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SYRIA

Malmö Lunch: Foul and fatteh at the city’s first Syrian restaurant

Chef Issam Al-Halabi works at speed as he throws together a traditional Syrian foul, taking plain boiled fava beans and chickpeas, and then throwing on a pungent red spice mix, oil, parsley, tahini, tomatoes, and other ingredients.

Malmö Lunch: Foul and fatteh at the city's first Syrian restaurant
Issam Al-Halabi puts the finishing touches to his foul with olive oil. Photo: Richard Orange
“It needs to have the right amount of everything,” says Georgina Shalhoub, who owns Shamiat, Malmö's first and most well-known Syrian restaurant, with her husband Frederik Shalhoub. 
 
“We usually say you can make food with love or not with love and you can usually tell the difference. We believe in that 100 percent.” 
 
Shamiat, a colloquial name for the old culture of Damascus, was an instant hit when Shalhoub's younger brother Maurice Salloum opened it on Norra Skolgatan back in October 2013. 
 
As the refugee wave over the next two years brought Syrians to Sweden in growing numbers, the restaurant took off, with its clientele as likely to be non-Arabs wanting to show solidarity as Syrians. 
 
The new restaurant, in much larger premises a block away on Södra Förstadsgatan, largely sells the same Syrian specialities such as foul (fava beans topped with yoghurt, tahini, lemon, herbs and spices), fatteh (bread topped with yoghurt, tahini, chickpeas and olive oil), kebbeh (balls of bulgar wheat stuffed with meat and pine nuts) and fattoush salad. 
 
Shalhoub said these are the foods associated with social and family life in Syria. 
 
“You eat that especially on the weekend, and you don't eat it when you're alone,” she says. “It's something special, when you have some free time, and you get family together and you eat foul and fatteh.”
 
Georgina Shalhoub moved to Sweden from Damascus in 2000. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local
 
If anything, the quality of the food is better now than it was at the original Shamiat, which sometimes struggled to serve the crowds of curious Malmöites that packed out its tables from its tiny kitchen. 
 
The fatteh is zingy with yoghurt, the kebbeh fragrantly spiced, and the hot flatbread brought in baskets fresh from the oven is perfect to mop it all up with. 
 
The only disappointment was that the manakish, a snack-sized Syrian flatbread pizza, seemed to use ready-grated pizza cheese, rather than the less-rubbery traditional mix of Akkāwī or Kashkaval cheese. 
 
Shamiat has been through troubled times. In the summer of 2016, it was hit by suspected arson, which has been a source of speculation in the city ever since. 
 
“If anyone tells you they know what happened, they're lying,” Shalhoub says. “Nobody knows what happened.” 
 
At around the same time, the restaurant started to see more competition with at least four rival Syrian restaurants opening in 2016. 
 
After the fire, Shamiat opened a branch further down on Södra Förstadsgatan, pride of place in the city's pedestrian high street. But it closed again three months' later. Salloum also struggled to repeat his earlier success when he opened a fast-food version on Bergsgatan, selling shawarma.  
 
He is now no longer involved in the chain, which is instead run by his sister and her husband, who once ran a shawarma restaurant in Damascus. 
 
 
The couple have gone to some effort to give the restaurant a Damascene appearance, with eight-pointed wooden stars and ornate lamp fittings decorating the roof, and a small fountain in the centre. 
 
But it is still not as cosy as Salloum's original, and Shalhoub complains that too few people cycle past its new premises, meaning that five months after it opened on May 9th, most people in Malmö still don't know about it. 
 
Issam Al-Halabi sprinkles spices onto fava beans and chickpeas as he starts to prepare a bowl of foul. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local
 
Name: Shamiat Restaurant
 
Address: Södra Förstadsgatan 78B, Malmö
 
 
This feature is part of The Local's Malmö Lunch series, exploring the city's international street cuisine. Where should our reporter Richard Orange eat next? Give us your suggestions in the comments below!

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DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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