“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
After the success of the inaugural food festival last year, the British Food Trucks returned to our shores this month to spread more food truck love, joining forces with their UAE counterparts to offer restaurant quality food from respective colourful vehicles. London’s finest vans and trucks were in the UAE for three consecutive weekends, first in Al Ain then at Mushrif Central Park in Abu Dhabi for the Love Food Festival. The convoy moved to Dubai for the finale weekend for Eat The World DXB, part of Dubai Food Festival 2016, that took place in Burj Park under the shadow of the mighty Burj Khalifa.
The food truck phenomenon may be somewhat new to the UAE’s food scene but globally, especially in America and London, trucks been enhancing festivals and markets for years, popping up on street corners of big cities offering mouthwatering international cuisine in disposable boxes and containers with something to tempt all tastebuds.
Let’s face it street food is very popular right now. The vintage converted trucks are trendy, the vendor’s charismatic and passionate offering an array of incredible choices from every hatch and counter. From chunky cheesy doorsteps to Spanish deep fried churros dipped in chocolate, Southern cajun spiced seafood to fresh Italian style pizza, fish finger filled hot dog buns to build your own ice-cream sandwiches, it’s was all on offer from the food trucks that had made the mammoth voyage across the ocean. The vibe was good and the aromas tantalising but we were faced with that same old problem, far too much choice and the pressure to make the right decisions.
Fifteen British trucks joined local food vendors to celebrate street food along with celebrity chef demos on stage, live music and entertainment for all the family. Returning this year was the extremely popular Churros Bros, The Roadery, The Cheese Truck and Big Apple Hot Dogs who were joined on the four-week journey from the UK to the UAE by eleven fellow British traders.
Regulars at UK festivals, the Churros Bros returned to the UAE after their success here last year, serving authentic Spanish deep fried sticks of dough sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and deep rich Valrhona Celaya chocolate for dipping. Trust me these sweet treats were worth the queue, the family-run bright red and yellow converted 1976 Citroen H van had a great vibe and was certainly attracting the customers just like last year.
Meat Lovers rejoiced as the The Roadery rolled back into town offering its unique ‘Head to Tail‘ cuisine using ‘forgotten’ cheaper cuts of meat sourced from the best British producers. Pam, the distinctive blue vintage Renault Estafette van and owner Dan Shearman returned to the UAE to serve their popular Bracos (British Tacos) and sandwiches. Veggies were not forgotten either with an amazing Halloumi Braco filled with a crème fraîche and blackberry hot sauce on fresh flat bread, which was quite simply delicious and different from last year’s lemon mayo version. Shearman and ‘Pam’ can be found at Wapping and Brockley Markets in London, if you ever find yourself in that area.
You couldn’t miss Archie aka The Cheese Truck, the bright canary yellow converted Bedford ice-cream van totally stood out both in colour and quality of its gourmet melted cheese toasted sandwiches. Celebrating all things cheesy, Mathew Carver started The Cheese Truck in 2013 indulging in his love of grilled cheese using only the best British cheeses. When he’s not travelling the world Archie can be found at London’s Maltby Street Market as well as popping up in various other London locations and at festivals throughout the UK.
Pioneers of London’s Street food Big Apple Hot Dogs can usually be found in Old Street. Secret recipes and American charm has earned this cart legions of fans in UK that now extends to the UAE. Sizzling gluten-free veal, beef and chicken sausages were joined by an Arabian Special of barbecued lamb in a sheep casing with a special topping of white onions, red tomatoes and sweet peppers, green courgettes and peppers and black olives and aubergines, representing the UAE colours, not for veggies but a crowd favourite nonetheless.
Dixie Union embraces ‘Soul Food’ from America’s Deep South, tastes and aromas discovered on travels in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana have been recreated with passion in a menu influenced by creole and cajun style food. Po-boys, the traditional fried Louisiana submarine sandwich were on the menu with a choice of Cajun Chicken Po’Boy, Cajun Shrimp Po’Boy and a Surf and Turf Po’Boy
Douglas Robertson-Ritchie introduced his soft shell crab burgers to the world from his portable Crabbie Shack, re-creating the traditional harbourside British crab shack from his home town of Folkestone for the folks of London and at various festivals. Deep-fried lightly battered crab encased in a brioche bun accompanied by harissa, avocado, fennel and almonds or even pickled cucumber, coriander and wasabi lime mayonnaise won Robertson-Ritchie the best of London accolade in the British Street Food Awards. UAE customers could choose from a menu of Crab Burgers, Lobster Rolls and Crab Fries.
