How a shrimp falafel meals truck grew to become the most popular membership in Oakland
Uptown Oakland buzzes with the happy, alcohol-soaked energy of a busy bar scene on a Friday night. Loud, drunk people move randomly between Cafe Van Kleef, Uptown Nightclub and the neon lights of the Fox Theater. But locals know that the real late-night party is right on the sidewalk in front of a humble food truck that sells kebab and falafel until 3am
“People come here after the bar and tell us,” Your music is better than the bar, “said Elsayed Elhamaki, who owns the Food Truck Shrimp Falafel Mix with his brother-in-law Mamdoho Hassan.
The brothers-in-law, who immigrated separately from Egypt to the Bay Area in the 1990s, pump the infectious beats of Egyptian pop in front of the truck to attract customers – and it works. Impromptu dance parties are a common sight as hungry Oaklanders line up for kebab across from the Fox Theater. The truck even has its own YouTube channel with footage of some of the wildest falafel-powered nights.
“Shrimp Falafel Truck is the best DJ in Oakland,” wrote a recent Twitter user.
Although Shrimp Falafel Mix didn’t show up on Telegraph Avenue until 2015, Elhamaki’s relationship with the Oakland food scene spanned several decades. He referred to himself as “Oaklandish” and previously owned a café on Lake Merritt with his brother, where tea and water pipes were served, until it was closed in 2005, he announced to Oakland North.
Elhamaki then cut his teeth at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant to make kebab – but he didn’t devise the legendary shrimp and falafel dish until he returned to the Bay Area.
The truck’s $ 12 dish delights sober and drunk taste buds alike: a warm, crispy pita filled with homemade falafel, grilled shrimp, and vegetables, topped with a generous helping of their secret white tzatziki sauce. It’s inspired by a dish Elhamaki’s mother made, except that she combines the prawns into the actual falafel balls, while he prefers to cook the prawns separately.
But even before the breathtaking kebab touches your palate, the name of the truck has the ability to freeze people on their tracks.
“People used to come by and were like ‘Shrimp Falafel?'” Recalled Elhamaki. “In the beginning it helped us a lot to get people’s attention to the truck.”
Regulars now travel from San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Rosa to fix their Oakland kebabs, but the truck’s lively atmosphere also has the potential to attract unwilling or uninitiated uptown bar-hoppers. It has a lot to do with the choice of music.
“This is the music I love the most in my life,” said Elhamaki. “It’s not classical music, it’s more Shaabi music […] They don’t really act professionally when they sing, they just sing with their soul. “
Shaabi, which means “the people”, is a form of popular working class music that originated in Cairo in the 1970s. Popular artists are Hamo Bika and Oka Wi Ortega. According to Elhamaki, you’d have a hard time finding it anywhere else in Oakland.
“I have the signature with this music here in town,” he said.
And while most of the food truck visitors don’t understand the lyrics, the language of a good beat is universal.
“Even old men, old women … when they’re not dancing, they’re just moving their heads, they’re moving their bodies. At least they make a difference, and that’s what I’m looking for, ”he said.
When I tell Elhamaki to take advantage of customers’ love for music and open a club in Oakland, he’s not ruling out the possibility.
“Maybe one day we’ll open a club in the Middle East with this music,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
On January 1, Elhamaki and Hassan plan to expand Shrimp Falafel Mix to a second location that will be open during the day, as opposed to the late night hours of the Telegraph Avenue location. It will be on International Boulevard, a busy taco truck destination in Oakland’s Fruitvale.
In a few years they hope to open a restaurant too, but they are in no rush. After all, they still have fun with the food truck and the reputation it has for itself: Shrimp Falafel Truck now even has its own theme song.
After turning to the well-known Egyptian musician Hamo Bika for weeks with videos of the dancing customers of the food truck, Elhamaki convinced him to write a song for them.
“The moment he saw the videos, [Bika] said, “You must have a special song,” he recalled. “That was something I really loved because I really love this group. They make their beat very different and make everyone love it, even if they don’t understand [the lyrics]. ”
The song is currently unreleased, but Elhamaki proudly played it for me from the truck’s party launch speakers. It includes shoutouts to Oakland, the names of the owners and of course the iconic dish that started it all: Shrimp Falafel.
Madeline Wells is an SFGATE Associate Digital Reporter. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @ madwells22