Bread: bread is fairly common, but there are numerous varieties,
primarily flat breads
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Kebab: numerous styles exist, but usually with a base of roasted
lamb or chicken and vegetables in pita bread
Ogdat: stew made with lamb, chicken, or fish and vegetables
Saltah: the national dish is meat stew with vegetables,
rice, potatoes, and more
When eating in Yemen there are a couple etiquette rules related
to Islam you must know and follow. The most important things you must know are that
you must dress conservatively and you should know that you may be seated with only
same sex guests. As Muslims, it is considered rude and offensive to show too much
skin; this includes any part of the legs and the arms from the elbows up, although
you should be safe and wear long sleeve shirts. For women, their hair should also
be covered. Next, for many conservative Muslims, women and men should not eat together
unless they are married. Due to this, often times men dine only with men and women
only with women so don't bring a guest of the opposite sex to any meal unless
you are specifically invited to do so.
Try to arrive on time for a meal and if eating in a local's home remove your
shoes at the door if others have done so. Greet the elders first then follow your
host's lead or invitation. Prior to sitting down everyone will wash their hands
and you should follow them as you will likely be using your hand to eat. Let your
host seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed
behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can be offensive. If your
host doesn't show you a seat avoid the corner seats as they are reserved for
honored guests and, while you may be asked to sit in these seats, don't assume
you're an honored guest until invited to take one of these seats.
Once the food is served, again follow your host's lead as either you or the
elders will likely be served first. Try a bit of everything offered as turning down
food is rude. Eat as the locals eat; in most settings this means eating with your
right hand (and your right hand only!), but in more formal settings you may be offered
dining utensils (cutlery), in which case eat in the continental style (knife in
the right hand, fork in the left). As you finish your food, leave a bit on your
plate to show there was more than enough then place your fork and knife together
in the 5:00 position. After everyone gets up from the table, you should again follow
the lead of others and wash your hands once more. After this you may be asked to
stay for coffee or tea, an invitation you should accept to avoid offending your
If dining in a restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Many hotel
restaurants include a service charge that will replace the tip, but if no service
charge is included and you're in a nice restaurant or a hotel restaurant, leave
a tip of 5-10%.
Celebrations & Events
There are only two major food celebrations in Yemen and both
are centered around the religion of their majority, Islam. Eid al Fitr
is an event filled with numerous foods, which differ from family to family, but
always includes dates and generally also consists of various meats or fish, grains,
and vegetables. This celebration occurs immediately after Ramadan, a religious holiday
that requires fasting for 30 days.
The second major food celebration is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated
after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able
Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and
meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.
Yemen's drinks must begin with tea and coffee. Both are
seemingly always on hand and quickly offered to guests. Teas come in numerous styles,
including plain, mint, and with milk, while coffee has nearly as many varieties,
although Arabian and Turkish coffees are the most popular. International favorites,
including soft drinks, milk, and juices are also available; mango and guava juices
are especially popular.
As a primarily Muslim country, Yemen has no alcohol available
and it is illegal to consume or transport alcohol in the country.
The tap water in Yemen should not be consumed. Be sure to
also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water. Salads
and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with those
foods as well.