I love reading restaurant reviews, and was an avid reader of Tom Sietsema’s reviews in the Washington Post of the various dining establishments in and around Washington DC. But since I got to Yemen, reading those reviews just makes me sad that I don’t get to eat all that delicious food so I stopped reading. (Okay, I took a peak at the Fall Dining Guide. So jealous, DC peeps, eat up this weekend in honor of me). I haven’t explored the restaurant or restaurant review scene in Sana’a (and I’m not sure there is one) but seeing as we’re not allowed to go to restaurants, if these reviews did exist, they’d also probably just make me sad.
We can eat at pretty much three places. Reviews below. Note: I was largely inspired by what many consider to be some of the best (or at least most earnest) journalism of 2012: Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the new Olive Garden that had just opened in her hometown of Grand Forks, N.D. And also the newspapers my sister and I used to make in Microsoft Word in which we’d review mom’s cooking “Mom produced a real fiesta of a taco night, but her healthy interpretation of pancakes the next morning left something to be desired. She’s not fooling anyone substituting oatmeal for flour and cottage cheese for oil.” Additional Note: All of the below places have given me diarrhea. Additional additional note: I didn’t really know how to spell “diarrhea” before coming to Yemen, and now it’s pretty much my seventh most commonly-written word.
The Middle Eats
A Review of the Hottest Dining Spots for U.S. Government Employees in Sana’a
The Embassy Cafeteria: Hungry embassy employees are welcomed into this charmless space by fluorescent lights and a TV that is either set to BBC or music videos, depending on the mood of the embassy. The head chef, a man who is both large and in charge, always has a smile on his face and a stain on his shirt. The meat-heavy menu borrows influences from Lebanon and to a lesser, extent, Yemen. And to a greater extent, your middle school cafeteria. While Salisbury steak is nowhere in sight, diners are in store for such delights as sad scrawny chickens, vegetables a la mush, “pork lionel” and “spanish,” which turned out to be pork loin, and spinach, respectively. Some diners opt for the daily soup, which isn’t half bad, although I question the sincerity of the chef when he tells me the broth is vegetarian whilst whipping chicken grease on his expansive belly. Lunches here are easy on the wallet, but very, very hard on the intestines.
Ameen’s Beans: This al fresco dining spot is all the rage among the young embassy workers, hungry for gossip and thirsty for Ameen’s very tasty coffee drinks. Diners can soak in the sun while sampling Ameen’s interpretation of what Americans eat, which largely consists of “bagel” sandwiches, the bagel in question resembling a bagel in shape only. Ameen tops the bagel-shape with…wait for it…two eggs and a piece of “cheese” (again, resembling cheese in shape only). Be sure to ask for hot sauce to add a little zest! Where Ameen really shines is in pastries – his cheesecakes, tiramisu, and birthday cakes are sure to satisfy the sweetest of tooths, but be careful, because Sana’a has but one traveling dentist. The charm of the place is only multiplied by Ameen’s quaint yet confusing love of Abba and Shania Twain, which he plays pretty much in repeat on his CD player. Diners also enjoy the company of many cats who lurch both in and out of trash cans with an adorable hunger-inspired acrobatic prowess. One notable feline, Kitler, sports a wee little mustache and appears to be exacting an embassy patio domination scheme that us Americans will surely act too late to stop. Don’t miss the vanilla latte!
The Tent: The tent is the social center for U.S. government employees living in Yemen. It is a magical structure on hotel grounds that transports one to mythical Arab tent party, perhaps held in the desert under a starry sky whilst genies fly by on magic carpets. On your standard Wednesday night, the hotel dwellers can be found recapping the weeks’ adventures whilst sipping beverages (BYOB), smoking hookah, and listening to what very well may be the premier brother-sister Filipino musician duo in Yemen. Natch, IS, the premier brother-sister Filipino musician duo in Yemen. A convincing rendition of Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever” floats through the air, mingled with the “mixed grill” and French fries, and one indeed does feel like he or she could be “wherever” instead of desperately trapped in a fabric structure located next to a barricaded hotel in Yemen. Also as good-as-would-be-expected is the lentil soup, the Greek salad, and vegetarian egg rolls, expertly defrosted, deep fried and placed artfully on a single piece of lettuce. The true stand-out on the menu is the garlic sauce, which, to my trained palate is an innovative mix of garlic powder and what the British call mayo-naise. The desserts, which appear delicious, all seemed to be laced with hard-to-place exotic ingredient. (Hint: it’s bleach).
Be on the lookout for YemenEm’s Fall Dining Guide, in which she’ll review the embassy’s weekly “Cheese Time” celebration, featuring a tangy dip that involves Velveeta and….wait for it….salsa! An innovative concoction indeed.