If you know, you know: a unique Hamilton restaurant – considered by many locals to be one of the city’s underrated best – is the epitome of a hidden gem that has a devoted fanbase for its fresh, delicious, and singular menu.
That restaurant is Tomah, the Hammer’s first and only food spot dealing in satisfying Syrian dishes made lovingly and authentically; and the story behind this little family-owned restaurant by the corner of Queen Street and Hunter is just as endearing as the food they make.
Tomah is owned by entrepreneur and chef Mohamad Tomeh, who travelled to Hamilton as a refugee back in 2018, bringing along his family and a small amount of money to find a fresh start.
The move certainly marked a mammoth shift for Tomeh; back home in Syria, he owned a cheese factory and later opened a companion restaurant in 2006 as the factory’s popularity continued to grow. That restaurant was the first of an eventual three owned by Tomeh, but the entrepreneur lost them all as the Syrian civil war began in 2011, prompting Tomeh to move with his family to Egypt in 2013.
The family spent roughly five years in Egypt, living first in Alexandria and then Cairo; but it wasn’t long before Tomeh was setting his sights on Canada, envisioning the country as a safe place for him and his family and a promising locale for his new restaurant ideas.
Flash forward to today, and the Tomeh family lives happily in Hamilton with Mohamad’s first local restaurant, Tomah, bringing authentic and extremely delicious Syrian cuisine to a city where it otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Hamilton’s food scene is all the richer for it. Though our city has numerous options for Middle Eastern cuisines, Tomah is the only spot specifically offering Syrian food; and though a number of their dishes are familiar in name, like shawarma and tabbouleh, Tomah’s takes on many of them are quite unique.
One prime example is their falafel, which isn’t quite like any other falafel I’ve had. While perfectly crispy and deeply flavourful, Mohamad’s falafel – endearingly shaped like a heart – is noticeably lighter and airier than other competing options in the city.
The falafels are tremendous tasty and addictive on their own, but when served on Mohamad’s signature falafel sandwich, they get kicked up a notch.
Tomah’s falafel sandwich is deceptively simple in construction, but it’s the furthest thing from bland or boring. Mohamad starts by frying up fresh falafel to order, then laying out a large rectangular piece of Saj bread – an unleavened flatbread common in Arab and Turkish cuisines – that forms the vessel for the sandwich.
While the falafels fry, the Saj bread is slathered in Mohamad’s house-made tahini and a judicious amount of his own special hot sauce, then topped with fresh, thinly-sliced cucumber and tomato. The fresh falafels are added to finish, crushed by hand and scattered across the Saj bread before the whole package is rolled snugly into a wrap and grilled on a flattop.
The resulting sandwich, lightly toasted and crisp on the outside, is then cut into a number of smaller pieces and can be served all on its own or as a full meal with some of Mohamad’s sides like homemade hummus, fries, and a refreshing salad which is assembled simply and brightly with chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomato, parsley, pomegranate seeds, fresh garlic, lemon juice, and oil.
From the first bite of the falafel sandwich, it’s immediately clear how balanced it is: the rich falafel and nutty, creamy homemade tahini are countered effectively by the fresh tomato and cucumber, and Mohamad’s own special hot sauce has lovely depth of flavour and a pleasant touch of heat without overpowering the other toppings.
The light, crackery, toasted Saj flatbread holds it all together as a delicate vessel that mostly stays out of the way and lets all of the flavourful sandwich toppings shine.
Tomah’s falafel sandwich – which also happens to be vegan, like many of the offerings on the menu – would be enough of a calling card for the restaurant on its own; but it’s just the tip of the iceberg on an expansive menu with impressive range.
Syrian-style chicken shawarma, labneh, muttabal, kibbeh, tabbouleh, and a number of diverse sandwiches and platters are just a few things Tomah regularly has on offer, alongside some Syrian desserts and a variety of cheeses – Turkmani, Akkawi, Shelal, and many others – which Mohamad makes himself and uses in a number of dishes.
The menu at Tomah is large, but you pretty much can’t go wrong at this humble Hamilton restaurant that stands out not just for its uniqueness, but for its exceptional quality and passion.
As a special one-week offer for Urbanicity readers, Tomah is kindly providing a discount on their Falafel Sandwich ($5.99, regular price: $8.99) for customers who mention this article when they place an order in person or by phone. Offer valid only from October 5th to 10th, 2021.