“It’s a great way to try lots of different world flavours without having to leave your own zip code.” Chef Andy Bates
Rollin’, Rollin’ Rollin’………. the caravan of food trucks trundled in the capital after two successive weekends in the Western Region and Al Ain, in a convoy of colour and flavour for the Abu Dhabi Street Feast. We popped down to the Corniche for the opening night (and I went again in the midst of a sandstorm on Saturday with the teenager) of the three-day Street Feast which is part of this years Abu Dhabi Food Festival. I must admit that I was super excited to visit the British street food trucks, who are more accustomed to setting up along the South Bank or in London markets than the desert, for a little taste (literally) of home. Featuring some of the best food trucks all the way from London, Street Feast was an exciting new food festival celebrating the internationally popular street food scene. Brought to the Abu Dhabi by Real Food Festivals, visitors were offered cuisines from all around the world in one place, both a fantastic and innovative idea for this region. The food truck revolution may be new here but elsewhere it’s a global phenomenon introduced to the rest of the world by America and certainly both New York City and London have a prolific contemporary food truck movement that offer an abundance of international cuisines to suit all taste buds.
Food truck culture is just as much about the vintage brightly painted trucks (which were awesome by the way) as the quality of food and the personality of the vendors, all of whom that I encountered were on top form seemingly loving their sunny February break in the UAE judging by their sun kissed faces. The ten British vans included The Roadery, ATE Street Food, The Cheese Truck, Pizza Pilgrims, Donostia Social Club, Churros Bros, Big Apple Hot Dogs, The Indians Next Door (didn’t try this one unfortunately but it smelled good) and Yogusensi, had all made the epic four-week journey by sea to the UAE, reuniting with their owners who flew over. As I have recently enjoyed the movie Chef (if you haven’t watched it yet give it a go) about a chef (played by John Favreau) who starts his own food truck and its success via social media, it was extra cool to see the array of kitsch vans and their owners assembled and in action at the Corniche.
You could smell the event before you saw it as the combined aroma of tapas, pizzas. curry, burgers and doughnuts filled the night air, my tummy was a rumbling! The problem with so many scrumptious options was what to choose, the other half stayed close to home with a trusty wagyu burger from Jones the Grocer’s pop-up stall while I plumped for a tasty little Braco from the cheery British chap at The Roadery Truck. I was pretty desperate to try some churros dusted with cinnamon and served with chocolate from Churros Bros, but with the other half abstaining from sugar and the queue being ridiculously long, I opted out. Not to worry though as I indulged in the calorific sweet-smelling treat when I returned with the teenager a more willing sugar buddy (she opted out of the chocolate sauce as she’s given it up for lent but I sampled it, for research purposes only of course, nom nom, nom).Yogusensi‘s blue and white van adorned with zen art offered health conscious customers fresh fruit smoothies and freshly squeezed juices, The independent juicer from Crystal Palace, London boasts that their products ‘revitalise and nourish body and mind‘ and it was certainly popular here. Big Apple Hot Dogs are well-known in London’s street food circles selling their tasty secret recipe American style hots dogs from their cart in Old Street (near Shoreditch) in London. Their sizzling gluten-free wares accompanied by a strong whiff of fried onions were certainly attracting the crowds in Abu Dhabi and their range of dogs are made with over 94 – 98% prime meaty goodness and no nasty bits, apparently (as a veggie I can’t confirm this).
The Roadery offers ‘Head to Tail‘ cuisine using often forgotten cheaper cuts of meat (offal) like cheek and tongue sourced from the best British farmers and artisanal producers. From his distinctive blue vintage Renault Estafette van, owner Dan Shearman serves Bracos (British Tacos) and sandwiches and he debuted a sample menu in Abu Dhabi that included a slow cooked wagyu beef cheek brace and an Earl Grey Pannacotta, a British twist on the classic Italian desert. I can totally vouch for the vegetarian option, the Halloumi Braco filled with grilled halloumi cheese (obviously), fresh tomato, leaves and homemade lemon mayo, which was simply delicious. You can find Shearman and his classic van, who is apparently named Pam, at Wapping and Brockley Markets in London and The Roadery is also available for private hire at events.
Churros Bros is a family owned truck from Ealing, London who first brought churros to the UK after discovering them when travelling in Spain. The boldly painted bright red and yellow converted 1976 Citroen H van (the colours of the Spanish flag of course) serve their sugary authentic Spanish style doughnut treats with sugar, cinnamon and Valor hot chocolate, yummy yummy in my tummy! Churros Bros are regulars at festivals in the UK and they were extremely popular here too with a massive queue of sweet-toothed customers (guilty as charged).
