Peter Cornish takes a dip into Syrian and Lebanese cuisine at this inviting new restaurant Al Sham on Vo Van Kiet. Photos by Romain Garrigue.

Syria has one of the oldest cooking cultures in the world and like many countries of the Levant, its ingredients are full of fresh vegetables, fruits and meats that combine to produce a cuisine as healthy as it is deliciously hearty.

Covering the Eastern Mediterranean, the Levant is famed for its cuisine, with dishes such as hummus, falafel, shawarma and Baba Ghanoush popular worldwide.

Located on Vo Van Kiet (turn right at the bottom of De Tham and it’s a few metres down) this small, unassuming restaurant is a haven of fresh, healthy Levantine food. Opening its doors just 2 months ago, Al Sham is already making its mark on the expat foodie scene, thanks not least to a satisfied customer posting photos on Facebook shortly after it opened, bringing an unexpected flurry of eager customers.

Owner/chef, Badeh Allhama, arrived in Vietnam from Damascus about five years ago. Originally here for business, he worked with a number of companies before deciding to share a love of cooking, given to him by his mother at an early age. Coming from what was once considered the breadbasket of the Middle East, the Syrian and Lebanese food he prepares is testament to these traditions of cooking, handed down to him by his mother, and from generations before.

Familiar staples include hummus, tabbouleh, shawarma and falafel, all of which are excellent examples of traditional Syrian foods. Syrian food is typically seasonal, and the menu is prepared around this. All meats are purchased fresh daily from local suppliers, but many of the ingredients are shipped in from Damascus, Syria’s capital city.

A ‘must-try’ is Allhama’s Shawarma (meat VND200,000 / chicken VND180,000), a mouth-watering choice of stacked seasoned meats, freshly roasted on an open BBQ grill outside the restaurant, and topped with onion, tomato and a quartered lemon. Served on a plate or wrapped in flatbread, either way you can’t go wrong. It’s delicious.

Vegetarians are spoiled for choice here. Tabbouleh, a traditional Middle Eastern vegetarian dish, is prepared with tomatoes, freshly chopped parsley, bulgur and onions, seasoned with olive oil, lemon and salt. This fresh, healthy dish is best accompanied by khabaz, a traditional bread that Allhama bakes daily on the premises. Also a winner is the aubergine tajine (VND60,000), a succulent stew-like dish of vegetables, cooked slowly in an earthenware pot the dish is named after.

The ever-popular hummus (VND80,000 or with lamb or chicken VND100,000) pairs well with babaganous (Baba Ghanoush – VND90,000), a delightfully ‘smoky’ dish of cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil and a variety of seasonings.

Order both as a mezze and enjoy them with a bowl of tabbouleh and some traditional Arabic flatbread.

If you’re craving traditional Levantine food, or want to try it for the first time, pop in to Al Sham. You won’t regret it. 

300 Vo Van Kiet, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 098 459 71 60
11.45am to 10pm, Everyday