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prasantrin

Yemen Trip

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I've done the eGullet search, and have found next to nothing. Surely some adventurous eGulleters (particularly those around the UAE or Oman) have been to Yemen? I've just put down a deposit for a two-week trip to the area--4 days in Yemen (Sana'a and the vicinity) and the UAE the rest of the time. There's plenty of information on the UAE (though I may still ask for updates later), but nothing on Yemen!

Any suggestions for delicious foods to eat, places to eat them, and foodie things to buy? I hear honey is good, and maybe coffee, too...any truth to those rumours?

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I'm looking forward to it, too! I'm not actually going until March, but I'm so excited that I feel the need to plan way ahead...I'm such an eager beaver! :biggrin:

In Yemen, outside of Sana'a we need to use a tour company (mandated by the goverment of Yemen, from what I understand), so we might be restricted to whatever restaurants they take us to, but I'm sure we'll find something exciting out there. I'm hoping to come upon a local market or two.

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I have never been to Yemen, but we have a large Yemenite population here and I have eaten in Yemenite restaurants and have friends who are Yemenite.

The food is very good, quite basic and in some cases very spicy.

They make stews with honey. They tend to make a lot of lamb dishes.

Yemenite soup, which can either be meat (beef or lamb) or chicken based are flavoured with hawayij, which is a curry-like spice, containing black pepper, cumin, cardamon, saffron and tumeric. The soup is very good.

They also grill various types of meat and organs (tonsils, bulls balls, etc.).

Hilbeh is served with all meals and you typically dip your bread in it. It is clarified butter to which fenugreek seeds have been added.

They also eat roasted locusts.

They have different types of breads, for example:

1. Jachnun, a layered rolled pastry that is baked at a very low heat over night. It is usually served for breakfast with a boiled egg, crushed tomatoes and zhug (a very spicy hot sauce).

2. Mallawach, which is a flaky pan bread. It is made from the same dough as Jachnun. The dough is called Aijn.

3. Kubana (overnight bread). This is a Sabbath bread for Yemenite Jews. I don't know if it is made by everyone. It is baked in a tube pan and is a sweet bread, like Challah.

4. Lechuch. This is like a big pancake with lots of little holes in it. It is great with honey.


Edited by Swisskaese (log)

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Thanks Michelle! It all sounds so good...except maybe the tonsils and bull balls (which, if they taste anything like chicken balls, aren't all that tasty), and the fried locusts (which I would actually try if assured they weren't killed with pesticides).

I wonder if we'll be able to find the kubana. We're arriving on Monday and leaving on Thursday, so we'll be missing their Sabbath. I'm a little disappointed about that, since I have recently discovered the little markets are often only on Fridays. Oh well.

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I had bull's testicles back in 1977 in a Yemenite restaurant in Tel Aviv called Shaul's, and I still remember how good they were.

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I spent some time in Sana'a recently. The basic dish is salta, a fenulgreek and meat stew cooked over very high flames and served scalding hot. You buy bread outside the restaurant and bring it in with you. Then order a salta and wait as it is made. There is a place in Sana'a that is wonderful for this. It's called Ali's and it's near Bab ash Shaub, I think. Hard to find and no name displayed. You need someone to take you there, probably. They also serve a very good piece of grilled lamb rubbed with spices and grilled in foil for a long time. You can read about this place in a wonderful book you should read before you go by Timothy Mackintosh Smith called Yemen the Unknown Arabia.

The country is amazing. The food is so-so. When you tire of Yemeni stuff in Sana'a, or when you want a beer, head to the Korean restaurant, I think called Arirang, or to the British Club. Your hotel should be able to direct you.

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About 16 years ago, shortly after Yemen opened up to tourists, I visited as a travel writer with a female Arab photographer. From what I know, things haven't changed much since then. It is an unbelievable place with breath-taking mountains and incredible buildings, and yes, there are plenty of markets. From what I remember, you’ll find the usual fruit and vegetables (there were a lot of gourds when I was there) and I also remember some wonderful smoked cheese.

We travelled around and spent a night in a mud hut by the Red Sea. It was an incredible sight to see the small fishing boats coming back in the evening, the catch being hauled ashore in nets, and the fish being left out to dry in the sun.

