x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Customers keep returning for foot-long shawarmas

A cafeteria on the Sharjah-Ajman border has customers driving for kilometres for a taste of Dh10 shawarma unlike any other.

Mohammed Saeed Abdul from Egypt makes chicken shawarma at the Foul wa Felafel restaurant in Sharjah.
Mohammed Saeed Abdul from Egypt makes chicken shawarma at the Foul wa Felafel restaurant in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // There is something about Foul wa Felafel's shawarma that keeps the customers returning, no matter how difficult the journey.

The cafeteria is nestled between traditional eateries and grocery stores on a busy street near the Sharjah-Ajman border.

But every week Kashif Ashraf, a businessman from Dubai, travels about 30 kilometres through the traffic and battles for a parking space for a shawarma kebab.

"It tastes like something I have never had at any shawarma place before," says Mr Ashraf, 26. "I was introduced to it by my brother two years ago and have been coming here ever since."

Mr Ashraf recommends the foot-long toasted shawarma sandwich, made on a horizontal rotisserie instead of the popular vertical spit. He believes it is best savoured in the comfort of a car so there is no need to compete for one of the four tables and a dozen chairs crammed into the tiny outlet.

Salem Khaleel Sheikh, the owner of Foul wa Felafel, says he does not mind the cafeteria's layout.

"Even if it is small, it does not affect the number of customers I feed every day," Mr Sheikh, 57, says.

He started the unassuming eatery in 2004, selling that which his restaurant is named for: foul, a dish with mashed broad beans and vegetables; and felafel, fried balls of ground chickpeas.

"I used to make just felafels and foul," says Mr Sheikh, who left Jordan 12 years ago to settle in Sharjah. "It was all home-made and really very tasty. Some of my relatives are experienced in selling foodstuffs, so with their help I set up a restaurant."

These days, those dishes run second to the "special Arabic shawarma" that sells by the dozen after 6pm.

"We can easily serve more than 100 customers during rush hour late in the evening and the weekends get busier," says Mr Sheikh.

Cars line up outside and turn on their hazard lights, signalling the attendants who run between vehicles scribbling down orders or making a mental note when they see a regular customer. They rush in and shout the order, which is the cue for the head sandwich maker to throw in more charcoal and fire up the spit.

The open kitchen means customers can customise their sandwich.

"You can put in whatever you like," says Hassan Mahmoud, who has been rolling out shawarma kebab sandwiches at the cafeteria for six years.

"But if you want a chicken sandwich, we suggest you add pickles and chips. And with meat, we add onions and tomatoes as well."

Mr Mahmoud moves swiftly between bowls of vegetables and pastes, while at the same time turning the chunks of meat to ensure they grill well.

Mohammed Mustafa, a teacher at a government school in Sharjah, walks in at dinner time and places an order for three shawarma sandwiches with Mexican garlic paste, salad and more fries neatly packed into a container.

At only Dh10, the shawarma kebab is a cheap supper option.

As Mr Mustafa waits for his takeaway, he updates Mr Mahmoud with news of his family.

"I like coming here, not only for the food but the friends I have made," says Mr Mustafa, who is from Syria.

"It is always nice to hear about their family and tell them what I have been up to."

aahmed@thenational.ae

Driving from Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road, take a left at Sharjah’s Quran Roundabout and head towards Green Belt Park. Take a left at the roundabout outside the park and turn right at the fourth roundabout. The cafeteria is on the right after a few metres.