When I was considering moving to Yemen to be with Mr. YemenEm, I naturally had a number of questions and concerns, but chief among them were What Will I Wear? And What Will I Eat? (The former will be addressed in a future blog post).
You know those people who, like, eat to live? (Always guys, btw). I hate those people and someone should eat them. I spend a truly ridiculous amount of time thinking about food. I enjoy — practically more than anything in life — deciding what I want to eat, figuring out how to go about making it, grocery shopping, making said meal and, more often than not, inviting friends over to enjoy the meal with me. Planning menus, making meals and having people over for dinner was a HUGE and vastly enjoyable part of my life in DC. I dreaded giving that up in Yemen. In fact, one of the hardest goodbyes I had was when the movers packed up my favorite wooden cutting board, and my favorite casserole dish and my favorite sharp knife (Woody, Cassy, and K.Sharps, respectively).
Mr. YemenEm explained the food situation to me in Yemen as follows: The food is not that good. We rely on the whims of the hotel kitchen for most meals.
I had low expectations coming here. I will say, I have been pleasantly surprised with the hotel food. We order room service every night for dinner (I know, aren’t we fancy!? Please remember that our hotel is being scouted by M.Night Shyamalan for his new film, “The Shining, Revisited. In Yemen.” Creepy hotel room service is not the same as nice hotel room service). The room service selection will no doubt get old after I’ve been here more than a few weeks, but for now, the Greek salad, lentil soup, babaganoush, and pasta are not bad. But dude, I miss cooking! A lot. So when I got an email saying that our place of work was organizing a grocery run, I jumped at the chance.
So, two days ago, several colleagues and I piled in to a van and set off for a big grocery store. After a nauseating and ridiculously bumpy ride (did I mention there are no rules on the roads here? You can drive in whatever direction and there’s nary a sign or stoplight) we arrived at the store and were told we had roughly 28 minutes inside. Now, I can easily get all the ingredients for a five-course meal for eight in my neighborhood Harris Teeter in 15 minutes flat, but this was a different story.
I got revved up like I was on Super Market Sweeps. I had a plan and its name was eggplant parmesan. Eggplant parmesan, or e.Parm as I plan on calling it henceforth, is one of mine and Mr.YemenEm’s faves. You should know that cheese is one of my reasons for living. But, sadly, it’s not really part of the Yemeni diet. I’ve been dying for an ooey gooey melted mozz or any cheese that isn’t mediocre feta or processed cheese product.
Anyways, I had the list in my head: Eggplant, mozzerella, parmesan, basil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, tomato paste, bread crumbs, milk, eggs.Â I went through the doors, grabbed a cart and I was off like a bolt. I was so focused on getting the e.Parm ingredients that I could almost tune out the fact that everyone was staring at me and a few young guys were following me around. I was glad I wore a more conservative outfit, but if you’re a woman in Yemen who is not clad head-to-toe in shapeless black, you stand out.
First up: the dairy section, which is where I realized that all the labels were in Arabic. Duh. I faltered for a moment. Rookie mistake. I grabbed some “Long life milk” whatever that is and continued to the cheese/meats counter. That’s where I saw it: A honkin’ hunk of “imported” mozzarella. I was so freakin’ excited it was like seeing and old friend, and I’m sure the cheese guy charged me four times the price, but I didn’t care. I grabbed my treasure with sweaty hands and went on to the produce, most of which wasn’t bad looking. Picked out some eggplants, onions, and garlic. No luck on the basil. Eggs: check (a few were broken, but it was slim pickins, so I took what I could.). I ran through the canned goods and got my tomato paste. I even had time to stop in the nut and spice section (huge barrels filled with delicious spices and snacks that I’ll certainly check out a little more closely next time).
I darted to the checkout and was ready to go with a minute to spare. Extremely cute little Yemeni boys clamored over who would carry my bags to the car and basically ripped them out of my hands to carry them three yards. I climbed back into the van with my bags, already excited beyond belief that I’d get to have e.Parm in a few hours!
There is a kitchen in the hotel that I was told was “fully stocked.” Fully stocked, maybe, if you’re an 18th century bachelor living in a shed out back of your smithy. There are a few knifes. There are a few pots. There are a few cast-off spices. Whatever though. Really, all you need to cook well is a few simple things and a sharp knife, if Bear Grylls has taught me anything. I got to work. First step: Taste mozzarella. To my utter disappointment — no, DEVASTATION — it tasted more like Velveeta than a creamy, slightly chewy mozzarella the way God or Italians intended. I forged ahead anyway. Mr. YemenEm joined me in the creepy deserted hotel kitchen and helped by drinking wine with me and looking cute. An hour-and-half later, we had a decent-looking e.Parm with a side of pasta with homemade sauce and white beans. A co-worker was hosting a game night so we brought the meal downstairs to share and played some delightful rounds of Scattegories while eating a sort-of-good-but-by-no-means-great homecooked meal.
Board games are like my fifth reason for living, so the evening made me very, very happy.
Anyways, there are several morals to this longwinded tale, but the most important is this: It only takes a few things to make a place feel like home. Those things are different for everyone. For me they are love, a charming space in which I can totally relax, friends, and homecooked food. Oh, and I’m not going to lie, alcohol.
I’m about halfway there, which ain’t bad for having just moved in.
Wishing you a delicious meal in your near future,