appeal and a subtle nutty flavour.

In keeping with tradition, malawach is typically enjoyed with various accompaniments—hard-boiled eggs, diced and crushed tomatoes, and zhug. 

Let me tell you, though, it’s a winning combination. The buttery malawach, the creaminess of the eggs, the freshness of the tomatoes, and the warmth of the zhug create the perfect balance.

19) Haneeth

Foods from Yemen - Haneeth

Haneeth, a dish cherished during celebrations and occasions such as weddings, is a culinary masterpiece of slow-roasted lamb.

This traditional Yemeni delicacy begins with marinating the lamb in Hawaij, a spice blend inherent to Yemeni cuisine. 

Hawaij features spices like cumin, turmeric, and cardamom, which lend their aromatic notes and depth to the dish.

The marinated lamb is then subjected to a slow roasting process, allowing it to tenderise and develop a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Haneeth is often presented on a bed of fragrant basmati rice, creating a delightful combination of flavours and textures.

Haneeth and Mandi, another food in Yemen on our list share many similarities; however, the difference is in the spice rub.

The overall result and flavour of the lamb are different.

20) Shurbah Harees

Foods from Yemen - Shurbah Harees.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Shurbah Harees, also known as Harees soup, is a popular food in Yemen, often enjoyed during special occasions and festive gatherings, especially during Ramadan. 

It is a hearty and comforting soup made from a combination of wheat and meat, typically chicken or lamb.

The soup is further enhanced with a blend of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper, adding depth and flavour to the dish.

Shurbah Harees is cooked slowly to allow the flavours to marry together and the wheat to break down, resulting in a thick and creamy texture. 

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We’ve reached the end of our list of popular foods from Yemen. Have you eaten Yemeni cuisine before? What are your thoughts about the food in Yemen? Please share them with us below; or better yet – tell us your favourite dish from Yemen.