Sounds like a great idea to me! Sadly “the World” consisted only of Singapore, the UAE, the UK and the US. That was a great start though, unlike the start of this post which I think is weak.
What am I banging on about, I hear you wonder? Well, part of this year’s Dubai Food Festival was a street food market called Eat The World! It was held in Burj Park (Downtown) and the idea was that you would wonder about and eat a bunch of stuff from a host of different places.
Let me get the negative out of the way first…
1. There was a cover charge. Yep, they charged you AED 50 to go into the cordened off area where you had to then pay for all your food. The AED 50 got you a small (smaller than standard) bottle of Fiji water – not that you were told that. We found out because I like Fiji and was thirsty.
2. There was nothing going on aside from an old chick wailing away in all her karaoke spender. It was too loud and not good enough. That was it though. No life or atmosphere at all. Just obnoxious older members of families hogging all the seats in case their family stopped running around and wanted to sit. It didn’t matter that everyone was having to balance things like juggling pros because the ground was too damp to sit on. There was a giant TV playing kids movies, and a nice Bedouin inspired ‘chill out’ section which you weren’t allowed in unless you wanted to be attacked with Henna. Also, Etisalat had a game zone. But that was it. No one interacted past taking your orders. It was just blah.
3. The stalls could have been organised into “countries” a little better. There could have been more of a theme to the areas. You just walked in and around and randomly saw people. There also could have been a map to point people into the areas so no one got missed.
4. The dishes were expensive. Not all of them, but the majority.
5. It kept trying to rain. I appreciate there is nothing the organisers could do about that though!!!
Now I have moaned, I can tell you the fun stuff!
There was food everywhere! Far too much food to make really sensible decisions. The Boy and I made a pact though that we would share everything 50/50 so that we (well, so that I) could taste as much as possible. Genius plan #1.
Genius plan #2 was easy. I have become a bit of a pro at scouting out food stalls now, and do a sweep of the available foods before coming to a decision on what to sample. If you don’t, you could miss out completely on something amazing because you’ve filled up on almost amazing things! See… Genius!
That is a very good and strong theory until you’re faced with this:
Yep. A donut burger. A double cheese burger with an onion ring, sandwiched between two glazed donuts. Buggered if I know who these people were but I’ve always wanted to try one and so I did.
Now, how to describe this experience? I honestly don’t know if I would say I liked it or not. It went as follows: Oh Yum… amaze… wait… really?… oh no!… so good though… no, too sweet… ooohhhh cheese… damn it… I’m confused.
I can however categorically state it’s one of the messiest burgers I’ve ever eaten. Because it’s not bread, there is nothing to soak up the juices of the burger. Also, because it’s a glazed donut, the glaze melts. Very, very messy.
Was it worth the AED 45? Yes because I’ve never seen one before and I wanted to try it. I wouldn’t rush back for another go, and I am pleased I shared it because it would have been very overly sweet if not. In any case, with a good 15+ minute wait from ordering to getting your burger, I wasn’t going to hang out and test that theory either.
Next up was my absolute FAVOURITE of the day. Harlem Seafood Soul. Not only was the food good, but their head chef, Tami, was an absolute joy!
I have to admit to being maybe a little “country-ist” here. I saw there was mac’n’cheese on the menu and then heard the ladies behind the counter speaking in a very strong American accent. That was enough to do it for me. I wanted the mac! It was however 60dhs per portion which seemed a little excessive.
The Boy settled this easily. He wanted the fish and chips. Again, a little excessive at an eye watering AED 100 for a portion, but he wanted them and so we got them.
First up, the mac’n’cheese:
Apparently this was Chef Tami’s Aunt Lillian’s recipe and she made simply the best in the world. I would argue that because I totally think mine is, but in an English way. It was absolutely gorgeous though. It was creamy, thick and cheesy. There was a lovely crust on top. It needed to be about three times the size and then I would have been blissed out. I probably would also have been sick because that would have been a lot of cheese!
Now for the fish:
Chef Tami had found a company here (called ‘Wet Fish’ I believe) that had sourced and imported “whiting” from Norway as that is all she would use and she wasn’t allowed to bring it with her. I’ve never had whiting before so didn’t know what to expect.
Firstly, this is not English fish and chips. It wasn’t battered, rather crumbed. I think. It was a very fine powdery type coating that confused me to look at. Fish and chips to me should be all fluffy and battered. But, I braved it and was rewarded. I don’t know what the point of the crumb is because it wasn’t hugely flavoured. It let the fish stand out though and that is a good thing. Stronger than cod but with a similar consistency, whiting is really every inch as good as cod, if a little smaller.
