Madinat Zayad to Al Ain.
Leaving the sand dunes of the western region... we headed to our second destination, Al Ain. An eastern city based on the border next to Oman. Although full of western food outlets (and I can confess to giving in on more than one occasion to Shack Shake), it's also full of hidden gems with cafes serving grilled lebanese and middle eastern spreads with freshly squeezed juices or smoothies. One cafe that particularly stood out was Al Mallah Cafe, a sandwich bar during the day and I seriously recommend the chicken breast and chicken liver sub then after 5:30 pm they fire up the shawerma grills and things get serious (seriously delicious).
It's good, so good in fact that the wife and I happily spent our Valentine's evening there eating meats with warm hummus and pine nuts served with plates of freshly washed salad and herbs, pickles, warm flatbreads and freshly squeezed mango and banana juice. The whole meal came to under £10 (She’s a lucky lady eh!, I spare no expense on dates out ;)
Now back to the festival, this time it was to be in the centre of town at the Al Jahili Park with a huge fort as the backdrop. The street food traders prepared for their second weekend formulating their menus, poolside may I add. ATE Street Food even sourced some local camel hump for their daily special slider, which mind you sold out in just a few hours. And with the addition of more chefs including Jun Tanaka, Suzanne Husseini, John Quilter, James Walters and a few locals from TV station Fatafeat, the cooking demonstrations now had even more variety with a mix of local cuisine, street food and restaurant dishes all coming together again hosted by the brilliant, Andrew Dickens.
It was busier than anyone expected! I kept myself busy between cooking demos by helping some of the traders, my duties included: collecting boxes of cheese sandwiches from the walk in fridge for The Cheese Truck, boxes of apples for Yogusensi, proved dough for Pizza Pilgrims and peeling 2kg of prawns for Donostia Social Club. The event was a success with all traders selling out on all three nights.
Back at the hotel every evening the traders resembled a Rugby team after a hard fought win. They were all battered, bruised and nursing their wounds but very high in spirits. And their remedy was like that of a Rugby player by heading to the hotel bar. It was affectionately named ‘Power Hour’ (the bar tended to close with less than an hour to go ;).
With Al Ain done and dusted we headed to the final destination, Abu Dhabi.
Al Ain to Abu Dhabi.
We all knew it was going to be a busy weekend, so the traders usual three to four day break before each festival had now been cut down to just one day by the pool with days spent sourcing and buying, giving themselves an extra day of prep to get ready for the final weekend of the Abu Dhabi Food Festival.
As I only had cooking demonstrations to do, I had an evening or two to spare and Suzanne Husseini kindly invited the Real Food team, Andrew Dickens, the wife and myself round for dinner. Now I'm lucky enough to work with street food and restaurants for a living but as soon as someone says 'home cooking' I accept instantly and I'm round in a shot! We were not disappointed... Suzanne put on an Arabic feast of all feasts with dishes like whole baked red snapper, homemade hummus, stuffed vine leaves and my favourite, lemony garlic chicken on rice with yoghurt sauce. We all left very happy and very full. Seriously, everyone needs to grab her cook book.
This time the festival was to be directly on the beach, on the Corniche to be exact. Right in downtown Abu Dhabi where many of the hotels are based.
We were all in a routine now, we were basically a travelling Street Food Festival circus. The Real Food Festival team at the helm getting all the final touches and last minute issues ironed out. The trucks arriving a couple of days before along with the demonstration stage, mobile prep kitchen, fridge and freezer trailers, electrics, plumbing, fencing, music stage, toilets and much, much more.
The event again went to plan… BUSY! Even in the midst of a sandstorm, all traders sold out again, the kitchen demonstrations were all full houses and you could sense the people were excited and happy to have us in their city.
I’m honoured to have been part of this journey, working with the traders and organisers as we ventured into the unknown, bringing the first travelling Street Food Festival to the United Arab Emirates. Seeing them go from strength to strength at each festival in stunning locations with road trips, hotel breakfasts and some bad dancing sprinkled along the way. And of course being out of London for three weeks in February in the sunshine is never a bad thing. Returning back to Blighty, I think we all felt a feeling of ‘MISSON SUCCESSFUL!'
Roll on to next year…
Abu Dhabi to Heathrow. Heathrow to Hackney.