Aromas of Yemen

by Sarah on April 24, 2012

Yemenite beef stew with lachooch bread, hilbeh and schoog

A restaurant with no name where bowls of soup are served on Formica tabletops, a bakery tucked into the basement of a village home.  Yemen still exists in unlikely places. With oil stained shirts and hands dusted with of flour, the owners of these family businesses are keepers of tradition and a disappearing culture.  They are the last vestiges of an ancient people, a tenacious link to the past as the world careens forward. The inevitable assimilation to Israeli life and modernity has erased most of what their ancestors knew; the folklore, dance, art, clothes….very little remains but the recipes.

Yemenite restaurant, Yemenite quarter, Tel Aviv

A restaurant with no name, Yemenite Quarter Tel Aviv

In the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv a group of twenty year olds passed the entrance to a restaurant and hesitated. There’s no sign. The walls are bare, the paint cracked. A man with theatrical white hair and prominent moustache accosted them on his way out. “Great food”, he said with gusto, his arms emphasizing his words, but they were not convinced.  He’s the same fellow who sat at a corner table, engaged in teasing banter with the other diners. Loud, some might say or perhaps loyal customers who long ago dropped the inhibition brought on by public domain. This after all was an extension of their kitchen.

Yemenite cook in Tel Aviv

Israel, owner of the no name restaurant (the fellow in back is not the white haired man I decribed in my post, the other fellow had a mustache like Hercule Poirot but white)

When we entered, the largest and most gregarious of the group looked up and asked jokingly if we were Yemenite and why, for heaven’s sake, weren’t we sitting down already. It was my second visit that day, this time with my family.  I’d arrive there a few hours earlier with Liz, a regular at the diner who simply had to glide into her seat for her bowl of beef stew to magically appear. “I always order the same thing”, she explained.

Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv

I recognized the soup instantly yet never tasted it before. Cream white beans and beef enrobed in mahogany broth, the complex scent of hawaij elevating, but not overpowering.  Simple ingredients are transformed by slow overnight heat, prepared each day after the customers have left. The pebbly beans are coaxed into softness, tough chunks of meat lose their stringiness, enriching the soup with gelatinous goodness.  Lacooch, spongy flat bread accompanies each serving, torn in small pieces and dunked into it.  Hilbeh, a fenugreek condiment the consistency of whipped egg whites and schoog, a cilantro and chili hot sauce are added generously by some and avoided by others. When the owner notices we didn’t touch the schoog (except for me), he casually transfers it to an adjacent table.

I turned to Israel, who manages the eatery and asked him who taught him to cook. “My father”, he says. Like him, he also made a living as a cook but his mother was the one who prepared the meals at home.

lachooch baker, yemenite flat bread, tel Aviv

Eitan's Yemenite Bakery

Preparing saluf bread

That morning Liz also takes me to Eitan’s Bakery although nobody seems to know who he is. It’s a Friday, and three men, but no Eitan, are busy churning out Yemenite breads- lachooch, saloof and pita. In one area, a fellow is manning about ten pans of lachooch flat breads simultaneously, fires blazing and steam threatening to envelope the room. The baker works with the exacting precision of a circus performer, pulling the bread out just when the doughy glop becomes an intricate mesh and before the bottom begins to scorch. Each pan is free for a millisecond, cooled upside down in a tank of water, before more batter is poured into it and placed over the flame.  It’s as finely tuned as juggling five balls, maybe six and one slack in focus is enough to bring the entire enterprise to a grinding, and very smoky halt.

Yemenite baker in Tel Aviv

Yemenite flat bread, lachoch


This Tel Aviv bakery is very different than the one woman orchestra in the small village of Tarum. Shulie Dagan operates right out of the basement of her home, where she produces an array of Yemenite breads to distribute to the local community.  Although I called in advance to let her know we were coming and then again when we got lost along the way I still had the odd feeling of barging in as we walked into her front yard and down a flight of steps to find her.  I’d arrive together with Liz and Ben during the “food festival” of the Jerusalem Hills area though it was more a hodge podge of family food businesses printed on a brochure. The customer was left with the job of seeking them out, sometimes down very bumpy and unpaved roads (read more about the food festival tour on Liz’s blog).

Shulie greeted us with familiar exuberance, as if we were neighbors she hadn’t seen for a long time. We caught her in the middle of baking lachooch bread and I stood by fascinated by the tiny bubbles that magically appeared on the surface. Her method for preparing flatbread is slightly different than what many Yemenites use, with stainless steel pans instead of Teflon. “It helps give the bottom a nice golden color”, she explained. Sixty years ago in Yemen, clay or cast iron were the main materials available for cooking.

Her husband brought in chicken soup, hilbeh and schoog and the three of us enjoyed a spicy feast at 10 in the morning. Sopping up the turmeric colored soup I asked Shulie why I failed so dismally at this Yemenite craft. “The batter has to be the right consistency”, she noted and what has always eluded me. I was successful perhaps once in the ten or more times I tried and now I have the most profound respect for basement bakers.

