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!