The Yemeni community in Lackawanna and South Buffalo has been vibrant for decades, getting attention for everything from semi-professional soccer to inspiring an entire genre of Islamic punk rock.
Unfortunately, there’s been very few restaurants where you can enjoy Yemeni cuisine. That’s starting to change and Socotra Café is one place to experience Yemeni food through the lens of its café culture.
Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen, and it’s still a big part of the country’s culture. Several hundred years ago and under the Ottoman Empire, the Yemeni coffee industry had become pretty sophisticated and Yemeni traders were able to corner the market on the coffee trade. Eventually, Dutch traders were able to cultivate their own coffee, disrupting Yemen’s monopoly on the trade.
Today, the coffee industry in Yemen is in a much different situation. Instead of having the international market cornered, it’s been decimated by the country’s ongoing civil war. And yet, Yemeni coffee is still a prized commodity: Some upscale cafes in New York have been selling it for more than $15 a cup. Unfortunately, coffee farmers still find it difficult to profit from their coveted beans.
Growing coffee is still a proud tradition in Yemen. Many coffee farmers grow, cultivate and process their crop by hand, and visiting a coffee farm would be like stepping back in time for many of us. So when you drink a cup of Yemeni coffee, you’re drinking tradition, hard work, and high-level craftsmanship.
At Socotra Café, coffee options include the standard espresso bar, but they also go way beyond. Qahwah is the Arabic version of a latte and it usually includes spices, along the same lines as pumpkin spice latte. The Harazi Qahwah ($3.75) we tried reminded us of both coffee and chai lattes. It had subtle cardamon spice and robust floral qualities. Other drink options include Radai qahwah, Turkish coffee, Iraqi chai, Adeni chai and Jubani coffee – which is a combination of tea and coffee. If you’ve got a taste for something richer, the café also has a number of smoothies available.
Baked goods are also a big part of Yemeni café culture. At Socotra Café, the star of the show is the Beehive bread ($7), which is only available on weekends. This pull-apart sweet bread is filled with cream cheese and topped with a honey glaze. We, unfortunately, visited on a Thursday so we went for the Turkish baklava ($5), a flaky pastry filled with a sweet nutty filling. It was a study in pleasing texture contrasts: flaky and crunchy with gooey syrup on top. The cafe also has a small lunch menu of lunch and breakfast sandwiches.
While the coffee and food are reason enough to visit Socotra Café, the cafe has a personal touch that you can only find at small, independent restaurants. Walking into the café, you first notice the Yemeni artwork and photography along the walls. Faux vines and hanging plants from the ceiling hint at a warm-weather cafe culture that’s about 7,000 miles away. On our visit, Middle Eastern folk music played softly while the sounds of passing cars on Ridge Road buzzed by.
For the surrounding Yemeni, Socotra Café might be a comforting neighborhood spot, but for the rest of us, the coffee, food and vibe make it destination-worthy.
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Monday to Friday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 7 a.m.
671 Ridge Rd Lackawana, NY 14218 • $$$$$
Socotra Café located in the heart of Lackawanna is proud and ready to serve each and every one of you, with our favorite Middle Eastern pastries, tea, ...
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