When I started The Roadery a year ago, my plan was to produce food I believed in, while being able to hit the road and see more of Britain. I'm a traveller at heart, and never happier than when on the road visiting new places. So when I got the call up for me and the van to join RealFood Festival in AbuDhabi, it took me less than a second to say yes!
I had no idea if it was going to be lucrative, but I was 100% on board for the adventure! We were going in blind, with little to no idea of how many covers we should prepare for, if the people of the UAE would get it, or if we were going to come back having lost money. My plan was simple.. Go with the flow, and if I came back with a tiny profit and a sun tan, I had still had an adventure.
My main concern was produce. Given I have based my business on not only highlighting forgotten cuts, but also wild and the best of British ingredients. Foraging probably being off the menu given we were to be surrounded by desert.. And British would of course be another big hurdle! Offal was far from a problem, given that they eat pretty much anything (Minus pork) in the UAE. My first visit to the market put my mind at ease when I saw lamb brains at the deli counter.
Day one and we arrived in AbuDhabi City and all met for a "few" introductory beers at our hotels private beach bar.. After a heavy night we packed up and headed for our first event in Madinat Al Zayed. This was the Bedouin birthplace of the sheik, and the most conservative destination of our tour.
Upon arrival in Madinat - a "few" more drinks at our next hotel bar, surrounded by the beautiful rolling desert, and an introduction to a slightly unhinged oil rich Emirati, who took us dune bashing (not a euphemism) - we were ready for our first festival weekend. We presumed this was to be the quietest, and it was, but my menu choice of Halloumi bracos managed to save me. They bloody love Halloumi!
Before heading out to the UAE we all planned menus and tried to get as much similar produce to our UK suppliers as possible.. We learned our lesson very quickly when we arrived, with orders going wrong all over the place, and produce just not up to scratch.
Much to the amusement of the rest of the traders, when the first order arrived it turned out that I had ordered enough Cornish sea salt to salt bake a blue whale, so for the remainder of the trip I was the go to salt dealer. The humiliation was then thankfully shared when Hilary and Steve from ATE ordered about a metric ton of beef stock.
Luckily we soon got the hang of ordering, and also quickly realised that we could get fresh produce much cheaper, and of much better quality from the local souks. And a hell of a lot more fun shopping and haggling!
Aside from a bit of food wastage, the first event went without many hitches, apart from one of the traders taking an innocent photo of a girl tucking into her food, and posting it on Instagram.. Standard procedure you might think, but a few hours later the Chief of police called in to request it be taken down or the event would be pulled.. Oops! We were fast learning the do's and dont's..
With a few learnings under our belts, we hit the road again for our second destination Al Ain, a slightly more westernised part of the UAE with a lot more ex pats. And after getting our bearings, finding the markets, and a "few" more beers, we tore ourselves away from our hotels swim up pool bar, and kicked off the second event. People went crazy for us!.. We were like the One Direction of Street Food.. A sell out of an event.. Press were shouting about our tour, and things were building! I often looked out of my hotel window expecting hoards of screaming girls, but alas all I saw was the hotels pet camel. They must have not got hold of our whereabouts yet. Lucky I suppose.
Our next and final stop was back to Abu Dhabi city, for our beachside festival crescendo on the Corniche! After finding our closest souks, a "lot" more beer, and a visit to the water park, we headed corniche side for the big one. Nothing could have prepared us for the craziness that ensued.. People falling over themselves to get a taste of British street food, queues waiting an hour in line while sheiks ordered 30 portions each, (presumably to feed their many wives and children), we all mucked in and helped each other where we could, and pulled in local volunteers. My volunteers were frantically rolling Braco breads, while Andy Bates was rushing around offering his services.. He was rewarded by Paul from Donostia with a job shelling and pulling the heads off a ton of prawns. The next two days of the event gave no let up, and we were all finally rinsed completely of food, and ultimately energy!
Nearing death, we all waved goodbye to our vans as they headed back on the ship home, and rushed back to the hotel bar for last orders and quite frankly as many beers as we could fit on our table.
We all took a lot of learnings from our time in the UAE.. The main two for me being..
Plan a menu with minimal prep. Braising meats, and rolling thousands of Braco breads in 40 degree heat is not fun.
Two people and a tiny griddle will NOT do to serve this kind of baying crowd!
All in all though, an amazing adventure, and I couldn't have asked for a nicer bunch of traders or organisers to experience it with.
Some true friends came out of this trip, and I'm praying that we get the opportunity to go back next year and smash it together.. Inshallah!