While most Jews (and a growing number of non-Jews) know about challah, the braided Shabbat bread whose origins date back to Germany and have been embraced by many Ashkenazi Jews worldwide, most people are unfamiliar with various Sephardic and Mizrahi Shabbat breads that have also been prepared for centuries in communities ranging from North Africa to the Middle East. Kubaneh is a traditional Yemenite Jewish bread that many Yemenite Jews and their descendants, particularly those in Israel, still prepare weekly. One of the most famous Shabbat breads in Israel, kubaneh is a pull-apart bread that is baked overnight and served Shabbat morning with other traditional Yemenite foods. In some Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, kubaneh is often purchased from local bakers who are older Yemenite women and home cooks. Americans may mistake kubaneh for cinnamon buns that are tightly packed together (though the recipe does not call for cinnamon). The bread is made through a process called lamination, during which melted butter (or for parve (non-dairy) cooks, oil or margarine) is spread across the dough after the first rise, resulting in a gloriously flaky and feather bread which. Some food historians believe that foods such as kubaneh may have inspired the famous croissants of the French (Yemen was once a part of the Ottoman Empire and traditional eastern baking practices, including lamination, may have crossed over to Europe). Late Shabbat mornings, Yemenite families across Israel served a heaping, warm pan of kubaneh that has cooked overnight; it is served alongside hard-boiled eggs, grated tomatoes and zhoug, an incredibly popular Yemenite condiment sauce made with cilantro and green chiles, garlic, olive oil and spices. Israeli chef Meir Adoni has helped kubaneh enter the mainstream by publishing a recipe for the bread in The New York Times. Jewish organizations, youth movements, camps or synagogues who host challah-baking events can choose to incorporate non-Ashkenazi Shabbat breads, such as kubaneh, into their programs.
Jews had lived in present-day Yemen for at least one thousand years, but were often subject to violent antisemitism, resulting in a mass exodus of the community to Israel in 1949/1950, in what was known as “Operation Magic Carpet.” The airlift brought 49,000 Jews from Yemen and the surrounding region to Israel. After the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947, Muslims attacked the Jewish community in the Yemenite city of Aden, killing 82 people and destroying many Jewish homes. Today, Yemenite Jews and their descendants constitute nearly 500,000 people in Israel (roughly 80,000 live in the U.S.). Currently, less than 50 Jews remain in Yemen.