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Street vans are part of the new nomadic culture, and Dubai is the one of the latest cities to jump on the bandwagon. Rick Jordan investigates

Just over a decade ago, a curious phenomenon began emerging on the west coast of the USA. Like migrating animals gathering around the waterhole, food trucks began roving cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, settling in herds and serving tacos and quesadillas, artisan pizzas and coffees. They were fuelled by an entrepreneurial spirit, as young chefs and cooks experimented with flavours and ingredients, and soon spread around much of the world, with converted Airstreams and Citroen H vans popping up in hubs around Paris, London, Sydney and Berlin. In Hong Kong, the Pat Chun Saucy Food Truck piles up plates of Sakura Umami fried rice in West Kowloon; in Copenhagen, the Latienda truck dishes out vegan Latin Americana in Christianshavn. And in Vienna, the 25 Hours Hotel has its own Burger de Ville parked outside in summer. 

Of course, the concept of a truck selling food was nothing new–the ice cream van started trundling around in 1956, in Philadelphia–but the creation of buzzy food-truck hubs, resembling little nomadic markets, was. And there are many things to like about food trucks, as well as the food stalls and markets that have grown up in their wake. As well as being an affordable way for chefs to start out and develop, they champion ethnic cuisines that many people may never have encountered before. More importantly, they improve the quality of city streetlife. More sociable than the takeaway, more democratic than the restaurant.

Dubai was a little late to the party, with SALT, its first serious food truck, appearing on Kite Beach in 2014. "They created a massive hype right from the start," says Luma Al Assam, founder of Maiz Tacos, which grew from food truck to bricks-and-mortar restaurant. "It was the right branding, food and vibe that was missing in Dubai’s food scene." 

 


 

 

FIND YOUR FOOD BEAT

THE DISTRICT

Street food, of course, predates bao buns and vegan dirty fries by a few millennia. In Dubai, you can easily get lost among the stalls of Meena Bazaar–the city’s Little India–and feast on old-school classics such as mango lassi, aloo vada sandwiches and pani puri. If you don’t want to get lost, get in touch with locally based Frying Pan Adventures, run by Farida Ahmed and her team, who will take you to the best Middle Eastern mezze, Emirati originals and souk spices on a deep-dive tour of Dubai’s food culture.

fryingpanadventures.com

THE TRUCKS

Halal wagyu sliders, anyone? The sleek silver SALT van has been flipping burgers on Kite Beach for the past eight years but others have arrived since, including The Last Exit truck park, named after its original location on the last freeway exit out of Dubai–food hits include Cupagahwa for coffee and brunch and Poco Loco for tacos.

@findsalt lastexit.ae/en

THE MARKET

Time Out Market in downtown’s Souk Al Bahar has a street-art mural by female artist Tarsila Schubert. Inside are a range of grazing options from the tandoori chicken baos at MASTI to authentic pho at Vietnamese Foodies and lamb kibbeh at Liban by Allo Beirut.

timeoutmarket.com/dubai

THE FESTIVALS

The annual Dubai Food Festival gathers together dozens of street-food specialists each February. Expect anything from dumpling masterclasses to omakase menus. A new annual event hits Dubai in November: Break the Block, rocking a New York-style block-party vibe with food from Sakura and Fifth Flavor.
breaktheblock.me
visitdubai.com/en/whats-on/dubai-food-festival

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