ATE (A Taste Experience) street food truck combines all things vintage, in its appearance with the 1972 Citroen H Apollo van painted in cream and decked with colourful bunting, with contemporary in its range of tempting slow-cooked meat and brioche sliders (mini burgers incase you are not aware of a slider). The London-based van not only offers street food but also caters for weddings, corporate events and parties. The Donostia Social Club is owned by chef Paul Belcher and serves up tacos inspired by cuisine from the Northern Spanish Basque region cuisine (hence the truck’s name Donostia, the Basque name for San Sebastian). Their menu is fusion of Spanish and French ingredients cooked with a modern twist. On offer in Abu Dhabi was a very sophisticated menu of lamb cutlets with pea purée, confit broad beans, anchovy and caper butter, king prawns à la plancha with shallot salsa and aioli as well as truffled wild mushrooms with fried quail egg. This mobile tapas bar had a great vibe helped by the seating around the van inviting people to take a pew and be part of the Pintxos action.
Pizza Pilgrims is owned by British brothers Thom and James Elliot who were inspired by the classic Neapolitan pizza, making their own pilgrimage to Italy to learn the art of pizza-making firsthand in the home of pizza itself, Naples. The trip resulted in the birth of Pizza Pilgrims and the cooking of freshly baked pizzas on the street from a pizza oven mounted in the back of their mini three-wheeled Piaggio Ape TM van called Concetta, an amazing sight to see! The Neapolitan-style Margherita pizza was divine (good sourdough, tasty San Marzano tomatoes and melted cow’s milk mozzarella cheese and so piping hot you could barely carry it especially in gale force winds). On the back of the success of their tasty street food, the boys have opened two pizza restaurants in Soho and Carnaby in London, if you are a pizza fan I urge you to go and check it out, it’s already on my list for the summer!
The Cheese Truck called ‘Archie’ is a bright yellow funky ice-cream van, the big cheesy idea of owner Matthew Carver who started the venture in 2013 after developing a love of grilled cheese after spending time in America and Hawaii. The truck has a massive queue of people on opening night all looking to try the range of gourmet melted cheese toasties that use only the best British cheeses. The truck can usually be found at Maltby Street Market as well as other London street food locations and at festivals throughout the UK, click on the link for more cheesy news. Representing the UAE were Desert Chill, originally from the UK and street food pioneers in this region gracing events since 2008, with their brightly coloured ice cream vans, Biryani Pot serving their dishes in signature clay bowls, Moti Roti offering Pakistani ‘soul’ street food, Taqado Mexican Kitchen offered Burritos and Love Doughnuts who seem to be everywhere these days. Local Australian favourite Jones The Grocer offered their aforementioned Wagyu Burger with foie gras and truffle mayo, Mac n’ Four Cheese and Chilli con carne topped with Sour Cream, Jalapeño and Coriander. Their pop-up shop, which was popular at Taste of Abu Dhabi back in November, was also offering a range of their artisan cheeses and other tasty treats.
The teenager was her usual predictable self and headed straight to Taqado Mexican kitchen for her favourite street food a burrito, her choice of flour tortilla snack stuffed full of chicken and cheese, which was apparently very yummy and certainly disappeared very quickly. We visited the Chef Demo stage and watched Chef Jun Tanaka prepare a herb crusted lamb and met The Food Network’s darling and main attraction of the festival Andy Bates who was very friendly and obliging, taking lots of photos with fans. Bates is the host of The Food Networks ‘Andy Bates Street Feasts‘and was on stage sharing tips and cooking for the audience throughout the three-day event alongside other international chefs such as James Walters from Arabica Food and Spice and local celebrity chef Suzanne Husseini. Alongside the cooking, eating and drinking there was live music stage (including local bands, Emirati artists, a drumming workshop and salsa sounds), falcons in a traditional Bedouin tent and a children’s play area, something for all the family. Limeline were serving a range of refreshing region friendly non-alcoholic soft drinks for grown-ups and shaving ice for granitas (Italian cross between a sorbet and a sno-cone). My traditional style Great Uncle Cornelius Lemon Refresher was a zesty but delicious number and the perfect accompaniment to my Roadery braco. Limeline, who are based in Dubai, have sourced a range of premium beverages including Spiced Tomato juice, Qcumber soda and Beetroot and Ginger juice among many other made from fresh, natural and organic ingredients from around the world.
I thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural Abu Dhabi Street Feast even if the weather decided to mix things up with a dusty sandstorm and judging by the crowds on both days that I attended it was very well received by both locals and expats. A great event supported by Abu Dhabi tourism that will hopefully grow and inspire other similar events. I hope that the British vendors enjoyed their Arabian adventure enough to return next year and that the four-week lack of trading while the trucks sailed over was worth the punt. Thanks for coming guys, a little nostalgic glimpse of London’s market scene in a local setting was much appreciated by this sporadically homesick expat 😉
Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved