Updated: Mar 6, 2020
Open daily 10.00-22.00. Address: Stary Rynek Kleparski 5, 31-150 Kraków.
Phone: +48 731 337 465. @ https://www.facebook.com/shamfalafelrestauracja/
Middle Eastern food in Kraków has been quite slow to take off, considering the general explosion in popularity of other types of Asian food in recent times, and aside from the now very much overpriced Hamsa in Kazimierz, we are strangely waiting for a go-to place if we are looking for a good sit-down option that covers food from the Levant region, North Africa or Persia. It's a kebab-sized gap in the market, although Mazaya and Mezzalians have offered good street food-style take-out options more recently. It seems like finally a growing population in the city from that part of the world and increasing interest in the region is now forcing would-be restaurateurs to address this absence. The somewhat unfortunately named Sham Falafel (it means Syria in Arabic), Syrian-owned and central (just off Planty near the erstwhile Basztowa Lot) is attempting to bridge this gap. It's aimed firmly at the budget end of the market, and offers no-frills style, self-service eating at rock-bottom prices. I dropped by on the long weekend just past to see how they measure up - would I fall for the falafel or would it all prove to be, well, a sham?
There is nothing fancy about Sham Falafel. Its interior is pretty basic, and other than a few framed pictures on the wall, there isn't a great deal of atmosphere. It's a standard walk-in and order kind of place though, so I guess that would be missing the point. There's a board at the front displaying everything on offer, and a menu on the tables, but all the goods are pretty much on display anyway and you can point and choose if you're not au fait with Syrian food. Seven tables, no more than twenty covers - the profit margins here are pretty slim you'd imagine, and with prices at the level they are, the tip box on the bar should not be skipped. I noticed quite a broad range of customers coming and going, ranging from Middle Easterners speaking in Arabic to students, middle-aged/class probable foodie types and real down-at-heelers you definitely wouldn't expect to be eating Syrian food but who may be attracted by the bargain prices.
Having travelled in Syria pre-war (an experience that figures high up my list of favourite travel destinations - see my blog on it here), I have good memories of food from this part of the world. Tasty, healthy, fresh, meat-free very often. It's a vegetarian's dream. I'm not one, but I am very keen on this cuisine - clearly it's an answer to the fast-food culture so prevalent in this country (and the west in general) and the over-consumption of meat, and I for one applaud this alternative 'fast food' if it challenges that. This eatery only serves vegetarian/vegan food, so anyone looking for a meaty kebab here will be disappointed. Also, no alcohol is served - only soft drinks, which are, mercifully, sold cold straight from the fridge, and hot tea.
The menu is short and consists of four sections - salads, mains, sandwiches (wraps) and snacks. We skipped the sandwiches as we were having a sit-down meal, but from the look of the ones I saw being taken away, value seemed more than fair for the 10-17zl price tag. Instead we ordered a tabbouleh salad (parsley, tomato, onion, citrus sauce and olive oil) and hummus with broad beans to kick off with (both 15zl). The salad - fresh, crunchy, bursting with flavour. Extremely simple but effective. The hummus, served warm, was smooth, substantial, and very satisfying. There are still only a few places to get good hummus in Kraków, and this is definitely one of them.
Next up, a few classic Syrian dishes as dips with pitta bread and some falafel, which is presumably the speciality. We ordered a dish called Sham for two people (42zl) which consisted of twelve pieces of falafel, pickled vegetables, hummus, mutabal, muhammara and pitta bread. It was a massive serving of food for the price, and could probably have served three. No question of the value. Quality-wise too, it was impressive. Creamy and flavourful hummus, and the other two dips were
excellent. Muhammara is one of my Syrian favourites - crushed walnut and hot pepper dip originally from Aleppo, which is also found in Levantine and Turkish cuisines. Served with pomegranate seeds, it's incredibly more-ish, and not easy to find in these parts. It was just as excellent as I remember it from my travels. Mutabal is an aubergine-based dip - more delicate, but also delicious.
Finally there was the falafel. Falafel is another simple dish: deep-fried balls, made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Herbs, spices, and onion relatives are commonly added to the dough. It is an Egyptian dish, but it's common throughout the Levant, and Syria is no different. This falafel was perfect - crispy on the outside, moist inside, and served warm with a nice salad of lettuce, grated carrot and pomegranate seeds again. It's a really filling, substantial dish, providing all the carbs you need in one meal. This serving was too much for us - we needed to take some home.
There was just room left for a dessert though. Priced at a modest 5zl apiece, these cakes were, on the surface, a light way to finish the meal. But don't underestimate them; they're packed with honey, and do take some finishing. Baklava, as these sugar-bombs are generically called, may vary in appearance, but the general rule is that they're extremely sweet and calorific. No problem to me, but maybe one for anyone on a diet. Of these three pieces, I preferred the one on the bottom right - a piece of pastry wrapped around pecan nuts and dates and sprinkled with cashew. The triangular piece above was also great but very substantial indeed - a kind of Tardis cake, which probably contains as many calories as a ten regular cakes. However, absolutely delicious.
Even with drinks and desserts, a meal for two came in at just over 100zl. That is really tremendous value, and to compare that to prices elsewhere (especially the afore-mentioned Hamsa), it is extremely favourable. This eatery makes up for what it lacks in style and atmosphere with the food - it's about that, plain and simple. I doubt very much that better hummus, falafel, pitta, mutabal or muhammara is available in Kraków, or Poland. This is top-quality, authentic cuisine, served as it is in the Levant, and at similar prices. It's going to do well, and hopefully be here for a long time. Get there soon, while you can still get a seat.