Expo 2020 Dubai – A Foodie Paradise
We go to food festivals, music festivals, sporting events, and many other large events all the time, but what we experienced this past week is all of those rolled into one event and made grander, larger, and better. We got to go on a press trip to Expo 2020 in Dubai this past week and if you were following us on social media, you can see why Dubai is being called the culinary capital of the world right now.
What is Expo 2020 Dubai?
We’ve all heard the story about how the Eiffel Tower was built for the world fair and became such a popular attraction that it was kept up – well the term world fair is commonly used in the Americas, while other parts of the world like the Middle East and Europe use the term Expo. Expo 2020 was supposed to take place last year, but like most events the pandemic forced a delay and rescheduling to October 2021- March 2022. The theme of this years expo is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”. 192 countries have pavilions, or exhibits essentially, that showcase their country, culture, food, innovations, and so much more. These pavilions are complimented by musical performances on festival sized stages, light shows, and educational experiences.
Where is Expo 2020 Dubai and will getting there be hard?
Expo 2020 takes placed in the United Arab Emirates – a country formed of seven Emirates, essentially cities, of which Dubai is one of them. The UAE is located on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Dubai is very easy to get to – there are direct flights from Houston and Dallas. Once there you’ll feel like you are in a futuristic Manhattan with pristine roads, all your favorite hotels, and mostly everyone speaks English. We never felt out of place or worried about our safety at any point (Dubai is also one of the safest cities in the world).
What is there to do at the Expo?
Buckle up! We were there for four full days and feel like we only scratched the surface of all the events, food, activities that exist at the Expo. In fact, we are convinced that you could come every day for the entire duration of the Expo, which is 6 months, and still not run out of things to do. We’ll break it down by type of activity, but of course we’ll start with our favorite part – the food.
With cuisine from 192 countries on display at this global super event, food is central to the Expo and experiencing a culture. In our conversations with many of the staff members that organized and operate the food venues on site, the way the Expo approached food was unlike any previous iteration. Rather than having restaurants spread out all over the city, Dubai brought the restaurants to the Expo itself. You are at the Italian pavilion, well right next to it you may have an Italian restaurant. These venues are a combination of food concepts created specifically for the Expo and well-known restaurants with pop-ups. Over the course of our time at the Expo, we visited more than 16 different venues (maybe more!) and boy did we enjoy it. For reference there are 200+ food and beverage outlets featuring notable names and rising talent from nearly every corner of the globe, including over 20 Michelin starred chefs.
Here is a quick rundown of the venues we went to and some of their standout dishes.
Alkebulan – The World’s First African Dining Hall
Alkebulan is the world’s first African dining hall curated by renowned NYC-based chef Alexander Smalls. We had the chance to sit down with Chef Alexander at Alkebulan and learn about his vision for the food hall (we recorded an episode of 512 degrees that is now live wherever you get your podcasts).
At Alkebulan (which is being primed to be an international brand with culture and food halls planned for NYC and London), Chef Smalls has curated 11 African chef-led concepts from across the continent which celebrate the diverse cuisines that Africa has to offer and the innovate spin these young aspiring chefs are applying to the traditional fare.
We had the pleasure of going to each of the restaurants on site and having Chef Alexander suggest what we should order.
Can’t Miss – The fried chicken from Chicken Coop.
You are in the UAE, so of course you have to get Arabic food. Rising Flavors brings together 11 concepts from well-known chefs from all over the region to showcase the variety of food the region.
Can’t Miss- Briket from Villa Mamas by Chef Roaya Saleh
Talabat Kitchen is what you would expect in futuristic sci-fi movie. We got to tour their set up at the Expo and learn about their cloud kitchen concepts, robot coffee + ice cream baristas, and autonomous robots that deliver food! Using your phone or kiosks at the Expo you can order food/beverages from over 30 brands and 15 cuisines. And once ready, you can pick up your food from a locker, a conveyor belt, have a robot driver it, and in the future maybe even a drone.
Can’t Miss – How can you not marvel at ordering coffee on your phone and then seeing a robot barista make it in no time.
This concept originated in Australia by Chef David Thompson. So many amazing Thai dishes! The idea is to share the tastes of the street of Bangkok with a focus on authenticity and favorite dishes.
Can’t Miss – The spices on the massaman curry of chicken are incredible!
