The Shawarma King of Roodepoort

by | Mar 1, 2022 | Food and Drink, Johannesburg, West Rand | 14 comments

A couple of Sundays ago, Thorsten and I were finished hiking the Kloofendal Nature Reserve and looking for a place to eat. We were in Roodepoort — an area neither of us know well, dominated by big shopping centers — and had no idea where to go. Thorsten drove as I aimlessly searched Google Maps for interesting restaurants.

Suddenly, I spotted a sign out of the corner of my eye. “Oh my god!” I nearly shouted. “It’s King Arabic Sandwich!” Thorsten, sensing my hysteria, hung an immediate illegal U-turn.

King Arabic Sandwich sign at the Florida Junction Shopping Centre, in Roodepoort
A beacon outside the Florida Junction Shopping Centre.

I’d recently heard a rumor about King Arabic Sandwich, which disappeared several years ago from a tiny shopfront in Mayfair, resurfacing on the West Rand. But I’m not sure I’d believed it. I was afraid to believe it.

Now here King Arabic Sandwich was — on a larger-than-life sign outside the Florida Junction Shopping Centre — trumpeting its reincarnation. “NOW OPEN!” called the sign. Thorsten pulled into the parking lot. It was a West Rand miracle.

The Shawarma King’s Journey From Mayfair to Roodepoort

As far as I know, King Arabic Sandwich is the only Palestinian restaurant in Joburg. It’s run by Mohammed Sultan, a.k.a. the Shawarma King, a chef who fled to South Africa from Palestine as a refugee in 2013.

Chef Muhammed of King Arabic Sandwich in Roodepoort
Chef Mohammed, the Shawarma King. I convinced him to momentarily remove his mask for this picture — the guy has a great smile.

I first discovered King Arabic Sandwich in 2015, when Mohammed and his wife, Hanan, ran their business in Mayfair. It was a tiny operation and the Sultans were living in the small room behind the restaurant. I was enchanted by the Arabic sandwiches, or fatayer, which are like South Africans pies, but better: delicately spiced meat and vegetable fillings surrounded by soft dough that is somewhere between pastry and pita.

Fatayer from King Arabic Sandwich
Fatayer from King Arabic Sandwich. They come in flavors like lamb with eggplant, chicken curry, feta with olives, and spinach.
More fatayer.

King Arabic Sandwich served shawarmas and falafel back then, too, but I think only on certain days. And to be honest, it never occurred to me to venture beyond the fatayer. I didn’t know what I was missing. It’s scary to think I nearly missed out on those falafels forever.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I got busy, life got in the way, blah blah blah, and I didn’t make it to King Arabic Sandwich for a while. I spotted Mohammed once or twice at food markets, selling his delicious sandwiches to the masses, but eventually I lost track of him.

Mohammed and Hanan had closed the Mayfair shop in 2018 (that space is now a King Arabic Sandwich factory), as I found out later, and King Arabic Sandwich began focusing exclusively on weekend markets and catering. They did well for a while. Then covid hit and King Arabic Sandwich’s business — like so many in South Africa and the world — vaporized in a flash.

But King Arabic Sandwich rose from the ashes. It was back on the market scene as soon as markets returned in mid-2020. And in late 2021, King Arabic Sandwich opened its new shop — with banging new branding — in Roodepoort. This is where Thorsten and I discovered King Arabic on the Sunday before last.

King Arabic Sandwich in Roodeport
The new digs. I love the mustachioed, dancing shawarmas in the bottom-left corner of the window.
Inside King Arabic Sandwich
Inside King Arabic Sandwich. “Don’t look for love, eat a shawarma”: I can’t say I understand exactly what this statement means but I can also find no reason to disagree with it. (Side note: King Arabic Sandwich plays a great soundtrack of upbeat Arabic pop.)

I immediately looked for the fatayer, but it turns out King Arabic Sandwich only sells those on weekdays. So Thorsten and I both ordered falafel wraps. I’m so glad we did because I’m pretty sure this was the best falafel wrap I’ve ever eaten.

Falafel wrap in progress at King Arabic Sandwich
A falafel wrap in progress. While the falafels are cooking, Mohammed asks each customer to choose their toppings — lettuce, tomato, cabbage, fried brinjal (eggplant), pickles, hummus, etc. Then Mohammed mashes the falafels onto the wrap and finishes it off with tahini and chilli (if desired), before folding it up and toasting the whole creation for a few minutes in what looks like a panini machine. The same process applies to chicken, beef, and lamb shawarma wraps.
Mohammed finishes a shawarma
Mohammed tops a chicken shawarma wrap with tangy chilli sauce. Can I also point out the fabulous, pandemic-chic flair of Mohammed’s chef uniform?
Eating falafel
Chowing down on my falafel wrap. My god, it was delicious. The falafel was perfectly spiced and there wasn’t a hint of dryness. The toppings were distributed in such a way that I tasted every flavor in every bite.

I went back to King Arabic Sandwich a few days later to order a takeaway lunch for Thorsten and his staff. I had the lamb and eggplant fatayer (just as good as I remembered) and Thorsten had the chicken shawarma (also delicious). I highly recommend the cold hibiscus tea and homemade baklava, which is to-die-for. (Although the baklava is quite pricey at R100 for four pieces — presumably because it is very labor-intensive to make.)

Baklava from King Arabic Sandwich
The mouth-watering walnut baklava.

Eating at King Arabic Sandwich is a delightful experience and totally worth the 25-minute drive from Brixton to Roodepoort. King Arabic Sandwich almost makes me want to pick up and move to Roodepoort. (But I won’t.)

King Arabic Sandwich is open Tuesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Monday). The shop closes from 12 to 1 p.m. every Friday for mid-day prayers.

Follow King Arabic Sandwich on Instagram — it’s a great account. King Arabic Sandwich is also on Facebook.


  1. AutumnAshbough

    I’m not a fan of onions, and most falafel has onions in it. Until Andy made his own (without onions) I never tried it. So good! I want him to make it all the time. And those pressed wraps look fantastic.

    • 2summers

      Hmm, I don’t know if this falafel has onions in it or not! I’ll have to ask. In my mind it has no onion flavor but I suppose they could be hiding in there. Anyway everything he sells is freaking delicious.

  2. Graeme

    Mmmm. I must go there. Close to me.

  3. Diane Brown

    I need to come and #EatJoburg with you soon.

  4. dizzylexa

    My mouth is watering for one of those Fatayer and a hibiscus tea. Used to frequent his shop in Mayfair often but Roodepoort is a little far for me. Maybe one day I’ll make the trip.

    • 2summers

      Yes, that’s a trek for sure.

  5. Dalton Adams

    I love Middle Eastern food – which is good since I lived in the M.E. for 3 years! If I’m not mistaken, this guy also (or did) set up at the Rosebank Market on Sundays. I do love his food, and very happy to know he has a place in Roodepoort!

      • Dalton Adams

        His wife (?I think she’s his wife) seems really sweet.

  6. Deepak Joshi

    It’s mouth-watering, soon gonna try this.


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