'We are here to spread joy': Abu Dhabi F1 food trucks and chefs are catering to all tastes

The Yas Marina Circuit is full of colourful dining options

Senior Taco is one of many food trucks at the Yas Marina Circuit. Victor Besa / The National
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The Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix has become a culinary and sporting feast.

Over the past decade, the Yas Marina Circuit’s food offerings have moved from just the standard festival fare (think burgers, chips and pizzas) to encompassing high-end Michelin-starred restaurants and much-loved local outlets.

However, like the 20 drivers lining up on the circuit for Sunday’s big race, some restaurants need to go through a qualifying round to make it to the F1 Fan Zone for the weekend.

“It is a process but also insightful,” says Oladdipo Laddi Knights, owner of West African-Caribbean restaurant West to West.

“You need to show organisers a scaled-down business plan and let them know the kind of food that you will do and how you will make it on the truck,” he says.

“What they are looking for is whether you can deliver quality food in a fast-paced environment.”

This is the second time West to West has made it to the circuit, only this time they took a tropically coloured truck.

The restaurant also has a cosy brick and mortar outlet in Al Danah in Abu Dhabi.

West to West food truck owner Laddi. Victor Besa / The National

While raising the bar with their dining offers from last year, some favourites could not feature in the West to West F1 menu.

“We really couldn’t do the curries because there is not enough space in the food truck to make it, as well as the limited amount of storage,” Knights says.

“And also these things take time and you really don’t want to have long lines of people waiting for food here.”

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Bowl. at West to West Photo: West to West Kitchen

Indeed, the six-person food truck crew resemble F1 pit lane teams in their speed and organisation, with items from Jamaican jerk chicken bowls and meat pastries to fried plantains are served within three minutes.

That skill was also learnt at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“A great thing about being here is that you really can’t put a value on the people you meet,” Knights says.

“And I am not only talking about other event organisers who want to invite us, but also other food truck owners who shared with us their experience and tips when it comes to food preparation.

“I do feel like we all work together as a team to make the Grand Prix a great experience for everyone.”

A proper shawarma

A waiter at Al Areesh with bests selling Chicken Shawarma. Victor Besa / The National

For some visitors, that could be their first authentic taste of fresh shawarma.

These are the customers Al Areesh have been attracting at the weekend and, according to manager Mohsin Mohammed, they have a hearty appetite.

“We go through about 70 kilograms of chicken and beef a day,” he says.

“So that means we prepare up to 500 shawarmas per day.”

With the restaurant, opened in Al Ain in 1990, returning to the fan zone for the second year running, Mohammed has a clearer idea of his customer’s tastes.

“They are mostly international visitors who have tried shawarmas in their countries, particularly those from Europe, but they want to taste the real deal,” he says.

“So, we keep it fast and simple and focus on flavours. We also make everything fresh and light enough because for many people the Grand Prix are long days.”

Up in the air

Some also have long flights back home.

If you are fortunate enough to fly business and first class, Etihad Airways is previewing select items from their in-flight venues at its pavilion.

On the menu on Saturday was the Levant breakfast favourite Shakshouka and sea bream.

“We do cooking demonstrations throughout the day to show people how we make these dishes using only the best ingredients,” says Etihad Airways chef Nadeem Farouq.

“The Grand Prix is a great place because many people here are tourists, they have flown with us or heard of us. So it’s good to be out there and talking to people and showing what we can do.”

Some of those high-end clients Farouq and his colleagues cater to can be found in Carna by Dario Cecchini.

The ritzy steakhouse, located in Dubai's SLS Hotel, has used Abu Dhabi to make its first pop-up appearance at sporting events.

Then again, pop-up doesn't do the site justice.

Spread over two levels with a terrace covering overlooking The Hill section of the track, Carna is arguably the most refined restaurant located outside Yas Marina Circuit’s exclusive lounges.

Such is the occasion that flamboyant Italian chef Cecchini made the journey from Tuscany to Abu Dhabi complete with his signature trumpet — which he bellows triumphantly every few hours — and chef outfit in the colours of the Italian flag.

“If it had one more colour it could have been the UAE flag,” he says. “This is why the UAE feels so natural for me.”

With a menu offering lavish items such as the Truffle Burger (Dh215) and bistecca alla fiorentina, (an Italian T-bone steak) for Dh750, Cecchini says he caters for sophisticated diners well acquainted with high quality cuts of meat.

“So, everything here is done fresh with attention to quality and detail,” he says. “But also, we don’t want it to be too serious. After all, we are here to spread joy.”

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Updated: November 19, 2022, 5:02 PM