Team Harlem had served 4 fillets on a nice amount of fries. Chef Tami suggested eating it with her sweet hot sauce (basically sweet chili sauce with a secret ingredient that I can’t put my finger on but that really gave the sauce a boost!) which felt a bit rude towards the ketchup, but it really bloody worked. I wish I could have stolen the bottle without being noticed. It was crazy good.
We also tried a little of their cornbread which is some of the best I have ever had. It was so moist and sweet. Honestly, it melted and had I not been getting rather full by this point, I would have ordered a side of that too. I don’t know why I didn’t think about takeaway. It has literally only just crossed my mind as I type. Ugh.
Anyway, the thing that really finished the experience was Chef Tami herself. She was full of excitement and happiness. She knew she was blessed to be able to travel doing what she loved and was taking none of it for granted. There wasn’t anyone who she didn’t speak to if they came within grabbing distance of the stand. She made everyone feel welcome and encouraged people to get talking to others. You can just imagine that her restaurant in Harlem is a place people go to hang out because of the atmosphere as well as the food…. Which is exactly why The Boy and I plan to visit with her when we are in New York. That, and I want more of that hot sweet sauce!
Shockingly, after that little food stop, we were running out of room. I don’t think we had remembered to pack our extra stomachs with us that day. It was such a shame. The next move had to be super strategic.
We had seen a number of people walking around with Italian looking pizzas during the course of the
day hour or so we had been there eating. It looked and smelt amazing so we decided that we had to track that down. When we did we didn’t know how we had missed it!
The pizza sign should have given it away, but Made of Dough were hidden away a little bit which seems so wrong, especially as they had the best oven I have ever seen in my life:
Yep, they had converted a Land Rover type thing into a pizza oven! How awesome is that!? I just stood there staring for a while because the open fire and the smell of the pies was absolutely hypnotizing. Then I started to drool a bit and remembered I had to put in our order.
We went with a simple margarita. If you can do that right then you’re onto something. The Boy ambled off to find drinks and I stood and watched as our pizza was prepared and cooked right there and then.
Oh my actual goodness. The first bite took us both back to Italy. It was so incredibly good. I was very thankful that we were ending the savory section of the day with this divine pizza. I also vowed to order less crappy pizza in future and look for places that do authentic ones instead. It was so much more enjoyable than Pizza Hut crap.
In fact, I was so in love with it before I even tried it that I forgot to take a photo and have had to pinch this from their Instagram feed!
Oops! Sorry! I hope that’s ok!!!!!
And onto our last snack of the day…
We really tried to go to FrostBite and have their much discussed Lotus ice cream pudding thingie, but when we got there and spoke to the nice chap behind the counter, he suggested it wasn’t a wise idea when I said that I was allergic to nuts. I had told them because of the amount of Nutella ice cream creations they seemed to be selling. Thought I had better say so that we could limit the risk of cross contamination. He advised against it completely just in case. Whilst I applaud his knowledge of how serious it can be (you would be surprised and scared how many people haven’t got a clue), and his concern for my safety, I was deeply saddened that I was not able to try their stuff. I wish places here were just a bit more careful with cross contamination risks. I have to miss out on so much.
Anyway, there thankfully was another couple of options, but the problem was that I had eaten so much I didn’t have much room left. There is only ever one answer in a situation like that… ice cream!
Thankfully this ice cream truck from Desert Chill was on standby with it’s soft serve ice cream. It was really quite good too! The only thing is that the picture looked like a 99 like at home, but it was in a very delicious sugar cone like you get at Baskin Robins, and it also had a sugar waver round tube thing instead of a flake. I felt a little cheated for a minute but it was really good ice cream so they got a pass! Also, at AED 10 it was the most reasonably priced item of the day!
We really did have a great time at the festival, but so much could have been done to improve it too. I think this is its first year so maybe it was a bit of trial and error. I do wish more people were like Chef Tami though. She worked her ass off promoting herself and her restaurant, and selling her food on the day. She deserves every ounce of success she gains from the festival, but also she deserves thanks for livening up the day. More stall holders should be like that. Too many were just stood there waiting for people to walk up. Call me old fashioned but I am not going to go to a stall where the people look more interested in their phones than selling their food.
Lastly, there was so much there that I didn’t try that I wanted to, I would have happily come back again the next day. I was not going to pay that pointless cover charge again though. I think it is just a bit greedy. You are obviously charging the people who are selling in there, so you don’t need to charge the patrons too. Maybe it was to keep some people out. That I think is mean too. Maybe it’s not but I can’t think of another reason.
Oh… P.S. We bought a bag of Gourmet Popcorn for the *cough* looooong walk home too.