Ya nafs ma tishtay: celebration of favorite and traditional foods in Yemen [Archives:2006/983/Reportage]

September 21 2006

Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

Ya nafs ma tishtay, a unique occasion related to Yemeni culture, is a special festival for various types of traditional and delicious foods celebrated the day before Ramadan (the new year). Whoever enjoys eating what they like will be present on Ya nafs ma tishtay Day, as its name means.

Women in the home do their best to prepare their families' most favorite foods, while restaurants and sweet shops also busily prepare special foods for that day. Parks are crowded with visitors preferring to hold Ya nafs ma tishtay parties there, as Yemenis are crazy about food, juices, etc., on that day.

When investigating how Yemenis celebrate the occasion, they replied with the following:

Most school and university students like celebrating Ya nafs ma tishtay Day with their friends and teachers; thus, school administrations allow students to spend part of class time holding a big party to mark the occasion.

Bin Sina School manager Aisha Al-Hakimi comments, “Every year, we allow students to celebrate the occasion. We let them prepare for Ya nafs ma tishtay Day themselves as an entertainment activity. Teachers sometimes participate with the students in preparing a big meal in the schoolyard.

“Ya nafs ma tishtay is a good opportunity to build good relationships between students themselves, and with teachers especially, because it's held at the beginning of the school year,” she added.

Students always plan for and await the occasion. Eleventh grade Halima School student Imani Al-Hababi says, “I get to know new friends on Ya nafs ma tishtay Day, arranging with them what food and sweets we can bring for the festival. We all specialize in a particular dish the others may not be able to cook. I always make bint al-sahin because I'm the one who can make it the best.”

Yemeni housewives actually are more interested in Ya nafs ma tishtay Day than working women because they have time to plan for it. They either meet in homes or telephone each other, careful not to repeat the same dish in one meal. Housewife Kawkab Al-Bahri says, “I arrange to go to the park with my neighbors and friends because it's a suitable place that will be enough for all of the guests and their children.”

Both restaurants and sweet shops are crowded with customers, as many friends – especially men – and some families go to restaurants especially on this day to order special food, unlike other days. Restaurant owners know the importance of Ya nafs ma tishtay Day as a festival of food, anticipating what their customers will order so they carefully take into account the occasion.

Arahim Al-Thaifi, owner of a group of restaurants in Sana'a, says, “We accept that more customers will come into the restaurants, so we work in two non-stop shifts until 1 a.m., trying to meet every customer's requests.”

However, some Yemenis aren't interested in Ya nafs ma tishtay Day, considering it unimportant and insignificant. Ali Mohammed, 35, says, “I don't know why Yemenis are crazy about this occasion – they act like they haven't eaten for a long time! They make others feel like they won't eat in the next days, so they have to eat as much as they can.”

Elections atmosphere and Ya nafs ma tishtay Day

Amid the elections atmosphere, Yemenis are busier than usual with election events, so will they celebrate Ya nafs ma tishtay Day as usual? University student Mariam Al-Yemeni replies, “I don't think I'll make a party for Ya nafs ma tishtay Day like every other year because these days, Yemenis are considering the elections and their results. I didn't plan to do anything and my family won't allow us to go to a restaurant as a security measure. We may make a small party at home and that's enough.”

Like many Yemenis who worry about the election results, 50-year-old Latifah Al-Sari comments, “I don't want to celebrate any occasion in these days. For me, this year's Ya nafs ma tishtay Day is to spread peace and a safe atmosphere in Yemen and nothing more.”