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Friendship and Food

For the first few months after coming to Yemen, I really struggled with food. Not only did I worry about it not being clean (needlessly, I might add- now I wash produce and such just as I did in the States) but I was also faced with a number of foods I simply wasn’t familiar with, such as okra and eggplant. By the time we moved to Ma’bar I had adjusted pretty well, simply altering my way of cooking in America to fit what we had on hand here. I was intrigued, however, by the foods prepared by my Yemeni and Somali neighbors. It just so happened that my husband befriended a Somali brother in Ma’bar, and his wife offered to come over and show me how to prepare some dishes from their home country. I eagerly accepted this generous offer, hoping not just to learn some new recipes but to perhaps begin a friendship as well.

Umm Sufyan was a small, plump, bundle of energy. From the time she entered my house until she left she was smiling. My spoken Arabic was spotty at that time, so we did a lot of communication through hand gestures and facial expressions. She had sent over a list of all that we had to buy to make the meal, and she brought with her a cardboard box with several things in it, including her old aluminum pressure cooker and a bag labeled “Supermoto” that I later learned was MSG.

The children watched, fascinated, from the kitchen doorway as Umm Sufyan chopped, shredded and sautéed, talking and laughing all the while. It didn’t seem to matter to her if I understood or not, or if I contributed much to the conversation. She measured with her hands and fingers, eschewing the use of my measuring cups and spoons. She looked over my shoulder and giggled as I wrote down approximate measurements of the ingredients she used. When I would try to help her with anything, she would laugh and shake her head at my attempts. When she started peeling a carrot with a small knife, I offered her the vegetable peeler we’d brought with us from America. She carefully peeled two strips off a carrot, rolled her eyes, laughed, and put the peeler down, picking up her little knife to finish the job. When she had everything in the old pressure cooker and had tightened the lid, I joined the children out in the hall, peering around the corner of the door just in case it blew up. She almost doubled over laughing at me then.

When everything was done, she quickly packed up her things and left before I could ask her to stay and eat it with us. It was one of the best meals I had ever had- spicy and filling and perfectly satisfying. I have never been able to duplicate it, perhaps because I couldn’t see using as much oil as she did, or adding MSG to our food. Or, maybe, just maybe, Umm Sufyan’s rich laughter and generous spirit made all the difference.

Maraq (Stew)

In a large saucepan, sauté

1 ½ onions, finely chopped

Add and brown:

1 lb stewing or ground beef


3 large tomatoes, chopped

Cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally


1 cup squash, cubed (can be zucchini or winter squash)

¾ cup okra, sliced

3 carrots, sliced

½ cup tomato paste

1 cup water

Cook on high for 15 minutes


2 medium potatoes, cubed

1 large green pepper, chopped

1 tbsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tbsp ground cumin (or curry powder)

3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed

2 hot peppers, seeds removed, diced (optional)

1 cup of water (or enough to make it a thick stew consistency)

Simmer until the meat is done and the vegetables are tender.

Remove from heat and add:

½ cup cilantro, chopped finely (optional)

Serve with bread or rice.


Ambabur Bid (Clove Flavored Egg Crepes)

These sweet crepes are excellent served as a snack with tea.
Beat into a smooth batter:

5 Tbsp white sugar

2 whole eggs

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp ground cloves

1 ¼ cup flour

1 ¼ cup milk

Using a well oiled or nonstick griddle or large frying pan, pour the batter by ¼-1/3 cupfuls. Rotate the pan to facilitate the spreading out of the batter. Allow to cook until the small bubbles that appear on the top of the crepe begin to pop. Turn and fry on the other side. Remove from the frying pan and keep warm until ready to serve.

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