Eats on wheels: Where to find the Gulf’s best food trucks
They are buzzing all around us, but are food trucks in the Middle East the real deal?
The history of food trucks can be traced back to the 1700s, but it was only in the 1970s that the first ‘taco truck’ came into being in the US, and it was not until the early 2000s that they became the global trend they are today. Films such as Jon Favreau’s “Chef” brought to life the essence of a food truck - gourmet food by talented chefs being peddled street-side at affordable prices.
After years of murmurs among foodies, the last 18 months or so have finally seen food trucks becoming a reality in this region. Today, no concert or social event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is complete without a lineup of food trucks offering everything from Mexican tacos (Calle Tacos) and gourmet burgers (Salt, Yumtingz) to fusion cuisine (Gobai, The Shebi).
In Abu Dhabi, authentic Emirati cuisine is available from the Meylas food truck. The food-truck bug has bitten the entire Gulf. Kuwait has been home to Nomad Bistro and AJ’s Kitchen, which serve up everything from chicken burgers to slow-cooked brisket tacos, since 2014.
Doha saw an explosion of food trucks at the last two editions of the Qatar International Food Festival, and plans are underway to launch a food truck park in the Museum of Islamic Art grounds later this year. American-inspired truck Burgeri - from the popular restaurant by the same name - is already doing the rounds in the city, offering burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes.
Bahrain launched its own ‘food truck court’ earlier this year, with four operators - including Gold Label Burgers - which offer crepes, burgers and Arabic food. There are also mobile vans such as Paco’s Tacos and Franky Joe’s, which participate in events and markets.
However, these food trucks mostly operate at events, food festivals or specific ‘food truck zones’ (for example, Last Exit, a new street-food park on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway, where existing restaurants serve food from mobile outposts). Food trucks here do not really roam the city streets as they are meant to.
This kind of defeats the purpose, as it means that rather than getting convenient access to great food, one has to travel somewhere to get to a food truck. Also, food-truck grub is supposed to be cheap yet delicious, but pricing here is comparative with casual restaurant menus. This is primarily due to strict regulations.
For instance, Dubai Municipality does not allow food trucks to cook from scratch in the truck, and requires all raw ingredients to be stored separately at a specific distance from each other. This means that a food truck operator has to run an off-site kitchen where all the food is prepped, and it is only assembled in the truck. This affects the variety of dishes (notice the prevalence of burgers), freshness and creativity of menus.
However, things are slowly changing. We now have fresh, interesting concepts providing an alternative to the same old dining options. “Things will definitely change in the future. There are going to be more and more food trucks,” says Taimoor Khan, managing partner of Onion Caramel, a food and beverage development company that specializes in food trucks,
“It’s a very young industry here, and the regulations around it are still evolving. It’s likely to be a model tailored to this region, not a replica of what you have in other mature markets.” As with anything else, we like things to be a bit unique in the Arab world, and the food truck fad is no different.