Al Baik opens its first branch in Abu Dhabi

The broasted chicken joint from Saudi Arabia is now open at Al Wahda Mall

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After months of anticipation and a short delay, Al Baik has finally thrown open the doors to its first Abu Dhabi outpost, in Al Wahda Mall. The fast food chain from Saudi Arabia is best known for its succulent broasted chicken, jumbo shrimp and fish fillet meals.

Residents in the capital can get a taste of these staples as well as falafel sandwiches, chicken nuggets and syrup-laden ice cream from Thursday. Also not to be missed is the brand's famed in-house cocktail sauce.

Al Baik is famously popular in the Mena region: not only are its broasted chicken meals a foodie's delight, but openings are punctuated by long queues.

The Jeddah store was even known to cause mayhem during peak hours, often resulting in crowd control by the police, while The Dubai Mall outlet — which marked its first UAE outlet when it opened in June 2021 — had fans and curious foodies queuing for hours on end.

The appeal of Al Baik

Al Baik is known for its crispy chicken meals. Instagram/ @albaik

Saudi entrepreneur Zainab Baig recalls standing for hours on end many times for the coveted, succulent chicken meal. “The crisp, salty skin of the chicken and fries dunked into their unique garlic sauce is what differentiates Al Baik from other broasted chicken,” she tells The National. “Since it tends to sell out quickly, the adrenalin rush of fighting crowds and getting your hands on a meal makes it all the more tempting.”

Muzaffar Ismail, an accountant who lives in Canada, remembers how whenever he carried home the familiar packaging of Al Baik, people always approached him. “They had heard so much about this restaurant, they wanted to know where they could buy it.” A meal was an oft-requested item from his trips to Saudi Arabia.

A storied history

Al Baik was founded in Jeddah in 1974 and, for 38 years, operated only in the western province of Saudi Arabia (Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah).

In the 1990s, flagship stores along the Holy Mosque in Makkah and one non-profit outlet at the Mina site during Hajj season served pilgrims. A meal of four sizeable chicken pieces, along with a bun and fries, was initially priced at 10 Saudi riyals (Dh9), making it a satisfying and affordable buy for those on a tight budget. Al Baik stores served as an equaliser, where members from all strata of society came together for a delicious meal.

The broasted method of preparation was still a novelty in the 1980s and 1990s, and over time, Al Baik gained the reputation of a meal that pilgrims “must try” when visiting the kingdom for Hajj or Umrah. Because Al Baik didn't have any branches in the capital city of Riyadh or the eastern regions of the country, demand for the fare sparked an ingenious business venture — a "chicken run" where hawkers would make the nine-hour drive from Jeddah to Riyadh, bring back a trunk-load of Al Baik specialities and sell them at inflated prices in the Saudi capital.

The UAE is the brand's third pit stop in the Middle East, after two branches in Bahrain in 2020.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 7:44 PM
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