Saudi Arabia's Food Truck Craze

Saudi Arabia's Food Truck Craze

In Saudi Arabia, 2017 is quickly becoming the year of the food truck. The phenomenon has swept the Kingdom, particularly in Riyadh and Jeddah, where food trucks have mushroomed across town, bearing pictures of the fast foods, snacks, and desserts they offer, in an all-American fashion.

It began last year, on May 26, 2016, when food connoisseur and author Ahmed Mesawa obtained the first license for a traveling restaurant in Saudi Arabia, which he went on to name Street Chef.

Mesawa tells Raseef22 that he has long been passionate about cuisine, and dreamt of owning a restaurant. However, rather than caving to the extortionate rental prices for a restaurant location, he came up with the idea of importing a food truck from the UK, and preparing it for work in Saudi Arabia.

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A New Trend

Mesawa tells Raseef22 that his personal experience and research revealed that those who work on food trucks are locals, and in turn the food trucks have attracted Saudis from near and far.

He moreover notes that when it started, Street Food was making sizable profits, but in recent times, with the spread of the phenomenon, the profits have dwindled noticeably. Mesawa however describes the way in which the food trucks have spread as chaotic, with many having broken into the trend, despite lack of culinary experience.

In his opinion, food trucks constitute an attractive prospect due to the perception that it is an easy, low-cost project, but this is not always the case. “I am seriously considering moving my food truck to a neighboring Gulf country to start anew there, because of the chaos and disorder that have become pervasive here,” he says.

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Mesawa moreover advises young people not to enter the field if they do not have the capacity for hard work and giving the project their undivided attention. He further suggests that those who do wish to launch a food truck wait it out until at least 2018, when organizational difficulties may be resolved.

Quotes

Share TweetThese days in Saudi Arabia, everyone and their mother runs a food truck.

Share TweetWatch out for the latest food craze sweeping Saudi Arabia.... Food Trucks!

Professionals on the Streets

The food truck gold rush has not been restricted to culinary talents, amateurs, and unemployed people though; even university students and professionals are flirting with this trend. Renowned chef Adnan Yamani, who appeared on the international hit television show Top Chef, went down the same tracks. His food truck has since become one of the most popular burger joints in Jeddah.

Yamani has said on his YouTube account that his choice to open a food truck, in spite of his fame and financial resources, stemmed from the appeal of the idea of removing the barriers separating chef from customer. The only thing separating them, in a food truck, is an open window, making communication between them simple and enjoyable.

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Three Brothers and a Waffle Truck

Recently, a television program broadcast an episode on three brothers, two of whom are medical students, who decided to open a truck that serves waffles, crepes, and pancakes. Their gimmick is serving customers while dressed in medical scrubs. The project cost them around 80,000 Saudi Riyals.

“Our scrubs are considered our theme,” they said.

Authorities Overlook Regulations for Support

In light of the high demand on food trucks by young Saudis, the Riyadh and Jeddah secretariats have facilitated the procedures required to obtain licenses, despite there not being a specialized system under which food trucks operate.

However, in support of these youth initiatives, the secretariats have overlooked much of the red tape involved in such procedures, allowing permits to be issued under the pretext of licensing them as street vendors, until a specialized system is set up for food trucks.

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This is in spite of the fact that the system for street vendors, which was introduced 11 years ago, prohibits live cooking in vehicles.

A secretariat official explains to Raseef22 that the permits are issued electronically, provided that the applicants fulfil a number of conditions, including that they are Saudi citizens and are not employed at a public authority.

Moreover, the vehicles must fulfil a number of condition too, such as safety and size conditions, as well as sanitary conditions. Permits generally take two working days to be issued, and conditions may vary from one city to another.

Afnan Abdullah is a Saudi journalist.

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