Our dinner was delivered from the local village. It was a large grilled fish, wrapped in newspaper, which we ate with the bread and cheese we’d bought at the market earlier. It’s a dry country, so we drank water with it. It was one of the best meals of my life. Unfortunately, the experience was slightly marred when later that night, a four-wheel-drive pulled up and two men with guns came up to our little camp. Our guide put them at ease. None-the-less, I would recommend a trip like this if you are feeling even a little adventurous.

I'm not sure that it could be classified as a food, but Qat is the local “hit”. It is sold in bunches in the markets and you chew the leaves which give a caffeine high. It is totally legal and is said to stimulate the intellect, which is very possible as you will find more bookshops in Yemen than you'll find in neighbouring states.

The UAE will be a very different experience from Yemen.

I would love to hear how you get on.

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I spent some time in Sana'a recently.  The basic dish is salta, a fenulgreek and meat stew cooked over very high flames and served scalding hot.  You buy bread outside the restaurant and bring it in with you.  Then order a salta and wait as it is made.  There is a place in Sana'a that is wonderful for this.  It's called Ali's and it's near Bab ash Shaub, I think.  Hard to find and no name displayed.  You need someone to take you there, probably.  They also serve a very good piece of grilled lamb rubbed with spices and grilled in foil for a long time.  You can read about this place in a wonderful book you should read before you go by Timothy Mackintosh Smith called Yemen the Unknown Arabia.

Mmm...Salta sounds good, but the grilled lamb sounds even better! I'll put Ali's on my list, and I hope I can find it. I'll look for the book, too, while I'm home. Or order it from Amazon.co.jp.

The country is amazing.  The food is so-so.  When you tire of Yemeni stuff in Sana'a, or when you want a beer, head to the Korean restaurant, I think called Arirang, or to the British Club.  Your hotel should be able to direct you.

I suspect food in Yemen is much like food was in Morocco--the only good stuff is at people's homes. We probably won't get to dine in anyone's home, though, so I'll take what I can get! I don't actually drink a lot of alcohol, so I probably won't get that craving. But I'll keep the Korean restaurant in mind just in case we do get tired of eating Yemeni food. I could probalby just eat bread the entire time I'm there and I'd be pretty happy!

If you feel like sharing any exciting or must-see places to visit, please feel free to pm me! I'd love to hear about your trip!

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About 16 years ago, shortly after Yemen opened up to tourists, I visited as a travel writer with a female Arab photographer.  From what I know, things haven't changed much since then.  It is an unbelievable place with breath-taking mountains and incredible buildings, and yes, there are plenty of markets.  From what I remember, you’ll find the usual fruit and vegetables (there were a lot of gourds when I was there) and I also remember some wonderful smoked cheese. 

I've heard so much about the beauty of Yemen, and I'm quite excited to see it myself.

We travelled around and spent a night in a mud hut by the Red Sea.  It was an incredible sight to see the small fishing boats coming back in the evening, the catch being hauled ashore in nets, and the fish being left out to dry in the sun. 

Do you remember where you were, exactly? We're still planning our trip, and we only have 3 full days (and 4 nights) there, and at least one day will be in Sana'a. We're thinking of staying close by (just going to Shihara, Barquish, and Ma'rib), but I'd also love to see Wadi Hadhramat or Al-Hudaydah. It's so hard to fit everything in when we only have a short time. I'd love to see Mokha, too, but I heard it might be rainy in that area around that time.

Our dinner was delivered from the local village.  It was a large grilled fish, wrapped in newspaper, which we ate with the bread and cheese we’d bought at the market earlier.  It’s a dry country, so we drank water with it.  It was one of the best meals of my life.  Unfortunately, the experience was slightly marred when later that night, a four-wheel-drive pulled up and two men with guns came up to our little camp.  Our guide put them at ease.  None-the-less, I would recommend a trip like this if you are feeling even a little adventurous.

Sounds similar to our dessert trek in Morocco, though we didn't face any guns! It sounds great, though. If you have any other info about it (tour agency, guide's name, etc.) please pm me! I'm always looking for more info!

