//Cardamom Dreams and Ube Delights

Cardamom Dreams and Ube Delights

By Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

For me, food is an experience – it’s home, family, adventure. But an artisan coffee paired with something joyfully sweet? Now, that’s a combination ripe with the potential for a spiritual awakening. Bab Al-Yemen Cafe was a lesson in elevated coffee chemistry, but Bread and Butter reminded me that beauty also exists in simplicity.

Bab Al-Yemen Cafe

Nestled in an unassuming shopping center on the west end of Shaw, between The Curry Pizza Company and Triangle Burgers, is a powerhouse of flavors. While their impressive selection of traditional Yemeni coffees steals the show, Bab Al-Yemen also offers an array of appetizing Yemeni and Middle Eastern pastries. 

Seeking an authentic experience, I hid my true intentions from the owner – I was not a reviewer or the editor of a local publication – but another fresh-faced customer trying his concoctions for the first time. I simply asked the owner for his most popular items and, with his help, selected a bevy of treats: mufawar, the Bab Al-Yeme latte, pistachio baklava, and khalyet nahel.


There was a time when I thought I was a coffee connoisseur, but one sip of the mufawar made it abundantly clear that I was, at best, a novice.

Mufawar is a medium roast coffee prepared with cream and cardamom. I was not ready for the explosion of spices that enveloped my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it – it was forceful, rich, smoky, and earthy. It had notes reminiscent of a slight peppery kick, similar to a good rye whiskey. The creamy bitterness of the coffee punched right through my tastebuds, stunning them into submission. Then, a confusing yet wonderful potion of spices floated in on the afterglow. It’s a flavor I cannot adequately pin down in words, but I know that it was so enchanting that I unconsciously reached for the cup in pursuit of another sip and another until it was empty.

Mufawar isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for those who don’t flinch at taking their coffee black, order a scotch neat, and probably don’t mind a bite of black licorice. It’s the kind of drink that lives in your head rent free. 


Where the mufawar slapped the first-timer square on her well-formed cheekbones, the latte led the way with a gentle hand.

Familiar to the more common American palate, the latte came dressed with a balance of foam-to-spice ratio. It’s a double espresso with steamed milk accompanied by cardamom and cinnamon. While the spices put a delicate twist on the coffee that made me ashamed to have gone so long without it, I can’t say that it was as memorable as mufawar. To be fair, it was a tough act to follow. But the latte presented a profile I already knew, but with a flourish – like seeing an old friend with a new hairdo. 

The Bab Al-Yemen Latte is a first-timer’s mellow introduction to a robust world of Yemeni/Turkish coffee.


Anyone with the skill set to master the finicky phyllo dough enough to hold a rich, sticky, delightful center will make a fan out of me. However, I’ve only known baklava to be a messy ordeal – a crumbly outside, flaking all over the table, and a viscous core melting all over my fingers. But Bab Al-Yemen crafted a baklava that refused to let me lose a single drop of the chewy center.

The pistachio filling was subtle in its sweetness – not overbearing, but like a soft touch on the shoulder to remind you it was a dessert. It was almost maple-like, a first cousin to brown sugar. The crispy dough was airy, buttery, and far from oily – an artful pairing to its equally crafted core.

KHALYET NAHEL (Honeycomb) 

Khalyet nahel is described as a cream cheese-filled bread drizzled with honey, cut into a pizza-style slice that is prepared like a pull-apart bread. The top is lightly toasted, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds, and kissed with honey. 

Expecting a sweet treat, I was surprised by how the yeasted bread’s aroma pushed forward ahead of the distinct flavor of honey. It was warm, light, fluffy, soft – like an elevated dinner roll delicately dancing between sweet and savory. And considering how expensive honey is generally and how liberal Bab Al-Yemen chose to brush the bread with it, I was also surprised at the size of the slice they served for $7. Addiction is a strong word, but if I hadn’t already filled up on the various treats I ordered – a person might come back with a nub if they tried to reach for my honeycomb uninvited.

