I remember as a kid coming to NYC. The ultimate destination was Borough Hall where everything “Arabic” was located from ethnic grocery stores, Restaurants, clothing, music stores and everything else you could imagine. Borough Hall, Brooklyn, a once crowded Yemeni community has now turned into a high rise haven due to gentrification. The old Arabic / Yemeni spirit that I once knew barely exists. Atlantic Ave, between Court Street and Clinton still has several Arabic restaurants and grocery stores but its not the same. There is now a pharmacy, Trader Joes, Barneys New York and Urban Outfitters in place of my childhood memories. One place however reminded, that is Yemen Cafe & Restaurant. Yemen Cafe is known within the Arabic/Yemeni community as “Yemen Saeed” or in english “Happy Yemen”. Not sure why it got dubbed the nickname happy yemen but that’s what everyone calls it.
Step inside and join me on my recent food journey at Yemen Cafe.
The service at Yemen Cafe has changed drastically due to gentrification. Different types of people are entering the restaurant and therefore their customer service has increased ten folds. I remember the old service as a kid when they would just throw plates of food on the table and walk away but thats no longer the case. Now servers are all smiles and even their shirts match one another with the restaurant logo. For starters, we were given Maraq (مرق). Maraq is a green and basically lamb broth. Add a little bit of lemon juice and chili sauce called sahawiq (سحاوق). The lamb broth is very tasty and warms you up instantly, especially well on a cold day. Adding lemon and spice is an added plus but it goes great alone without any extras.
We ordered Salta (سلتة) which is Yemen’s national dish comprised of a slow roasted lamb broth with components such as potatoes, eggs, tomato, and lamb. Click here to check out my blog post dedicated specially for Salta. It was served bubbling hot in a clay bowl with Hulba on top which is Fenugreek sauce that is used as a topping. The variation of salta I had is called Fahsa — فحسة. Fahsa is basically Salta with shredded lamb pieces. This savory dip is eaten with a Yemeni flat bread made in a taboon called Malooga (ملوجة). Each bite melted in my mouth with the savory broth and lamb wrapped in Malooga. I recommend this dish for anyone trying Yemeni cuisine for the first time. This is a hearty starter and can feed 2-4 people from one bowl.
Our main course, of course, was meat with rice. Yemeni cuisine is known for roasted meat or haneeth (الحنيذ) within the Arab Community. We had both the slow roasted chicken and lamb. The bright red chicken and lamb was intensely juicy and its meat fell off the bone. Intense Yemeni spices (Hawaij) such as coriander and cumin filled my mouth with every bite. The white rice was bland but it went well with the meat. All the spices and flavor in the meat made up for the lack of flavor in the rice. Who cares honestly about the rice anyways? My main concern was the meat and the meat was crazy good!
You would think we would stop after eating all this food, it was just 3 of us, but we continued. How about some chicken kabob? Last on our list is chicken kabob with a side of rice topped with dabekh. Dabekh is a vegetable stew slow with a tomato base. Both the chicken kabob and Dabekh were packed with flavor. A good ending to the meat selection.
One thing you will not find at Yemen cafe is desserts! There are a bunch of Yemeni desserts that would really compliment this meal but not here. However a good note is that they offer Yemeni tea. In the back of the restaurant is a self serve counter where you can pour your self a cup of Yemeni tea. This overall experience was great. It reminds me of my first time entering Borough hall when I was a kid but with friendly customer service this time around. Life is good when you are surrounded by happy memories and good food. I love this place and will come back again. Happy New Year!