Bread Ahead is a popular London-based bakery and making it’s first appearance outside the UK at the Expo! They are known for their artisan doughnuts filled with homemade custards and jams. Bread Ahead offers baking classes and we sat in for their doughnut class and baked our own dozen of goodness. As someone that has never baked before, we were amazed at how good our doughnuts turned out and can’t wait to make more!
Adrift Burger Bar
We’ve been to Adrift Burger Bar in LA and were excited to see them at the Expo! The New York Times has called this the perfect burger and we agree!
Can’t Miss – Don’t forget their milkshakes – our favorite is strawberry and vanilla.
Every restaurant feels authentic and well thought out at the Expo, but if we had to choose one that takes the cake, it’s Café Milano. We felt transported to Italy with the amazing service, ambiance, drinks, and of course pasta. The music choice added to the experience.
Can’t Miss – Strozzapreta Zegna, the lamp ragu is unlike anything we have tasted before.
Located in the sustainability district, Mudra is a plant-based concept by Chef Matthew Kenny marries plant-based eating with simple foods in a gourmet way. We loved the plant-based gourmet burger with a few mocktails.
Can’t Miss – Buffalo cauliflower as an appetizer – we couldn’t stop eating them!
Another London-based entablement visits the Expo. These vegan stuffed cookies come in five different flavors and are perfect for a snack while walking between pavilions or desert.
Arabian Tea House
When in the Emirates, eat as the Emirati’s do. The Arabian Tea House is one of the first traditional restaurants in the UAE. From the Emirati hospitality, to gravel lined floors, to unique aromatics the experience was flawless. We went for breakfast and had a traditional breakfast platter.
Can’t Miss – Traditional Arabic tea.
You can check out Expo’s Instagram page @eatatexpo2020 too for all the amazing Insta-worthy shots of what we detailed above and much, much more.
The Expo is 2.72 square miles and broken down into three operate districts – sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. These districts all are centered around the grand Al Wasl Plaza, home to constant light shows, concerts, and dignitary visits. Each district fits in with the theme of inspiring meaningful action to address the challenges we face in our world today.
Sustainability District – In this district we learned about the ways each country is doing their part to preserve our planet and ensure future generations have a habitable plant to live on. This district has beautiful and futuristic looking solar trees that capture create energy from the plentiful sun that is present in Dubai year-round. Each district also has pavilions that play off the theme of the district they are in. We loved the Singapore pavilion and it’s towering forest canopy that started at the ground floor and went up three stories. When here make sure you don’t miss Terra, which has some of the most amazing architecture we saw at the Expo in addition to education about our plant and preservation.
Mobility District – Dubai has more exotic cars than we’ve ever seen before in one city, so it’s only fitting to have a mobility district. This district aims to create conversations around a global society where information, good, and ideas can be exchanged seamlessly. We got to ride in autonomous vehicles, learn about space exploration, and visited the Russian pavilion which focuses on the movement of ideas as key to a successful future.
Opportunity District – This district is in essence what the Expo centers around in our opinion– creating opportunities for all humans so that we can live better lives. The Mission Possible Opportunity Pavillion is a sight to see and teaches you about inspirational figures that came before us, personal commitments we can make to making the world a better place, and has some of the best vies of the Expo grounds.
Other Notable Activities
Music – With 192 countries present it seems like every night there are a handful of shows outside their respective pavilions. We ran into many lively, fun, and interactive concerts that will life anyone’s spirits. A personal favorite was Pakistan and the drum heavy uplifting show we got to take in on a Saturday night. In admission to these performances, the Expo as a constant stream of A-list talent like Alicia Keyers, AR Rehman, and so many others that put on festival like shows – these are all included in the basic price of admission.
Sports – Whether it is meeting legendry footballer Luis Figo, catching an F1 race on the big screen, or putting up 3 pointers like Steph Curry at the onsite basketball courts, the Expo has sports intertwined into every aspect of the experience.
Educational/Collaboration – There are daily talks by experts in science, business, politics, and other areas at various pavilions. While we were there, Bill Gates visited and talked about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts. This leads to a SXSW like atmosphere where a mixing of the ideas and learning go hand in hand.
What about COVID?
When it comes to pandemic travel, Dubai is one of the safest cities takes the pandemic seriously. Over 90% of the population is fully vaccinated and 100% has had at least one shot. Add on to that the requirement for a negative test to enter the country and you get fewer than 100 cases per day and no deaths for the last 8+ weeks. Dubai is an example of a pandemic should be handled.