RIYADH: Riyadh Season’s Boulevard is the capital city’s perfect spot to chill out and meet friends, partly because of its diverse facilities — it has pop-up kitchens, glamorous restaurants and shisha lounges, frivolous concept stores and even a few designer zones.
That experience can easily be enhanced with a quick bite from one of the many food trucks — about 70 parked on Riyadh Boulevard alone — that are trying to make a name for themselves through big events made possible by the Saudi Seasons.
Many burger, coffee and dessert trucks populate the food truck zone, but a few managed to stand out from the crowd with creative logo designs, intriguing names and tempting delights, introducing local cuisine with a twist.
Reinventing a traditional Saudi dish is Hanani — named after the Najdi dish that is made of mixed dates, brown bread, butter and sometimes cardamom and saffron — the mother-son duo who started it began serving the dish with ice cream and extra toppings chosen by the customer.
Mansour Al-Hothaif, 24, told Arab News that his mother thought of the idea, and their combined efforts have brought three of their food trucks to Riyadh in the past two years.
“Our demographic covers an older generation who obviously recognize the dish, but we’re also trying to introduce it to the youth,” he said.
Al-Hothaif’s Hanani participated in many events such as Janadriyah and Winter Land in Riyadh, and he wants to expand to other cities. “Customers reach out to us from Jeddah and the Eastern Province asking us to open up there,” he said. “It’s gratifying.”
Another truck that gave visitors a new experience was Camelio Burger, selling burgers made of camel meat, which is used in many Saudi dishes in place of goat or beef.
“I come from a family that eats camel meat regularly, and because of it I wanted to stray from the typical beef burger by introducing a camel burger into the world,” Mashael Al-Manee’a said.
According to her, locals and foreigners have flocked to try the new burger. “They like that it’s fresh local camel meat and it isn’t imported,” she said. “It makes me very happy when I see a customer returning not just once or twice; it’s amazing.”
Camelio Burger is almost two years old, and Al-Manee’a said that in a few months she would be opening their first store in Riyadh. Her idea was chosen among many by the Deem Al-Manahil, a Princess Madawi bint Musaad fund that supports small business.
Moving away from local cuisine to a nostalgic childhood in the US, Lamyaa Al-Faris started Yummy Stick with her best friend because they longed for classic American corndogs.
After multiple tries in the kitchen, going over a dozen recipes and many grocery bags filled with hotdogs, they realized that the secret ingredient was something they could not find in the market. Persevering through sheer willpower and the possibilities of online shopping, they finally mastered the recipe in time for Riyadh Season.
“It’s been a dream that started when we first heard about Sharqiah and Jeddah seasons, and saw the advertisements aimed at people like us who had an idea and wanted to develop it — that’s where we started thinking about grasping such an opportunity,” she told Arab News.
The 32-year-old was already busy raising her daughter and working as a P.E. teacher, but once she started, people’s feedback made her strive to continue to do better.
“The most memorable customer was an old man who had never tried sausages, and I managed to persuade him. I was very terrified as I watched him eat on the bench right across from my truck. Once he’d finished I asked him what he thought and he said, ‘In all honesty, I would’ve never tried it if it weren’t for you, and I’m glad I did.’”
Another memorable occasion was when an American tourist stopped by and told her: “You reminded me of my home.”
Al-Faris said that renting the space was costly, but due to the season’s influx of visitors they have already covered it through sales. She said she hoped to participate in future events after this positive experience.