Yearning for Yemen Cafe

One weekend found us in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Middle Eastern restaurants surrounded us.

I set my sights on Yemen Cafe on Atlantic Avenue, which had great reviews.

Plus, I’d never eaten Yemeni cuisine. What’s it all about?

Yemen is an Arab country on the southermost tip of the Arab Peninsula, in Western Asia, one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. It’s bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and the Red Sea to the west.

The cuisine is very distinct from what most of us consider Middle Eastern food.

Bread, cooked in a tandoor like Indian naan, is a staple. Chicken and lamb are the most popular meats. The most widely-used condiment is the hawayij, a ground spice mixture made up of aniseed, fennel seed, ginger and cardamom, according to travelingeast.com.

I ordered the Zorbian Chicken, a south Yemeni dish of boneless chicken chunks mixed with rice, fresh scallions, peppers, herbs and rice. My dining partner ordered Chicken Loubia, which was cooked massloug chicken with vegetables in yemeni style . Both entrees were $15 each: a real deal.

We had so much food we could’ve split one meal. And we have good appetites.

With astonishing speed after we ordered, we each received a savory clear-green soup with a wallop of flavor and bits of chicken and vegetables in it, and a fresh salad.

A little container of spicy green salsa-type puree, which could’ve been what’s known as skhug,was great for dipping the  flat, slightly bubbly and charred bread round that arrived not long afterward. We ripped it to pieces.

After having our small camping-style cups repeatedly refilled with water, the server said something about tea available in the back. I walked back to a little drink station and filled a cup with steaming, fragrant tea.

Called “Special Yemen Tea,” it’s sorta like chai, into which other diners poured sweetened condensed milk. I followed their lead, and it was fabulous.

Speaking of the other diners, all but our table and one other table was filled with people who might have been Middle Eastern or Near Eastern. We took that as a good sign, no?

If you’re in the neighborhood, check it out: Yemen Cafe, 176 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201, call (718) 624-6540 or visit yemencafe.net.