Food Blog: Kelli GoelFoodie Newz

Takeout Find: Shababi is Serving Authentic Plates of Palestine in Alexandria

“Shababi is to me my take on the food and being able to introduce this idea in a new light to people who have never had it before and also to those who are kind of thirsty for it and the nostalgia of it.," says owner.

Chef and Owner of Shababi, Marcelle Afram trusses a chicken (photo by Kelli Goel)
Chef and Owner of Shababi, Marcelle Afram trusses a chicken (photo by Kelli Goel)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Yalla Shababi…is a call for your people to come!  Bring your friends and family together to join you in a Palestinian feast.

Chef and Founder, Marcelle Afram, brings a little piece of Palestine to Alexandria with his delivery pre-order restaurant, Shababi, at 5655 General Washington Drive.

Lightning struck when Afram got the idea for the Shababi Chicken concept in October, left his executive chef position at Michelin-starred Maydan, and in less than four weeks, created a fully operational take-out business with business partner Roro Asmar.

This zero-waste kitchen, which opened in January 2021, operates in Asmar Deli’s space. Shababi started with Afram and Asmar doing everything from cooking, menu creating, marketing and website design.  Now Afram’s wife and 18 year-old son are an integral part of it all.

A full Shababi spread (Photo credit: Farrah Skeiky)
A full Shababi spread (Photo credit: Farrah Skeiky)

What to Eat

The incredible meal starts with the staple, Musakhan, which is considered the national dish of Palestine.  The rotisserie-style chicken has been brined for 24 hours and is coated in allspice, sumac, cumin, fenugreek and cardamom, resulting in a tender meat with a crispy outside, exuding a wonderful aroma.

The chicken is served with Taboon, a flatbread, which gets a spread of pureed caramelized onions, cashews and parsley.  Accompanying the dish are dips like hummus and Mazerea sauce (which tastes a bit like ranch dressing).  The meal also comes with a cucumber side dish that has been marinating in Aleppo pepper and garlic oil.  There are other amazing accompaniments, such as crispy Za’atar fries and my own personal favorite “French Onion” Labneh.

Shababi operates after hours in this commercial deli location on General Washington Drive in Alexandria. (Photo: Google Maps)
Shababi operates after hours in the Asmar Deli building on General Washington Drive in Alexandria. (Photo: Google Maps)

How Palestine Inspired the Chef

“Shababi is to me my take on the food and being able to introduce this idea in a new light to people who have never had it before and also to those who are kind of thirsty for it and the nostalgia of it.  It is Palestinian inspired,” says Afram.

Growing up in Silver Spring, Afram’s paternal Palestinian grandfather was involved in raising him and it was he who imparted this love for their culture and roots.  Afram said he was obsessed and captivated by his stories and anecdotes about both Arab and Assyrian ethnicities in the family’s background and there was just so much to learn and there was no internet.  They say, “doing this food for me is a reclamation”.  While growing up, his parents were extremely busy running mom and pop shop restaurants, which Afram started working in at age 10.

Pride in Representing 

Afram had just come out after his transition a few months before and was finding his footing and just wanted it to all come full circle.  He states, “I just didn’t see enough language and talk about the Palestinian cause, and I just didn’t feel there was enough representation and I think for me it was what I most closely identified with and tied my roots to, and I wasn’t putting that out there and I felt guilty about that.”

He knew in general that food is his passion in life, but advocacy is his goal.  “I’ve had a tumultuous life and food was my saving grace in that, but I knew I that I never saw anyone like me.  Whether its non-binary, transmasculine, Palestinian, Arab, Syrian, there’s just a whole lack of visibility for people in general,” according to Afram.  Having his own business such as Shababi, allows him to be able to bring awareness and advocacy to many causes.

Giving Back

Over the past couple of months, with the help of customers, Shababi has raised almost $4,000 in direct funds to UNRWA USA which helps support Palestinians most in need.  During June, Shababi will be showing support to a local LGBTQ led organization, Casa Ruby, a multicultural, bilingual, LGBTQ safe space providing food, shelter and numerous other health-related services in the Washington DC area. A donation button option for Casa Ruby is on Shababi’s ordering page through the month of June.

Some members of a large Lebanese-Irish-American family heard about Shababi and wanted to promote and support them however they could, so they set up a neighborhood drop and enjoyed a picnic together. (Photo credit: Mare Zogby)
Some members of a large Lebanese-Irish-American family heard about Shababi and wanted to promote and support them however they could, so they set up a neighborhood drop and enjoyed a picnic together. (Photo credit: Mare Zogby)

Neighborhood Drops

Something newer that Shabibi has started is neighborhood drops.  With just a five-order minimum, Shababi will deliver to a pickup location (baseball field, pool, park, etc.) saving you a delivery fee.  Simply call 571-303-9651 or email info@shababichicken.com and mention you are interested in a neighborhood drop and they will set it up for you.  Get your orders in because they do fill up quickly.

Place your individual orders at shababichicken.com.  Currently, every Monday at 3:00 p.m. preorders go live via the app Toast, and for the most part you need to place your order the night before.  Shababi is open Thursday through Sunday for take-out or delivery within a 5-mile radius.  You choose pick-up times of 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.  Saturday pickups are between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and on Sunday you can come between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00. p.m.

Call your people together (Yalla Shababi) and experience the wonderful aromas and tastes of Palestinian food.

MORE FOODIE NEWZ: Summertime Treats in Alexandria

Kelli Goel

Kelli Goel is a food blogger with The Zebra Press and lives with her husband and children in Alexandria, Virginia.

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