I'm not sure that it could be classified as a food, but Qat is the local “hit”.  It is sold in bunches in the markets and you chew the leaves which give a caffeine high.  It is totally legal and is said to stimulate the intellect, which is very possible as you will find more bookshops in Yemen than you'll find in neighbouring states.

I've read much about Qat, but am not sure i want to try it! But when in Yemen... :smile:

The UAE will be a very different experience from Yemen.

I would love to hear how you get on.

I will definitely write up my trip when I get back. It's a long way away, but it will be the most exciting trip of my year!

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It may be worth asking your hotel in advance about a local tour guide (ours was arranged through the Ministry for Information, and as I’ve moved house about 8 times since, I have no idea where my notes or the piece are). Typically you hire a driver in a 4-wheel-drive (very dangerous roads, mad drivers), and you brief them on where you want to go, eg food markets, etc. You may even get an invitation to their home as we did. Outside Sana'a, some of the smaller towns don’t have hotels, so you will have to stay in a funduq, which can be pretty rough and ready (felt a lot more dangerous than the Red Sea camp), and from a food point of view, there will probably be a very basic restaurant nearby. We certainly didn't dine in style. Some of the villages are inaccessible from time to time because of tribes fighting.

I’ll send you some details of places to visit by PM.

Take care, and I look forward to your report.

Edited to add:

For some reason, I can't seem to send you a PM. If you send me one, I'll reply, and maybe that will sort it.


Edited by Corinna Dunne (log)

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My trip is a short 9 1/2 weeks away! Unfortunately, my trip with friends has turned into a solo trip, which puts a bit of a damper on things. My main concern is, of course, food.

Would I be able to eat at a place like Ali's alone (single non-caucasian female), or should I invite someone along with me (like my guide and driver, who will probably be men)? Will I be breaking any cultural norms if I do so?

Are the food portions at more traditional restaurants small enough for a single person, or are they more family-size?

Are there any places that might be more single female friendly?

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For some reason, I can't seem to send you a PM.  If you send me one, I'll reply, and maybe that will sort it.

Hi Corinna,

I sent a pm to you in December, but don't know if you ever got it. Now that my plans have changed a bit because my friends backed out, any additional information is even more appreciated!

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For some reason, I can't seem to send you a PM.  If you send me one, I'll reply, and maybe that will sort it.

Hi Corinna,

I sent a pm to you in December, but don't know if you ever got it. Now that my plans have changed a bit because my friends backed out, any additional information is even more appreciated!

Hi Rona - Yes I got the PM and sent a reply, but don't seem to have a copy in my folder. Maybe I did something wrong(?) or maybe I'm just jinxed when it comes to sending you a message. Will get back to you later today with some info (have to dash) and post it on this thread. A moderator can delete it for off topic stuff afteryou've got the info.

Best - C

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Hi Rona - Sorry about the delay on this, but here's a bit more info (apologies to all for the OT post, but we're having trouble with the PM system):

The souk in Sana’a is well worth a visit. It’s like it’s lost in time. The buildings in the old part of town are 5 or 6 stories high and beautifully distinctive with freizes, interesting brickwork and inlaid doors. You can buy your bushel of Qat in the souk if you feel so inclined but don’t be tempted to buy a jambiya (the traditional curved Yemeni dagger) as a souvenir if you are going on to Dubai afterwards. They are classed as a weapon and the lovely antique one I had in my suitcase was taken from me at customs. There are some beautiful fabrics in the souk (the Yemeni women don’t wear the traditional black abaya, but very brightly coloured ones) and some interesting pieces of jewelery, although obviously very traditional.

Be careful taking photographs. The women don’t like it, although some of the children will come up to you saying “soora” which is photograph and will like having their shot taken. They are quite exotic looking, particularly the little girls. If you want to give them something, a “gallam”, a pencil, is a good idea. I used to bring a stash of them whenever I went to India to give to the children, granted a much more poverty stricken place.

Close to Sana’a, (just a short journey) is Wadi Dhar which is an interesting house, formerly owned by an Imam, which spirals up around the rock on which it is built and has a well running down through the middle. It’s quite impressive.

Then there are the fortified towns of Shibam, Kokabam and Shihara well camouflaged up in the rocky mountains (you will see plenty more perched up on top of mountains as you drive around). They are absolutely amazing. You should visit one of them.

I also remember going to a town, a cultural centre, that had a very high number of beautiful mosques which you could visit and go up the stairs to walk around on the roof (I can’t remember the name of it, but I’m sure a guide will be able to tell you).

Further down is Taiz, which is not as interesting as Sana'a, even though it is the ancient capital. But the drive is incredible, through high mountains with fantastic views and vistas. If you go off the main roads, some of the dirt tracks can be pretty dangerous and when I was there, there were plenty of cars and buses crashed down the steep mountainside. Driving here is extremely dangerous, so be sure to get a guide with a 4 x 4, I wouldn’t suggest driving yourself. And even with a guide, you’ll probably have a few scary moments as he battles to maintain his honour when someone tries to pass him out. The tribal spirit is strong, and challenging Yeminis is not a good idea. Many villages that we had intended driving through were closed because of fighting, and I don’t think this has changed much since then. If anything, things are probably a lot more dangerous… and yes, I’d be taking advantage of whatever security is offered. I know of an American guy who astonished people when he said he had stayed over in a particular village. Apparently he was the first Westerner to leave it alive, and that was about 17 years ago!

But back to Taiz. If you do go, be sure to visit the museum which is the house of the last Imam. He used to show the locals films on his projector to terrify the living daylights out of them, he had a great penchant for Mont Blanc pens and his wife favoured perfume and had oodles of bottles of Chanel No 5. After getting seriously injured in battle, he dosed himself up to the gills with morphine and eventually died. Not your usual museum!

Jebla is a pretty little place near to Taiz, where you’ll find the ruins of one of the queen’s palaces. It was a beautiful day when we visited, bright pink flowers were in bloom and there was a lovely gracious air to the place.

The Red Sea and Huddaidah area offer a completely different experience with mud huts, fishing villages etc like I mentioned above. If you have time, this is an interesting contrast to the rest of the country. In fact, I'd be inclined to skip Taiz and go here instead.

I've no info on Aden and that part of the country as it was under communist rule when I was there.

I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on. I’m sure you know about what to wear, and I hardly need to say it, but be careful.

Best - C

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Thank you, Corinna! I copied and pasted in case it gets deleted, but your post will be of big help! I'm still trying to work out my travel schedule, and am trying to find a replacement companion for that leg of the trip. A friend has a friend in the area, so I'm hoping something works out, because I really want to go, especially after reading your post!

Thanks again!

rona

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Hi, I just saw this thread, and I felt the need to comment.

I would NOT recommend traveling alone in Yemen, especially as a woman and a non-Caucasian one. Do you speak any Arabic or will you have a guide with you?

You can eat in a restaurant alone, but you will probably be stared at and made to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Also, you might get bothered by men on the street. When travelling outside the main cities you should have some sort of guide or security with you (I have several friends who have been caught in tribal conflicts). I am not saying these things to frighten you but merely to offer some realistic advice.

It could be that you ignore some of the annoyances and end up having a great time, but you should be prepared.

As for food, another good option would be to go to the souq and pick up fresh vegetables/fruits, local breads, cheeses, and whatever else is on offer. Do be careful about washing things in purified water your first few days so you don't get sick. Little lunch places that serve hummus and stews are good options for a quick meal. And stay away from qat.

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I, too, have just noticed this thread.

Have to agree totally with M. Lucia, especially as Yemen has now closed its sea borders with Somalia because of armed Islamists escaping from the present Somalia conflict. A friend was recently there and said the Somali refugee situation is alarming.

Have not been there for several years; in fact I stopped going to dangerous places when I became a mother, however I did find that wearing an abba or similar took a lot of the heat off walking around as I was blonde and stood out like dogs balls and was continually accosted. I could also speak reasonable Arabic then.

Having said that Yemen is an amazing country and I would love to return, just not right now.

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My trip is a short 9 1/2 weeks away!  Unfortunately, my trip with friends has turned into a solo trip, which puts a bit of a damper on things.  My main concern is, of course, food. 

