“Pasta, please,” I say.
“Penne, spaghetti, red, white?” the Asian lady at Mia Strada asks, urging me to hurry up. The queue is long, and she has no patience for my indecisiveness.
“Penne, in red sauce,” I reply.
Mia Strada is one of the many food trucks parked at Dubai’s Kite Beach, whose white sand and green waters attract a steady stream of surfers and water-babies. It was also amongst the multiple venues to have hosted the 17-day Dubai Food Festival between February and March this year.
Back in Mia, once my order is punched, the chef gets to work, enthralling me with his theatrics. He tosses the penne into an iron skillet and then dramatically puts it into a parmesan wheel. Ten minutes later, I finally devour my meal settling into a white-washed wooden bench across Mia. A pungent kick from the cheese hits my palate. I love it. As hunger subsides, my surroundings grow on me. I notice the queue outside Mia. It swells, shrinks, and swells again. Most food trucks are equally busy. Both locals and tourists keep gravitating towards them, clutching onto their minty coolers, fruit slushes and rainbow-coloured popsicles.
Food trucks do seem like Dubai’s new cool. They pop up, serve, and move on. Last Exit, a first-of-its-kind food truck park came up last August, an indication of this glamorous desert city’s booming food truck culture. Interestingly, in the truck-hopping I undertook for the three days that I was there, I discovered that several Indians, too, have hopped onto Dubai’s culinary caravan. What’s on their menus? Well… there’s shawarma filling inside flaky parathas, fiery Asian woks, and Goan chorizo in wraps.
(Food trucks: Woktruck, Tavana, Tandem)
Street Nights, an indoor venue in the Business Bay area, is abuzz with B-boys dancing to hip hop beats and graffiti artists spray-painting walls. Of course, there’s food, and so much of it that my senses struggle to keep pace with the conflicting aromas. I chase the smell of freshly baked ka’ak, a sesame-loaded Lebanese sweet dish, and it leads me to a stretch dedicated to food trucks. Spoilt for choice, I pick spicy chicken noodles from Woktruck’s vast menu. A fusion of Thai and Japanese, the noodles have a honey welcome, followed by a chilli-laden aftertaste. The hint of lemongrass is just perfect.
It was the pav bhaji he made at home five years ago that first stirred Woktruck owner Vaibhav Raisinghani’s passion for cooking. “My parents gave it a thumbs-up, and ate it for dinner,” says the 26-year-old. He came to Dubai in 2014 to pursue a management degree in entrepreneurship. The next year, in 2015, he rolled out his first food truck, Woktruck. “I am a foodie, and I noticed that people in Dubai eat out a lot. Plus, the use of public spaces is incredible here. So starting a food truck seemed like a natural and logical business decision,” he says.
Today, Raisinghani owns three food trucks. Besides Woktruck, there’s Tavana, which serves Hawaiian street foods such as hulihuli chicken, and Tandem, which rustles up sandwiches and BBQ chicken fries. As business grew, Raisinghani’s brother, Luvy, and Luvy’s wife, Myra, joined in from London. “We used to meet once a year, but now, because of our partnership, we bond over our common passion—food.”
(Food trucks: Shebi, Shmokins etc)
“Think shawarma in a paratha,” says Reema Shetty, of the Indo-Lebanese dishes served at her food truck, Shebi. Shetty is married to Mohammed Bitar, a Lebanon national. And so, food made at home—and what’s dished out in the mobile kitchens of the 12 trailers that the couple own and run along with three friends—blends Indian spices with Lebanese flavours. The results are innovations like butter chicken shawarma served with Mangalorean chakli and rice, pulled beef in a potato bun, and chicken waffle.
Shebi also caters at events. At the Formula One last November, for instance, the couple worked all day long for five days at a stretch. “One day we fed almost 25,000 people,” says Shetty. “But our team loves the drill, and we love the thrill of feeding fellow foodies on our wheeled beasts.”
(Food truck: GObai)
The first time Kevin Vaz tasted samboosa was on a business trip to Afghanistan. “While it had the comfort of the familiar Indian samosa, it was made out of beef, not potato, and was high on spices,” says the 34-year-old co-founder of GObai. Experiences like these, combined with his passion for food, are what inspired Vaz to launch GObai in 2015. Here, you’ll find Goan delicacies, but with a modern twist. Picture pulled lamb vindaloo burgers, chicken cafreal tacos, xacuti shawarmas and chorizo wraps.
Vaz, a human resources director for a group of multinational companies, co-runs GObai with friend, Cara Davies. GObai’s hottest selling dish is its pulled lamb vindaloo burger, where the lamb meat is slow-cooked in a vindaloo marinade for eight hours. “I love food. Period. Even when I travel for work, I’m always scouting for local street foods. The aromas and the innovations fascinate me,” he says. “My dream is to put Goan food on the world map.”