Aside from a stunning first impression, part of what made Bab Al-Yemen Cafe unique was how far removed it was from the typical “hustle” embedded in most other coffee shops. The ambiance invites you to stay rather than rush out of the way for the next customer. With its deep-seated leather chairs and light Middle Eastern music wafting in the air, it begs you to have interesting conversations with friends or to enjoy a drink in quiet reflection. Without effort, it invites you to come back – soon and often.

Bread and Butter 

Filipino desserts never held my attention as a kid – my mom often picked up her favorites from the Asian markets while saying, “You won’t like it.” Growing up in America, with its sickly sweet standards for candy and desserts, rather than in the vibrant neighborhoods of my mom’s hometown of Olongopo, she was right. I just wasn’t mature enough yet. Now, I understand what all the fuss is about.

Bread and Butter is a Fresno-based Filipino bakery driven by a mission to bring world-class Filipino cuisine to food connoisseurs. With a brick-and-mortar bakery on the corner of Gettysburg and Fresno St., Bread and Butter regularly appears at the newly established Tower District Farmer’s Market. 


If ube isn’t already a staple in your list of go-to treats, you’re doing desserts wrong. Ube is a purple yam native to the Philippines that maintains a vivid violet-purple color throughout the cooking process. Like its relative, the sweet potato used in so many southern candied yam recipes – ube is slightly sweet, slightly nutty. Or, for you boba fans, ube is reminiscent of the famous taro flavor profile but with less intensity. And pan de ube is a traditional Filipino sweet roll filled with an ube pudding or paste in the center. 

Bread and Butter offers a batch of roughly half a dozen rolls, each about the size of a baseball, for $7. It may seem like a commitment, at first, to purchase them in bulk rather than in singles – especially for an ube virgin. But don’t worry, Bread and Butter know what they’re doing. As sure as I am that the sky is blue, you’ll eat every last crumb.

The roll is dense but not heavy and has a light, chewy texture. The ube filling in the bread’s center pocket is thick but creamy, similar to cheesecake and pumpkin pie, holding its shape until your tongue smooshes the filling across the roof of your mouth. It is somewhat grainier in texture, but where cheesecake kills you in richness, ube calms the palate with delicately sweet pistachio/vanilla notes. 

Pan de ube is a complimentary companion to a cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy it as a stand-alone snack or as a dessert. If you’re looking for a sinfully luscious treat, this isn’t for you. For me, it’ll have a permanent home on my kitchen island to satisfy my newly developed, ube obsession.


A Filipino Spanish bread, the roll is oblong, like a short hotdog bun, but prepared somewhat like a cinnamon roll. The key ingredients are melted butter and sugar, with a light dusting of bread crumbs around the outside for some added crunch.

It was no surprise that Bread and Butter had such a fundamental Filipino bread in their repertoire of offerings. Patrons can expect to get a full dozen of the warm, buttery, sweet breads for $15 total. Naturally, I couldn’t leave their table without one.

The señorita bread was compact and tightly rolled so that the melted butter oozed out along the edges of the rolls. Like the pan de ube, the rolls were dense, but it seemed more appropriate in this context because the thick bread was a suitable vessel to soak up any stray filling from the bottom of the container. Once the rolls cooled, both the bread and the butter hardened. However, mixed with the sugar, the buttery fusion created a rich, candy-like texture along the outside. Re-heated, the bread softened again and absorbed the melted butter back into itself, balancing the dryness of the bread.

Dessert connoisseurs might vehemently disagree with my choice to include sweet breads as desserts here, but any category worth its salt will have range. There is a time and a place for earth-shatteringly rich delicacies, and there is undoubtedly a time and place for subtlety. I don’t like to overwhelm my palate, and I find that limiting my exposure to those luscious delights preserves the experience in its purest form. Choosing to experience the subtle sweetness more frequently than a crushingly rich one makes my palate more sensitive to nuanced flavors hiding in every dish. Not everything needs to hit hard like a hammer – there is so much beauty in the simplest things; we just have to be willing to look for them.