I just noticed this post (I had been replying to your PM and didn't realise that you were considering going alone). I think you should heed the cautionary advice unless you have some overbearing need to go there at the moment. Are you a method actor trying out for a part in 24? I shouldn't joke, but I'd be concerned about a bit more than just food if you intend heading off on your own. And yes, if you do go, I would make absolutely sure that I was accompanied at all times by a local guide, and the abbaya advice sounds good. I have to say, I'm intrigued (and worried for you)... why now?

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I hope this isn't too far off-topic, and I was going to reply to each of you individually, but it's a bit easier this way (and if I get deleted, I'll do the individual replies, anyway).

Thank you all for the comments and concerns. I have given great thought to this after reading everything and here's what I've decided.

My first choice is if I can find a group tour that I can latch onto, I'll still go to Yemen. I'll be travelling to and from Yemen alone, but all tours around the area, etc. will be in the company of others.

My second choice is to do a solo, but guided, tour. It was always our intention to hire a guide in Yemen (we'd never have done a purely solo trip), so I had been trying for a month or so to contact several tour companies, but many email addresses have been invalid, or companies just haven't bothered to reply. I was trying to find a guided 1-day tour outside Sana'a, and then 2 days of guided tours within Sana'a. That's not looking very promising at this time.

My third choice is to ask my friend's Yemeni friend to hook me up with her family. I don't think that's very promising, either, but it's worth a try.

If none of the above can be arranged (and it seems that may be the case), I just won't go. The Yemen trip was in the middle of my trip to the UAE, so it won't be such a big deal for my travel agent to cancel that leg, or for me just to miss my flight. I really did want to see Yemen, as I've read and been told so many wonderful things about the country. But having to go alone makes me feel very uncomfortable, and my pride (partly the reason I was going to go--I was thinking that just because my "friend" screwed me over, I shouldn't have to give up my dream of going to Yemen) just isn't a good enough reason to risk my safety.

Thank you all, again, for the concern! And if it does work out, I'll report back, and if not, well, you'll get some posts about the UAE!

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But having to go alone makes me feel very uncomfortable, and my pride (partly the reason I was going to go--I was thinking that just because my "friend" screwed me over, I shouldn't have to give up my dream of going to Yemen) just isn't a good enough reason to risk my safety.

Thank you all, again, for the concern!  And if it does work out, I'll report back, and if not, well, you'll get some posts about the UAE!

I'm sure you've heard the saying: "Pride come before a fall"... I think you're right to start looking at the omens on this one.

But here's a suggestion, why not take a trip to Oman? Most of the Gulf states are very boring from a landscape POV, but Oman is quite spectacular, and the people there are absolutely lovely. As it happens, quite exotic looking too; the nearby Indian influence seems to creep in (Sultans, turbans, very Arabian Nights looking). Again, it's a long time since I was there, and I didn't venture further than Muscat, but it might be an option.

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Corinna, you read my mind. I travelled quite a bit in Oman in the days when you needed a no objection certificate to get in, i.e. had to know someone there. Would definitely recommend going there Rona, it is quite different from the rest of the Gulf

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We already have a short weekend trip to Musandam planned (to see if I can "go around the bend"). I was thinking of asking my travel agent about changing my Yemen-leg to Muscat, but I hadn't researched anything about Oman, so I was wary. I'll visit my travel agent next week and see what I can do! You may see an Oman topic soon!

Thanks again!

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Was in Oman for a few weeks a couple of years ago. Very interesting and beautiful country. Rented a car and puttered around the countryside. Visited Muscat and the surrounding areas and Salalah and the surroundings. Very definitely a different experience from Dubai, but there are a lot of places in the UAE that aren't Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Go up to RAK and you will see a different side to the UAE. In any event, I felt safe in Oman, the food was decent and the prices were decent. Rental car was expensive (unlike the UAE) because they limit you to about 60 miles/100 kilometers before the per mile charges start clicking away. I don't recall the amount, but I do recall they were very expensive. Maybe 50 cents a kilometer. If you go, have fun. Oman Air is safe, though MCT is a bit of a pain in the neck. The country is larger than one may imagine, so it's a good way to get from A to B while avoiding some driving.

If it matters, I was a solo traveler, albeit a male traveler. The country is more traditional than some, but women were out and about and I did not see any stares, etc. Then again, I probably wouldn't have noticed.


Edited by Darren (log)

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