Leeds’s based Bangwok served up aromatic Thai street food cooked by the enthusiastic Dong from his tuk tuk. Dong and his wok create quite a show, offering authentic Pad Thai that has already earned him the title of Best Main at the British Street Food Awards 2015 and a plethora of returning customers ordering the ‘best pad Thai they have had since Bangkok’. His UAE menu included Vegetarian Sriracha Fried Rice and Chicken Sriracha Fried Rice dishes.
Vegan sushi rolled to order was offered by Happy Maki from Gloria, their vintage Renault Estafette. Su-shi means seasoned rice combined with a variety of fillings as well as the more traditional ginger, wasabi and seaweed flavours. High quality healthy ‘fish-free’ su-shi served as wraps rather than traditional smaller pieces, big on taste and presentation. The teenager sampled the Hoisin Tofu Maki Sushi Wrap which she enjoyed, also on the menu was Thai Sweet Potato Maki Sushi Wrap and an Avocado Kiss Maki Sushi Wrap.
Pizza, pizza, pizza was on the Made of Dough’s menu and you know how much I love good pizza! Authentic Neapolitan pizza served from Raffaella, a British Land Rover Defender with its own pizza oven has earned the owners Henry and Ed the title of ‘London Pizza Festival 2015 Champions’. Old schoolmates who bonded over a love of travel and food founded Made of Dough in 2014 and haven’t looked back since. They have a converted shipping container pizzeria at Pop Brixton and Raffaella is a regular at festivals and events. This pizza loving duo were offering proper pizza influenced by Campania and Andalusia, we tried a delicious Margherita pizza with san marzano tomato, fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), extra virgin olive oil & fresh basil ……. A M A Z I N G (a mushroom variety was available too).
The halloumi fries from Oli Baba’s were divine, little sticks of salty cheese deep fried and covered in za’atar yogurt, pomegranate molasses, mint, sumac and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. This meat free levantine cuisine goes down a storm in London and was very popular here too.
Now I’ve dined at a couple of celebrity chef Mark Hix’s restaurants in London so I was intrigued by his street food concept, Hix’s Fishdog. Hix and partner Kevin Gratton have taken the classic British fish finger sandwich added minted mushy peas and tartare sauce all served in a hotdog bun. The crispy sustainable fish offering self named the ‘Rolls-Royce of fish finger sandwiches’ was served from their retro 1971 Citroen H van.
Trading from an old school converted ambulance, The Other Side was serving double breaded buttermilk fried boneless thigh chicken burgers in potato bread buns buns topped with four-hour smoked honey butter, judging by the queues it was a very popular truck.
What the Dickens! is all about best of British classic cuisine with kedgeree, devilled kidneys, the shooter’s’ sandwich and pulled and devilled chicken all making appearances on their regular menu. Wearing suits, ties and bowler hats, owners Michael, Adam and Dominic brought traditional British food to the street food scene, their gentlemanly ways and wares went down well in the UAE too, a rather spiffing time was had by all! In London they can currently be found at KERB located at Kings Cross Granary Square.
Dessert options were good too with build-your-own creamy ice-cream and cookie sandwiches served by Milo & Hector’s from their vintage three-wheeled Piaggio Ape van called Giuseppe, usually found trading at London’s Maltby Street Market. Winners of the Best Dessert at The British Street Food Awards 2015, Mel and Callum who run The Crema Caravan offered award winning Crème Brûlée desserts. Each individual creation burnt to order with blow-torched sugar topping served from the retro blue Renault van aka Florence that usually resides in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Local UAE vendors were also well-represented, my favourites were the organic Arabica coffee served at RAW and Wanna Banana, the guilt-free, sugar-free healthy frozen banana snack, so good especially combined with our choice of peanut butter. Other popular trucks were the fabulous silver airstream The Shebi serving shawarmas and falafel, tacos and burritos from Taqado Mexican Kitchen, Indian classics from Biriyani Pot, retro ice-cream van Desert Chill, gluten-free gelato on a stick from Hip Pops, bagel burgers from Jake’s Burgers, popular Australian cafe Jones the Grocer, Pakistani soul food in a roti from Moti Roti and smoky BBQ meat and fries from concerted bus Yumtingz. A shout out to Zo’s Kitchen from Ajman too for the Irish cakes and desserts.
All in all three great few weekends of street food at the different venues, the variety this year was fantastic but the prices were a little steep in places, the queues were long and the overeating was a given. Thanks for coming guys and bon voyage, roll on next year!
All views are my own. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved. Thanks to contributing Abu Dhabi photographers Jade Daniel and Sarah Dheays. Additional photos used courtesy of Churros Bros, Love Food Fest and Milo & Hector’s.
Read more about the British Food Trucks in previous post British Food Truck Invasion – Street Feast 2015