The tragedy of the Syrian war, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the wake of it, really only had one upside: The spread of Syrian food across the world. Like a culinary wildfire, the celebrated cooking traditions of this Middle Eastern food nation have spread across Europe. Berlin was particularly blessed, a city famous for its appetite for Middle Eastern and Levantine cuisine, but where Syrian food didn’t really play a role until the first wave of Syrian refugee-opened restaurants started appearing around 2015.
“Like a culinary wildfire, the celebrated cooking traditions of this Middle Eastern food nation have spread across Europe.”
My own first encounter with this cuisine came in the shape of a Syrian style shawarma, served by shops like Aldimashqi, Shaam and Alfaisal in Neukölln and Wedding. Shawarma wasn’t new to me, Lebanese migrants had been serving the dish for decades, but the Syrian version with its intricately spiced chicken, uncanny amount of garlic toum and attention to detail, really blew my mind. The same applied to Syrian style baklava at Konditorei Damaskus, where every piece of heavenly flaky cheese knafeh made my realise how I would never be able to eat mediocre baklava again. My proper graduation into Syrian cuisine, however, was when I first ate the food of Malakeh Jazmati, the greatest ambassador of Syrian food in Berlin.
“My proper graduation into Syrian cuisine, however, was when I first ate the food of Malakeh Jazmati, the greatest ambassador of Syrian food in Berlin.”
Malakeh Jazmati’s formal lack of any kind of culinary education never stopped her from cooking up a Syrian storm. She came to Berlin in 2015, but at that point she had already been living in Jordanian exile for a few years, making a name for herself with her own TV food show called Maliket al-Tabkh (“Queen of Cooking”) on Orient TV. After having relocated to Berlin, her and her husband Mohammed started a Syrian catering business, quickly becoming famous to the point where they got to serve German Chancellor Angela Merkel Fattet Makdous at a reception. And as they repeatedly were told to open a restaurant, they eventually did.
Step into Malakeh the restaurant and you will be greeted by the massive portraits of Syrian actors, activists and artists. They are Malakeh’s heroes and role models and symbols of a lost home for her and her husband. Just like the cosy back corner of the restaurant that Malakeh herself has decorated in the style of a Syrian living room, complete with a beautiful crochet wall ornament.
Malakeh is from Damaskus herself and while a lot of the food at her restaurant is based on the cuisine of the Syrian capital, the full menu is really an homage to Syrian cuisine as a whole (especially Aleppo style) alongside Malakeh’s own creations. The foods and ingredients of her new home Berlin have inspired her to conceive dishes that draw inspiration from all kitchens she encountered here, like the Shish Belfakhar, an intricate mixture of grilled chicken with Aleppo peppers, spices and fries baked in a flatbread-covered tray. At the table, the dough cover is cut open and the subsequent release of steam form the chicken and the peppers will fill the room with delight. Other classical dishes include Jebet Altajer, the “Trader’s pockets”: Sensational deep fried pita bread filled with chickpeas, peppers, cheese, corn, mushrooms and sesame sauce.
“..the food at her restaurant is based on the cuisine of the Syrian capital…an homage to Syrian cuisine as a whole”
Do not make the mistake of leaving Malakeh’s without eating the Fattet Makdous, the sublime Damaskus dish which for Malakeh symbolises Syrian cuisine like few other things: Small eggplants, fried whole to soft and buttery perfection, served on a bed of gee-fried flat bread pieces, tomato sauce and yoghurt. A marvellous and rich dish that’s gets its kick from the unbelievable combination of ghee, tomato sauce, yoghurt and fried bread. Yoghurt also plays a pivotal role in her Kibbeh where the meat-filled bulgur quenelles sit in this fantastic, warm yoghurt sauce. But do make sure to always ask for the daily specials, these are usually the most interesting foods and they change on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Also very worthwhile is the Syrian style brunch on Saturdays that features a whole different menu.
“A marvellous and rich dish that’s gets its kick from the unbelievable combination of ghee, tomato sauce, yoghurt and fried bread.”
The reason why Malakeh is a truly outstanding restaurant comes down to the simple facts that we here have an outstanding personality cooking proper (mostly) Syrian food with great ingredients. Malakeh sources all ingredients with meticulous care, often travelling to Istanbul for the things she can’t buy here, and by that offering a kind cooking that’s very rare to find in Berlin. The “Queen of Cooking” has found a home in Berlin and she is showcasing how real food from Syria can taste and why this great nation always has been celebrated by its neighbours for its culinary traditions. A gem of a restaurant, that’s what Malakeh is, and we’re lucky to have it.