The Story of Our Food: Traditional Madfoon and Its Prehistoric Origins

Dating back several centuries, the Arab cuisine is rich in flavor, aromatic due to the mix of spices, and often wholesome. One of the most popular dishes from Arab cuisine is Madfoon. Originally from Yemen, but popular across the Gulf, Madfoon is a mix of rice and chicken or meat.

Apart from its mouthwatering taste, the way Madfoon is cooked is the most interesting part of the whole process. The Arabic name Madfoon literally means buried, and as the name suggests, the meat is wrapped in aluminum foil, and buried in an underground hole in the sand, where it is surrounded by charcoal. The smoke and heat slowly cook the meat well, giving it a smoky aroma and a juicy taste. It is placed on top of a plate of saffron rice, and often served along with a cup of yogurt and a chili tomato sauce, to be mixed with the rice and eaten altogether.

This fascinating cooking method dates back to the nomadic period, as earth ovens or ground ovens were one of the most ancient cooking methods, before traditional ovens came into existence. Consequently, it was adopted by several cultures.

There are many variations to the Yemeni madfoon we spoke about. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, it is called madfoon. ‘Zarb’ is a dish that is cooked in a similar way in Jordan, Syria, and Palestine. In Oman and UAE, an almost identical meal is ‘shuwaa’, where the grilled meat is wrapped in palm leaves, put in an underground sand oven, and left for one or two days to cook. And in Iraq and Turkey, quzi or ghouzi, which is a national dish, is cooked in the same way.

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