Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


Fast Food Sanaa Style: 6th March 2008
March 6, 2008, 5:47 pm
Filed under: Yemen

I’m a fan of cheap and tasty. If it comes quickly, so much the better. Most Arabs seem to agree. Fast food is big business in the Middle East, and these days most cities on the peninsula are slathered in every take-out chain from Hardee’s to KFC (Kan’t Find the Chicken). This is a shame. There is a better way, and it is still thriving in Yemen. Take Fasouliya for example. It’s a bean stew, made with dried fasoul beans, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. You can rustle it up in large quantities, quickly.

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It tastes great, sits in the stomach like a pound of ballast and keeps you happy all afternoon. The humble fasoul bean is well travelled – turning up in hearty, revered dishes from here to Italy. I’d love to find out in which direction the recipe traded, and when. In the meantime, old Sanaa has a number of great spots where you can pick up a plate, with bread and a scalding, sweet tea for next to nothing. These guys were installed in a cave-like eatery just east of Bab al-Yaman, and were preparing to feed the five thousand judging by the vast amount of beans they were boiling up. This young man’s right arm was all a-blur with his garlic and tomato grinding efforts. The chap wielding the frying pan wouldn’t have been out of place in Dante. The end result though was hot, filling, and cost 50 cents.

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