Al-Shamam Restaurant (Souk Mubarakiya)
Whether you live in a swanky neighborhood, by the quiet sea side apartment, or amid the clamor of old Kuwait, every side of this city has its own neighborhood joints serving Arabic cuisine, however Souk Mubarakiya has it different. Come night fall, in this densely populated locale you will find people collectively propelled toward the central souk area. Here you will find a sundry of restaurants, but you will recognize ‘The King’ by the seemingly endless lines crowding the sidewalk beside it. Though you don’t need a GPS, the restaurant is located in a rather unassuming section of this huge souk, that it’s quite easy to miss.
We got there at around 9 pm and for a moment thought we were in a theatre waiting in line for the first release of a Steven Spielberg movie. Rather than entering a restaurant, we found ourselves in an area surrounded by various kitchen booths. It was more like mass production units for bread, fish, meat etc. Central to these kitchens were benches lined up parallel to each other that housed hungry crowds impatiently waiting to pounce on a piece of anything edible. There is no time for small talk or community discussions, you are here to eat and bounce!
We had gone as a big group of friends (incl. women and children). Since this was a large group, it was prudent to place the order in kilos of the popular delicacies rather than plates. We hadordered 4 plates of Rubyan (Shrimps) Kd 12, 1 Kg Shish taouk (Chicken) Kd 7.5, 2 Kg Kebab Kd 15, 3 Chicken Alafarin (Chicken on grill) Kd 7.5, 6 Hummus with pomegranates Kd 6, 2 Special House Salad with pomegranates Kd 6, 6 Green Salad Kd 6, 2Kg Kenafa with cheese Kd 8 and water Kd 1.6. Our total bill was Kd 70.
Most of these dishes are staple and served in almost every Arabic restaurant. While there are subtle inherent regional differences (Lebanese, Iraqi, Irani, Egyptian etc…), you can almost judge the restaurant based on these popular dishes. I think the highlight of any Arabic meal is their iconic bread which has a cult following. It should be soft, fluffy and served fresh, straight from the clay oven. While there are different types of bread in Persian cuisine, this Iranian restaurant served the ‘Taftoon’ variety. This is round, a bit thick and extremely soft. Its alluring aroma just fills the air and builds your appetite. They don’t wait for you to finish the bread in your basket but just keep topping it with fresh hot ones. The chicken can be a very unforgiving meat to cook, anything over its ideal temperature can render it dry The Shish taouk (chicken) comprises brochettes of Chicken cooked to perfection. They have that mild charred flavor, firm on the outside with an extremely succulent and juicy inside. The flavors, though rich, are quite well balanced that you can actually enjoy the taste of the meat. The Kebabs are charbroiled juicy strips of seasoned meat, though a bit greasy, was tender and rich. It just melts in your mouth. The Shrimps were cooked in traditional tomato based gravy was delectable. The Chicken Alafarin (chicken on oven) was a deceptively simple dish. The seasoned chicken cooked on a grill with the skin-on had an intense charbroiled flavor. The skin had a slightly crisp texture leaving the flesh juicy, flavorful and tender. The special pomegranate salad was a fresh twist that added the much needed balance from the meat. It was colorful, light, cool and had that tanginess which we loved. We got the creamy hummus with pomegranates as well. Though it added a fraction more to the bill the sweetness from the pomegranates was worth every extra fil. The main course met all expectations and satisfied our voracious appetites. But we wouldn’t leave the place without the savor of something sweet, and what better than the popular Kunafa with cheese. This cheese pastry soaked in a sugar rich syrup was the perfect topping to our hearty Iranian meal. The only downside to the whole experience was that they stopped serving the Arabic tea with mint.
Now just some pointers especially if you are not familiar with the Arabic language. The special pomegranate salad was not something we had ordered, they had bought it along with the green salad. Like I said, it was yummy, but Kd 3 I think was a bit steep. Be sure to keep a tab of the stuff you order and make sure you check the bill. I’ve heard complaints where the quantity of certain items especially the sides have been tampered with. The service was extremely fast and friendly.
Souk Mubarakiya has earned its reputation as a bastion for traditional Arabic food. Surrounded by a legion of other restaurants, Al Shamam restaurant, I think is its best kept secret and I must say, it’s quite an experience. For those of searching for a traditional culinary experience like no other, look no further!
Ratings – Ambiance – 6/10, Service -6/10, Menu – 6/10, Food – 8/10, Consistency – 8/10, Value for Money – 7/10
Overall – If you ever come to Kuwait, you have to try out this place !