Yemeni-style, Homemade Feast in Brooklyn

A portrait from Brooklyn and Yemen

Solving a Yemeni culinary mystery with the help of a student/neighbor and making new friends in the process.


Ever since first tasting Fahsa from the Yemen Cafe here in Brooklyn, I’ve wanted to learn to make it. I’d been doing all sorts of research but hadn’t quite landed the recipe I thought would get me to what I was enjoying at Yemen Cafe.

I was also confused about Mereg which was one ingredient in some of the recipes, but appeared to be a soup in its own right (did I really have to make one soup, in order to make a second soup? And if so, was the same meat used?). 

At some point in 2017, at one of my volunteer sessions at the Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC), I tried to use these culinary questions as practical convo for our English conversation practice but it proved a bit too complex. 

A weeks later I had the guts to ask my server at Yemen Cafe for help. I had just polished off yet another bowl of Fahsa, and showing him my recipe printout and notes, begged him to help me understand…. didn’t really get much farther.

And then in early 2018, I finally got up the nerve to ask a neighborhood mom whom I initially met at AAFSC, but now also saw most weeks because our son’s were in adjacent classrooms.  I first invited her for Biryani at our house (I was often asked for my recipe at the AAFSC) and asked if someday she would give me Yemeni cooking lessons.  She asked to set a date immediately for that and we were off and running!

She brought her two children and two friends to help with the cooking.  They wouldn’t let me help, but instead told me to take good notes while they demonstrated.  Every now and again my daughter tried her hand, but otherwise, our kids made fast friends while the ladies and I were in the kitchen.

What a feast!  Our daughter loved the Fahsa so much that she requested that I put it in her lunch this week!  And dear son is still smitten by the Kidem, ever since that surprise treat one morning last week.


Methal & Yemen Blues

I had asked ahead of time if there was any music I should have playing but my new friends didn’t have anything in mind.

The day they came over for the Yemeni home cooking lesson I opted to play Methal who I learned about it via Spotify’s “I’m with the Banned” series (watch the video featuring her here).   I love her vibes and her lyrics are great. 

BUT, soon after that lesson I came across Yemen Blues and became obsessed, even seeing them live in New York City a couple times. Since then, their music is not only a part of our regular rotation, it’s a requirement when we eat Yemeni food (home cooked or ordered from Yemen Cafe).


Yemen Blues Live

I’ve seen Yemen Blues live a few times in NYC and they were incredible shows. This video of them playing Jat Mahibathi (incidentally my fav of their songs) in Old City Jerusalem is pretty fabulous.


The Menu

The first big lesson was that that the difference between Fahsa and Salta really depends on who you ask!  I thought Salta was vegetarian and Fahsa had meat but they said that is only true in some areas.  Some people call even the vegetarian version Fahsa.  The types of “typical” meat (lamb, chicken and even fish!) and vegetables also changes by region. On top of that, family preferences dictate the recipe so there are many variations.  

first attempt at making fahsa on my own, complete with hulba on top
first attempt at making fahsa on my own

I think a good equivalent is chili here in the US. There is no one way to make chili.  It can be vegetarian or full of meat, and both of those versions vary wildly.  The meat can vary from hunks of a single type of meat, to a variety of ground meats, or even just be based on some kind of sausage, and probably includes one or more types of beans.  Vegetarian versions are likely heavier on beans and often have tofu or other substitutes.

At any rate, the below recipe will provide the foundation, and you can try other vegetables and meat as you wish.

The Mereg (pronounced more like “morocg”) is the initial soup that is made, where the chicken and veggies cook in the broth, and then the Fahsa/Salta is a separate dish, which is made using the Mereg as a base, but transferring it into a madara (a special stoneware pot), mashing the veggies adding shredded meat (if desired), and possibly other veggies (they added okra to mine, which had been sauteed with oil, garlic and a bit of potato).

Recipes for the following are below, in the order in which you should start them for your own feast!

fresh homemade codem kidem with butter
could not wait until dinner to eat the codem/kidem bread gifted to me at school dropoff so I enjoyed the still-warm bread with butter. divine.
  1. Bread, if you are making! (I’ll need 2-6 hours of rising depending on the type you choose: khobz or kidem or…)
  2. Hulba (needs alternating time in the fridge and getting hand beaten)
  3. Mereg
  4. Shafuut
  5. Rice
  6. Sahwk
  7. Fahsa/Salta
  8. Yemeni tea

Have on hand:

  • Kidem, khobz (or other Yemeni bread, or store-bought pita in a pinch).
  • Large pot to eat out of, family style.



hulba before vigerous stirring transforms it into foamy goodness.
hulba: before





shaafuut, toasted pita in an herbed and spiced yogurt


Rice for Yemeni Feast

yemni rice, basmati with cardamom, cinnamon and food coloring



shawk on shaafut!
sahwk on shaafut!



fresh fahsa topped with hulba
class is complete: fahsa topped with hulba


Yemeni Tea


Yemen Blues Instrumentation

You can hear a bit about their instruments on this great video, care of Pickathon.