Cop28: A guide to guilt-free dining at the climate conference in Dubai

Award-winning chefs, home-grown brands and dozens more others are providing sustenance during the global climate conference

House of Pops is one of a number of food trucks that is on site at Cop28. Photo: House of Pops
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From hearty Arabic baos to healthy Vietnamese bites, delegates and visitors attending Cop28 in Dubai will sample first-hand the UAE’s melting pot of cultures through its culinary diversity.

More than 90 restaurants, food trucks and temporary pop-ups will be on site in Expo City Dubai between November 30 and December 12, including home-grown brands such as Vietnamese Foodies, House of Pops and Baofriend.

What’s on the menu at Cop28

“The focus is very much on lighter, healthier bites,” Lily Hoa Nguyen, co-founder and executive chef of Vietnamese Foodies, tells The National. “This will include vegan dishes as well as those free from dairy, gluten and sugar, with the calories of each – between 350 and 500kcal – spelt out on the menu.

“This is a great opportunity,” continues Hoa Nguyen, “because Cop28 is the most prominent and important event on environment and sustainability, so it is our chance to represent and introduce the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine to the world in an authentic and healthy way.”

Meanwhile, Asian fusion restaurant Baofriend will offer not only all its signature baos (including smoked salmon, coconut prawns and barbecued chicken flavours), but also create two off-menu items especially for the occasion. “We are calling them Sustaina-baos, and they will be vegan-friendly and made from freshly steamed bread, with fillings including spinach, felafel, spicy cucumber, lemon tahini and crispy nori,” says Baofriend founder Junah Balungcas.

The restaurant will also serve taho, a dessert made from soy-based products.

Additionally, James Beard Award-winning chef and author Alexander Smalls is hosting Alkebulan, an African food hall concept that will feature various other chefs, plus artists and musicians, who will showcase the diversity of the African continent.

Dishes include Mauritius lobster rolls and Nigerian-style brisket suya flatbread. Even the desserts follow the theme, with treats such as sombi, a coconut rice pudding that is popular in West Africa, as well as bolo polona, a celebratory cashew cake from Mozambique.

Chef Athanasios Kargatzidis of Baron, No 16 on the Middle East and North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants 2023 list, is bringing a charcoal house concept to Cop28 called Assembly Mezze & Skewers. On the menu are hummus, Nepal shish and taouk shish plus vegetarian-friendly grilled eggplant and cauliflower.

All of these pop-ups and restaurants are located in the green zone, and with them are a bunch of other concepts such as Safar by Palestinian-Jordanian chef Sara Aqel of Fi'lia fame. Chef Ollie Dabbous, the man behind London's Michelin-lauded Hide, is popping up with Hideaway, serving truffle pizza, grilled octopus and croque madame among other modern British and Mediterranean dishes.

Emirati chef Faisal Nasser whips up winter comfort foods, from soups to cheese toasties, at Tos:t.

Over at the blue zone, there are just as many culinary options. It has its own food truck park that features Floozie Cookies, Wild and the Moon and Legaimat by Al Fanar.

Healthier-than-usual desserts also come by way of House of Pops, which will serve its creatively flavoured popsicles, ranging from Galactic Lime and Dragon Colada to Mighty Mango.

“Our pops are inclusive by design,” says Mazen Kanaan, founder and chief executive. “They're allergen-free, plant-based, and we even offer a keto range to cater to different dietary and lifestyle preferences.”

Renowned chef Rohit Ghai is offering his contemporary take on Indian street food through Gup & Shup, with specialities such as palak patta chat and aloo tikka chat, lamb biriani, jackfruit kofta, sarson fish tikka and freshly baked Indian breads.

Other options in this zone include all-American Philly Jawn by Ghostburger, Levantine spot Ajeene, Bistro de Arts and Bread Ahead. Emirati-owned Japanese cafe and restaurant Yamanote Collective can also be found here, as well as Talhan, which serves dishes inspired by Turkmenistan.

Selected restaurants across the blue and green zones are offering two-course “30-minute menus”, designed for those who have a packed schedule during the conference.

A bite in the right direction

Given the conference's focus on climate change, the culinary brands it has aligned with, too, are big on environmental conscientiousness.

House of Pops, for instance, uses 100 per cent natural ingredients and plastic-free packaging. “Our wrappers are made from a compostable bio-film that is costlier, but it’s not something we’d compromise on,” says Kanaan. “As a small business, we've always worked to make our choices keeping the environment in mind.”

Likewise, Baofriend's Balungcas says the restaurant made a conscious effort to be a part of Cop28 because of its own eco-friendly practices. “We source local and organic ingredients, reduce food waste through responsible food management systems, use renewable energy sources, and minimise our carbon footprint through efficient operations and waste management.

“To further our commitment to sustainability, we have implemented eco-friendly packaging, and utilise biodegradable or recyclable containers for takeout orders and leftovers, ensuring our packaging adheres to Cop28 standards,” explains Balungcas.

Individual initiatives aside, all the pop-ups are mandated to implement several sustainable practices. For example, all edible food waste from the restaurants will be donated to local charities. The packaging and cutlery are made from natural elements such as seaweed and date palm leaves.

According to Expo City Dubai's catering arm, at least 50 per cent of the food served across Expo City Dubai falls within sustainable limits for carbon and water intensity, with restaurants sticking to a “carbon budget” of 2,300 carbon dioxide equivalent per day.

The 12-day climate conference will culminate in the Sustainable Catering Awards that will recognise the innovative efforts of Cop28's food and beverage pop-ups.

Updated: November 29, 2023, 1:40 PM