And the journey begins… Hackney to Heathrow, Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Madinat Zayad.
Upon my arrival, I meet with the British street food traders at the hotel on the eve of the first night. They flew in several days before and their trucks shipped from the UK, a journey that took four weeks on a boat. They've been sourcing and preparing local ingredients, everyone's in high spirits and looking forward to the next three weeks.
Our first destination is the western region town of Madinat Zayad, right in the middle of the desert! (or dessert as I’ve been picked up upon calling it on twitter ;) The venue is Madinat Zayad Public Park, a lush and beautiful park surrounded by palm trees making it a mini oasis. A first for everyone trading in the streetfood scene I believe?
Everyones been hard at work, the sun is shining and most importantly everything seems to have arrived (just in the nick of time), all thanks to the tremendous work of the team from Real Food Festival as they have put their all into these events for over six months to make it happen (Bravo!). Their goal, to be the first to bring street food festivals to the Abu Dhabi Emirate.
So what am I here to do? Well, they've incorporated a cooking demo stage and I’ve been asked along with some of the traders to do some cooking demonstrations. Hosted by the patient and damn nice bloke, Andrew Dickens, we think we’ve got a pretty good team.
We make an early start on the first day of the festival to head to the local markets to see what ingredients we can find and get inspired for our cooking demos. It’s exactly what you’d expect; Loud, colourful and vibrant with strong smells of fruits and spices.
For my first demo I'll be making coxinhas (a Brazilian bar snack and one of my faves) as I know it's a crowd pleaser and great fun to make. For my other recipe I'm not so sure, I want to be inspired by local produce but also make something that shouts 'street food'. So when getting the chicken for the coxhinas, the butcher randomly offered me fresh chicken livers. Andrew and I gave each other a look that said 'I LOVE LIVER' (as liver lovers do) and so it was decided there and then that would be the hero of my second demonstration. Next, Andrew had to gather some dry spices and herbs; garlic, oregano, paprika to name a few. I was starting to slowly get an idea of what was coming up…
Then we were drawn to the bakery where an insanely good smell pulled me towards some freshly baked potato buns, rich, with sight sweet smell, fluffy and perfect for a hand held snack. Finally we headed to fruit and veg and grabbed some red cabbage, white cabbage, red onion, apple and chilli and all else that makes a perfect slaw.
Yep! North American inspired but born in the middle east, I had come up with southern-fried chicken livers, chili slaw in a local potato-brioche style bun. Oh, I forgot to mention that I was gonna fill the base with roasted garlic and chicken fat homemade mayo. YEAH!
Now to the festival:
The offerings from the street food vendors is a mix of their own known classics from the UK but with local influence thrown in. We've got hot dogs, tapas, sliders, pizza, fresh juices, churros, Indian, British style tacos (with coined name of bracos), grilled cheese and ice creams…
The street traders are ready for the weekend, 'en place', their menu signs posted and shouting their usual banter between the trucks. We were ready on the demo stage, so let the party begin! ;) From my experience of new street food events opening in different countries and cultures around the world, it's always a joy to see people coming through the gates and well, not knowing what really to expect. It's not a restaurant, it’s a little like a music festival and the big name acts are the street food traders. With colourful trucks and tents each with their unique styling, menus shouting out their offerings and inside the stars/chefs bang out their hits. Cheesy??? A little but bring it on!
After an hour the crowd starts to warm up and get the idea… Phones are out, social networking with pictures, queues are starting to gather and the knowledge/know that you're not there to eat just one dish hits home.
It's early days here in Abu Dhabi Food Festival and as we roll on to the next cities, it's gonna build up momentum. But what a great event to be involved with, seeing traders from the UK being giving this opportunity is what makes our scene appealing, I'm so proud to be part of this movement, working with small business getting out there and giving it a go, doing what they love and do best, working for themselves, meeting new friends and most importantly serving great food.
I wish the team nothing but good times and good fortunes.
Next stop, Al Ain...