Dearborn — Many people seeking to dine at Arabic restaurants are accustomed to popular foods like hummus and falafel sandwiches. Although these foods are commonly admired among Arabs and non-Arabs alike, they are not representative of the whole Arabic cuisine and culture.
“I have a different menu; my customers come specially for Yemeni food,” said Ismael Aljahmi, owner of the newly-opened Sheeba Restaurant at 13919 Michigan Ave. He added that while the restaurant offers the popular Lebanese cuisine, diners who try the traditional Yemeni dishes choose those instead.
According to Aljahmi, the most popular dish at Sheeba is the haneeth, a traditional tender baby lamb, cooked and marinated for three hours and served with rice and vegetables.
The Michigan Ave. location is the second Sheeba restaurant in the area. The first is at 10327 Dix Ave. Aljahmi said most Yemeni restaurants are located in that area, where many Yemenis reside. His mission is to share an important aspect of his culture with those not familiar with it.
“Everyone knows a Yemeni, but not many people know much about Yemen and its rich culture,” said Aljahmi.
Sheeba’s walls are decorated with traditional arabesque stained glass windows, like the ones you would see on houses in Yemen. A large mural of Sanaa, the largest city in Yemen and one of the oldest in the world, covers an entire wall and was commissioned by a local Yemeni artist. The decoration, along with the music, welcomes someone who has never tired Yemeni food, as well as making the new Yemeni immigrant feel right at home.
A country’s cuisine reflects its culture, mentality and history, said Aljahmi. The attention to detail in decoration and authenticity of the food are important to creating the right atmosphere. From the imported spices to the traditionally cooked and marinated meat, the dining experience is also a cultural learning experience.
“The food has been around for thousands of years and Sheeba is presenting it in a way that’s inviting to everybody,” said Aljahmi. He added that many American diners like to try authentic dishes, but many of them are reluctant to try ones that sound too foreign. However, he said they get “hooked” when he sometimes brings out small Yemeni dishes for them to try.
Aljahmi added that a sense of community is an important aspect of the Yemeni dining experience, which is why Yemeni families often dine at Sheeba. Although diners have the option to eat from their own plates, they often share food from one plate, adding to the communal experience.