Are you hungry? You will be when you read what Abu Dhabi Food Festival is dishing up for this year
If that sounds like it could be you and your tummy’s already rumbling, then you’re in luck as Abu Dhabi Food Festival is returning from 7th to 23rd December with a whole plateful of events for gourmets to tuck into.
And you’d better come hungry because with 17 days of foodie action on the menu in locations across the emirate, there are a lot of courses to get through.
From record-breaking challenges, beach feasts and street food to art, movie and meal pairings, here’s what’s cooking.
With community at the heart of Abu Dhabi Food Festival, this year’s edition is all about uniting us through food and culture with a series of outdoor events.
With beachside meals, food trucks, picnics and al fresco eats, forget the starched napkins and cutlery as the festival promises to go beyond the traditional restaurant experience with a focus on street food, culture and music.
But what is it about these back-to-basics foodie experiences that have us coming back for more?
“A few years ago we made that shift from Michelin star experiences to a more authentic, easy approach to food, and the UAE is no different,” explains Alexandre Teodoresco, founder of the Truckers street food movement, part of this year’s festival.
“It’s more than just the product,” he adds. “We have this disconnect with our food here; how many times do you go to a restaurant and speak to the person cooking your food?
“That’s what people love about street food. It’s not the fancy restaurant that makes the difference, it’s what goes into your food – the ingredients, the preparation and that interaction with the person cooking it.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re classically trained or not; if you’re passionate about food then you will do something amazing, and that’s contagious.”
For British chef Ben Spalding, who’s participating in Festember’s 40Mule pop-up event that sees visiting international chefs take on a new culinary experience in Abu Dhabi, passion and interaction are crucial for the ever-growing street food movement and something he is keen to continue as it develops.
“I’m a people person and love to talk to everyone who will listen about food, music and anything interesting,” he tells us. “I always cook and plate in the same room as the guests so it feels personal.
“It was so raw, so driven by passion,” he recalls of his first experiences cooking street food in London. “We would take over a car park or building site and turn it into a buzzing venue with food, drink and production for hundreds of people on a Friday and Saturday night.”
But with street art, music and more on the menu for Abu Dhabi Food Festival, this year’s event is not just about filling our bellies; it’s about opening our minds, too.
“Food, music and entertainment are three things that everyone walking this earth bonds over,” reflects Ben. “It’s important for the community to provide opportunities for people to work and be as involved in events like this and for smaller businesses to generate future opportunities.”
For Alexandre, at the end of the day, it’s all about getting people together to remind us of what’s important.
“The food, the music, the art – it’s just an excuse to get together,” he reflects. “Everyone understands food, but we want to expose people to brand new forms of art. It’s an experience where we can get together and enjoy simple moments of life. We have no grander scheme than that.”
Performing his own brand of soul since 2005, Hamdan Al Abri was one of the first Emirati musicians on the scene. Now set to perform during Abu Dhabi Food Festival with band ABRI, we sit down for a quick chat about his influences, creating a homegrown music scene and, most importantly, his favourite street food.
Your parents are from Zanzibar and your dad is a musician, but you grew up in the UAE. How has your upbringing influenced your music?
My dad plays East African Zanzibari music and I grew up listening to [it] when he played and recorded at home. He’s actually my toughest critic: I send him all my new tracks and ask him for his opinion and he’s hard to please!
I was born and raised here and the reason that I got into music is that the UAE is such a multicultural place; I had friends from all over the world growing up. I grew up watching MTV and listening to hip-hop, RnB and soul, and those things definitely influenced me.
How would you describe your style for the food festival audience?
We play everything we love – it ranges from jazz to funk, soul and reggae. We try to incorporate all kinds of music, but obviously the base is always soul. I love artists like Bob Marley, Sam Cook, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
I’m happiest when I’m on stage. I want to transfer that energy and happiness to the audience and I hope they send that right back to us.
How have you seen the scene evolve, and why are community events like Abu Dhabi Food Festival so important in developing that?
When we first started out, there wasn’t much in the way of social media or internet resources, but now you can spread your music way faster and reach a much wider audience.
The UAE is changing as well, so people are definitely more into advocating for local creators – whether that’s art, fashion or music.
Community events are important now as it gives artists this platform to perform and express themselves and gain experience, and I love the fact that the UAE sees the potential in these kinds of events.
Lastly, what’s your favourite street food?
That’s a tough one! Before I went vegetarian, I used to love going to this small hole-in-the-wall place by my house where you’d get a burger special. I don’t eat that anymore, so I’d have to say something like a falafel shawarma – and I’m down for anything with peanut butter.
Catch Hamdan and the band live on 8th December at Street Fest Al Ain, as well as 15th and 22nd December at Street Fest Abu Dhabi.
Best of the fest
Truckers Carnival will be open daily from 7th to 23rd December with ten food trucks changing weekly, plus a fun fair. Free. Opposite Marina Mall, breakwater. Sun–Thu 4pm–11pm, Fri–Sat 2pm–midnight.
Featuring over 40 food trucks, street art, music and more, Street Fest will journey to Al Ain Zoo on 8th and 9th December and then return to the capital for 14th to 16th and 21st to 23rd December at Lake Park, Corniche. AED 20 for Al Ain, AED 30 for Abu Dhabi. 4pm–midnight.
From 13th to 17th December, annual al fresco market, music and fashion event Festember returns for some homegrown action. Don’t miss 40Mule, where the hottest upcoming international chefs will be dishing up a cutting-edge culinary experience. AED 50. Umm Al Emarat Park, Al Mushrif. 5pm–midnight. Visit: festemberad.com
Grab some snacks and a blanket for a giant picnic for families at the Big Piknik on 22nd and 23rd December, where huge food items, games and more await. Free. Umm Al Emarat Park, Al Mushrif. Noon–10pm.
Food and film go hand in hand at Delicious Cinema on 22nd and 23rd December. Five films, five inspired meals and a feast for the eyes as well as the tum. AED 190.
Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island. 6pm–11pm.
Find out more: For a full schedule of events, locations, prices and everything you need to know, visit: abudhabifoodfest.ae