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48 Nelson St. (inside Portuguese Bakery), 819-328-7961, syriankitchen.ca
Open: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for takeout
Prices: mains $15 to $22
The scant amount of Syrian food that I’ve had in recent years has only made me want more.
When I visit farmers’ markets in Ottawa and the Falafel Guys are selling their wares, it’s hard for me to resist getting an ultra-fresh falafel wrap made with baked-on-the-spot saj bread, which immeasurably beats store-bought pita every time.
The Syrian-made shawarmas at Sham Shawarma in Gatineau’s Hull sector and Laheeb Shawarma in Chinatown also feature some fine saj. Plus, they tweak what goes into their Syrian shawarmas compared to the myriad Lebanese examples that have proliferated in Ottawa for decades.
My latest exploration of Syrian food took place last weekend, when I ordered extensively from the Syrian Kitchen in Lowertown. I was aware of the six-year-old business because I’ve long bought its packaged dips at various Ottawa grocery stores. But I learned of its more substantial items only more recently.
Damascus-born Rehab Adas owns the Syrian Kitchen, as well as the Portuguese Bakery on Nelson Street that shares its space with the Syrian Kitchen. While Adas arrived in Ottawa from Syria in 1990, she employs recently arrived Syrians who have left a homeland rocked by civil strife for the last decade.
I chose to bring home a big order from Syrian Kitchen rather than order its dishes through a delivery service or eat on its small, street-facing patio.
The dips and rice-stuffed grape leaves that I already knew quite well did not disappoint with their freshness and consistency. Falafels were like little chickpea doughnuts. Lentil soup was thick and tasty, but also too salty — nothing that a little diluting couldn’t fix.
Two heavily sauced items that I think are rare in Ottawa were my favourites.
In kebbeh labanya ($22), the well-made deep-fried balls of spiced ground meat and grains were raised to another level thanks to the dish’s savoury warm yogurt sauce, which was studded with herbs and toasted slivered almonds.
Hummus fatteh ($15) was an enjoyable, chickpea-forward version of a dish I’ve had elsewhere in Ottawa for breakfast or brunch. Syrian Kitchen’s fatteh layered chickpeas over crisp pita and topped everything with warm, nutty tahini and more of those scrumptious almonds.
While I’ve had countless shish taouks in my time, the moist chicken skewers from Syrian Kitchen ($22) distinguished themselves with their tanginess and hint of sweetness.
Also novel for me was the dish called kabab karaz ($22), in which ground beef skewers had been marinated in a sauce of cherries and berries for a sour, tangy finish. The skewers did strike us as just a little too salty.
Syrian Kitchen’s maklouba, a mix of seasoned ground beef, eggplant and tomato-y rice ($22), was homey and comforting.
The prices for dishes were more than reasonable, given how fully packed the containers were, with rice, tabouleh and other side items. While I always over-order, I didn’t expect to feed five people one night, four more the next, and still have leftovers for several lunches.
While I ordered through Syrian Kitchen’s online portal, I see from its separate website that there are few more dishes listed. I look forward to trying them down the road, since the Syrian Kitchen’s successes have whetted my appetite.