In small enclaves around the country Yemen flourishes in bakeries, restaurants and even road way stands. The craftsmen of tradition continue to prepare the foods of their childhood. Their reward a few shekels, not more but what they are preserving is priceless.

Yemenite baking

Dagan Bakery

Tarum Israel (on Road 44)

Telephone: 050-637-4732 or 050 7440584  (call in advance)

Eitan’s Bakery

18 Nahlieli Road

Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv

Israel’s Restaurant (although he told me his restaurant doesn’t have a name)

Opposite 28 Yehyeh Road, Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv (it is opposite another restaurant called Shimon, the King of Soups, שמעון מלך המרקים

Another bakery in Tel Aviv is located at the Tikva Market (Souk Hatikva) close to the Hahagana entrance (its within 10 minute walking distance from the Hahagna Train Station)

Liz’s recipe for saluf



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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa April 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Fabulous bakeries! I’d love to buy some of this saluf bread an a few lachooch.




Sarah April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Come for a visit Rosa and I’ll take you there!


FAL April 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Wonderful pictures.


Barbara | Creative Culinary April 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thank you for taking me with you to a place I can only assume I will never actually see and people I will never meet but will get to know just a bit. I love these stories of the ‘real’ people you meet in your travels.


Flavors of the Sun April 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

This was a particularly interesting post. I’ve eaten Yemeni food, but never in a Yemeni restaurant! It looks so inviting, and I know the condiments are spicy!


Eha April 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Somehow, reading your posts from thousands of kilometres away, at the end I always feel we have been on a walk together and, again, I have learnt something I would otherwise not have known . . .


usha April 24, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Lovely ! Tha saluf makes me want it ….and NOW.
The lachooch is very similar to the APPAM ( loosely translated..means bread) of Kerala,a state in South India.


dineke April 25, 2012 at 12:58 am

Thanks for your heartwarming post. I’m longing for Tel Aviv and the aromas of Yemen


Silvia April 25, 2012 at 3:21 am

Reading this was as if I were there too, a wonderful read!


Suzanne April 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Thanks for the lovely post! The saluf bread looks delicious!


Yael April 26, 2012 at 9:55 am

Now I really must take a day off in order for you to take me to eat in those places.


agseagulls April 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Hi Sarah,
I appreciate your article and the way you have presented both happy and sad aspects of Yemeni culture through your story and photos of these restaurants. I wonder what your inspiration for this was?

I am an Asian, but have not really paid attention to Middle Eastern food ironically until I moved to Australia and made lots of friends who have migrated from the region. We all try to bridge our old traditions with the western world we are bringing up our children in and in the process we get to know each other’s stories.

Your article projects how it is both ordinary and valiant to keep food traditions alive. I like to think sharing food is also a way to building stronger ties in the mini-global communities many of us are now in. My family likes to try new things (our current addiction is to tandoori-cooked food), and although I have no plans to go to Israel, I will try to make the saluf from your recipe and read about Yemen!


Sarah April 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Thank you for your touching comment. I have been living in the Middle East long enough to understand that food is integral to identity, family and the concept of home in all religions and cultural backgrounds. Sometimes a food culture is recreated far from the source of origin without a chance of returning. In cases like this the ordinary also illustrates how fragile a heritage can be and how fast it can disappear.


Sarah April 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Usha, Eha, dineke, Yael, Barbara, Silvia, Fal, Flavors of the sun and Rosa- Thank you for your kinds comments


Krista April 27, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Dear Sarah, I am SO glad you stopped by my blog so I could find your wonderful site. :-) I love this post so much. The melding of culture/food/travel/photos is my ideal cup of tea. :-) I feel like I visited these places with you, peered in the kitchen, dined happily in a no-name restaurant. Love it. :-)


Sara @ OneTribeGourmet April 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Sarah, I absolutely love your blog! I learn so much every time I visit especially about different cultures & cuisines! Yemeni bakeries look like they have such wonderful breads, Saluf looks so good!


Sarah April 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Thank you Sarah, Likewise, you’re blog is fabulous, both stunnng photographs and interesting cultural posts


Lael Hazan @educatedpalate April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am

I’m drooling! Thank you for the evocative post. I want to go NOW!!!! I’ve never made saluf… obviously, it is now time.


Sarah April 29, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Lael, You must come visit one day! I’ll take you on a field trip to the market and the best food places in Israel.


Noor April 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm

That bread looks like this bread the Ethiopians back home would eat called injeen or something. That saluf looks so yummy like the Tameese we have here in Saudi. I love Yemeni food.


Sarah April 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Thanks Noor, You’re absolutely right about the Ethiopian bread. Ingera looks almost exactly like lachoch except it’s made from the non gluten teff flour.


Faye May 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Wonderful post and I’m delighted to have the addresses! We bought some delicious breads at a Yemenite bakery on one of the side streets around Shuk Hatikva and I hope the one you mentioned is the same one.

The ingera I’ve had is much thinner than lahuh and some places in Little Ethiopia of Los Angeles make it with wheat or part wheat instead of all teff; I think it’s easier and cheaper.


Divya May 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your experience at the Yemeni place, really very interesting to learn more about their food. Both the breads sound amazing, I’d really like to try and make them!


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