[Penang] Syrian cuisine at Halab, Chulia Street

Penang’s latest Middle-Eastern restaurant is located at 381 Chulia Street, formerly Reggae Mansion. But a million dollar makeover has rendered the place virtually unrecognizeable from its previous incarnation.

Halab, in a departure from other Middle-Eastern restaurants in Penang which offers mainly Lebanese cuisine, offers food from Aleppo, Syria. In fact, we understood that Halab is actually the ancient Arabic term for the medieval city of Aleppo which, sadly, has pretty much been destroyed by the still on-going Syrian civil war.

It is no wonder that some of the most talented Syrian chefs from Aleppo are now cooking here, churning out dishes which definitely taste a cut above other Middle-Eastern eateries in George Town. Syrians and other Arabs in George Town are their base clientele, but many Penangites are also turning up to sample its offerings, including one of the largest selection of Middle-Eastern sweets I’d seen this part of town.

Appetiser platter that we tried:
Clock-wise from top: Moutabal (mashed eggplant with tahini & condiments), Baba Ghanoush (Levantine mashed eggplant, parsley, green pepper, red pepper & condiments), Houmous (Levantine mashed chickpeas & condiments), Muhammarah (spicy red pepper dip from Aleppo, Syria).
Middle: Warak Enab (grape leaves with rice, minced beef and lemon juice).

We also tried another appetiser platter with fattoush - chopped coriander salad, which was also very well-prepared, served with pita bread.

Maajoqah - minced lamb patties, filled with green & red peppers, cheese, mushrooms and nuts. These were simply scrumptious, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The minced lamb was piquant, gently spiced with cinnamon, cumin & coriander. The melted cheese filling with onions & crunchy peppers were delicious.

Our mains:
Maklouba This is a Levantine dish of grilled chicken and eggplants, served on a bed of fragrant, spiced rice, studded with peanuts.

Shish tawook - grilled skewers of chicken, accompanied by grilled tomatoes and onions, fresh, crunchy salad, and served with a creamy garlic dip.

Everything was freshly-prepared upon order a la minute. Lovely smokey flavours from the barbecued meats.

Hot, milky ginger tea was delicious, served together with the oddly-named vulgar dessert (pronounced ‘vool-gah’) which was described as being made up of dried milk, orange blossom water and liquid starch. It was not too sweet and tasted more pleasant than its description.

Those with a sweet tooth can opt for one of the platters of baklava and other sugar/syrup-laden sweets on offer.

The place tends to get busier as the evening wore on:

Address
Halab
381, Chulia Street
10200 George Town, Penang
Malaysia
Tel: +604-251 9550
Opening hours: 11am-4am daily (yes, they open till 4am in the morning to cater to Middle-Easterners’ fondness for socialising and shisha-smoking throughout the night).

4 Likes

I’m a fan of Middle Eastern food and the dishes all look like very good versions. I’m particularly keen on muhammarah as a dip which, in the versions I’ve eaten, has finely crushed walnuts in it giving a little texture.

I’ve had maklouba before and enjoyed it. I was in a Palestinian restaurant the other night where the owner claimed it originates from his country. A bit of research (Wikipedia) tells me it originates from the Galilee which is the region of what is now Israel that adjoins Lebanon. As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s also made on the other side of the border.

1 Like

The menu here played safe and described it as a “Levantine” dish, which basically encompassed practically all the states in that part of the world. :joy::joy:
It was delicious.

I did ask a PR personnel there if there were any Lebanese staff in the restaurant - she said, no, practically everyone - from the kitchens to the front of house are Syrians, as are the owners.

Similar in my part of the world. I can think of three restaurants that describe themselves as Lebanese but are actually Syrian. Maybe it’s better PR - similar, at least in the UK, to Iranian owned places usually saying they are Persian.

1 Like

It is the same in the US as well, you see “Persian” restaurants, but never Iranian.

I know on London’s “Arab Street”/Edgware Road, there are Syrian restaurants which tout themselves as serving “Damascene cuisine”.

Back to Halab for dinner this evening. We initially wanted a steak dinner at Vikings, a newly-opened grill/steakhouse, but most Continental restaurants in George Town are still closed on Boxing Day.

Halab, on the other hand, was bustling and the restaurant inside was fully-booked out by the holiday crowd, with seasonal feasting at full swing. So, we ended up sitting al fresco, surrounded on 3 sides by local Arab customers puffing their shisha pipes. :joy:

We started off with some cold drinks - I had a lemon juice. The Arab-Muslims here do not partake in alcohol, so they put more emphasis in preparing their juices, including some interesting fruit juice mixes.

The appetiser platter was pretty good and just perfect for two of us. It consisted of, among others, the Aleppo dip, Muhammara; the ubiquitous (and my all-time fave) Hummus; a very piquant Mutabbal; and a very lemony Yalanji, Syria’s answer to Greek Dolmades. I’d skip the yalanji here, unless one has a fetish for boiled grape leaves.

We also ordered some crisp, golden-fried cheese-filled spring rolls (more Lebanese than Syrian here, although Halab’s chefs are all-Syrian). These were very good.

Our main course was Roast Chicken with Rice (“Dajaaj al Riz”) - very well done indeed, with a juicy chicken reclining on a bed of saffron-tinted rice, speckled with toasted pistachios and cashews.

That’s it. Diet starts tomorrow.

3 Likes

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter!

Press Room
“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold