Yemen Cafe is a small place tucked into a low-rise building on South Jos. Campau in Hamtramck. Across the street is a mural of women in hijabs and burkas. Next to that is the New Dodge Lounge, a gritty but tasteful dive bar where drinkers young and old come to enjoy live music.
Hamtramck is a two square mile “island city” (or enclave) surrounded by Detroit on three sides and also sharing a border with Highland Park (also an enclave). It is home to a vast array of cultures packed into a small area, and is one of the most diverse places in Michigan.
Stepping into the cafe you feel that you’ve crossed a threshold. Around 5:00 pm on a Sunday families were coming in, placing and picking up their takeout orders in Arabic. A group of men were visible in the open kitchen behind the counter, preparing for a rush that had not quite arrived. Spicy smells of slow cooked meat and grilled meat wafted over us, and a kind waiter who spoke minimal English took our order.
A group of men had come in and ordered without looking at the menu. They spoke in low tones, ripping off pieces of the flatbread and dipping it into a bowl of one of the staple Yemeni dishes, a meaty stew called Saltah. We seemed to be the only people in the restaurant using utensils.
Another man with a thick eastern european accent and a small knit cap finished his meal and was reading the newspaper, sipping tea out of a styrofoam cup.
The hummus was delectably smooth, and served with cucumber garnishes.
The chicken gallaba (pictured above) was recommended by our waiter. Tender spiced chicken, with yellow saffron basmati rice, tomatoes, onions, and spicy peppers gave the dish an exciting texture. You could taste the Indian influence that distinguishes Yemeni cuisine from other mid-east regions.
The Haneeth Meat was especially tender and rich. This dish is lamb that is cooked in a tandoor oven, which is called a taboon in Yemen.
By the time the meal was over, business had picked up and a line was out the door. Yemeni food is typically served in large portions, so feeling stuffed at the end is par for the course.
We thanked the man at the counter. He thanked us and directed us to the Yemeni Tea. It had a sweet herbal, clove and honey aroma.
“You must…” said the man.
Knowing we would soon be back, we grabbed a cup and walked out back into the cold.