Hello from Abu Dhabi! I figured about seven months into my move here, it was time for an update. I’ve been settling in, getting to know the place, appreciating its more low-key vibe, the lovely green mangroves, roads that are far more pleasant to drive on and navigate, and—especially—its food. I didn’t know much about Abu Dhabi’s neighborhoods before I moved here and while I was flat-hunting, but I knew enough about myself that I needed to be at the heart of town, somewhere with ample walking and noshing opportunities. I ended up right off the Corniche, in the World Trade Center/Qasr Al Hosn area, from where I can stroll to the beach, innumerable random shops stocked with everything from aux cables to lush meters of silk, and cultural centers. I chose well.
But the food is the biggest treat of all (I’d wager the street food, cheap eats and ethnic food here far bests that of Dubai—though I still very much miss DIFC/SZR’s Bento-Ya, of which I can find nothing similar here). As I’ve poked around the ‘hood, I’ve tried all sorts of samosas and shawarmas and breads and lassis and chocolates and burritos and on goes the list. Over the months I’ve found my favorites and turned walking into a gluttonous affair, which I’ve taken to calling a “Snack Stroll™”. And I’m here to share it. So step into your comfiest shoes, wear your loosest trousers or maxi dress, and join me on the perhaps the only walk where you’ll gain more calories than you’ll lose.
Setting out from the World Trade Center area, I start in Qasr Al Hosn, a very modern cultural site that is where you’ll find Abu Dhabi’s oldest structure–the 17th-century fort that was the original seat of the ruling Al Nahyan family–and stylish new buildings that include a house of artisans, a small amphitheater and a children’s library. It’s nice for a slow wander—but first, as they say, coffee. I’m not really a coffee drinker so I don’t know what I’m talking about here, but I feel like Espresso Lab (in one of the Flintstones-like buildings in the lead image) offers up “serious, proper coffee”. I say this because they don’t add sugar to or adulterate any of their coffees and good luck getting a vanilla latte. But they do have one sweetened option, which I love, called T.E.L. What is it? Not a clue! But it’s sweet and tasty and iced and perfect to take out on a sunny afternoon snack stroll.
Once I’ve tempted fate by jumping across a few of the falaj-inspired (irrigation) waterways that run through the cultural site, I cross the street and make way to Al Yahar Street, which is absolutely heaving with cheap eats options. You can get burgers, pistachio or biscuit tea with paratha sandwiches (at House of Tea), Arabic sweets, and, of course, shawarmas. Perhaps the best shawarma I’ve ever tasted in the UAE can be had for a mere 8dhs at King’s Shawarma (Moulouk Shawarma), toward the western end of the street. It’s perfectly seasoned, just juicy enough and their waffle fries dusted with a Cajun-like seasoning is *chef’s kiss*. I always go for the Arabian meal (24dhs) that includes a meat shawarma, fries, cole slaw, pickled vegetables and toum (garlic paste). Perfection.
This budget-friendly meal helps make up for a pricey dessert from Camel Cookies, just down the street a bit on a side road. They’re indulgent cookies stuffed with Kinder and Nutella, among other things, but starting at about 60dhs for dozen, you really have to like cookies (I do, but I only treat myself to these occasionally).
Crossing over the street again, back to the side that Qasr Al Hosn is on, look for the ADNOC petrol station (if you come straight from King’s Shawarma, it’s pretty close). Behind that station is a little hole-in-the-wall (almost literally) Afghani bakery called Zafaran Bakery. Get ready for the best-spent 4dhs of your life on a freshly made manoushe. It’s a little different than the usual Levantine manakeesh in that the bread is a bit thinner. You can get all sorts of fillings (mostly savory, but a couple sweet) baked up to order, in something much like a pizza oven. My favorites are the halloumi and the spicy potato. I am often pretty full from my shawarma meal at this point, but I still normally pick up a few as they’re great to take home and pop into the oven to reheat for a late-night snack or have for breakfast the next morning. But if you can, it’s absolutely the best eaten fresh, the cheese nice and melty and the bread pillow-soft inside and slightly crisp outside.
In this same little area, just on the other side of the ADNOC station, you’ll find Burro Blanco. With some of the best tacos and burritos you can get in town, it’s no secret, but in case you wondered where its HQ is—this is it. And while you can order from here, it’s takeaway only from a cute walk-up window; there’s no dine-in or seating whatsoever. I usually just get it delivered to my home, but I have been known to pick up some avocado fries while passing by–though they’re not easy to eat and walk with, especially while we’re all wearing masks.
Making my way toward World Trade Center Abu Dhabi, I stay off the main road and stick to the neighborhood streets, which has a surprising and cute pocket of residential villas, walls bursting with bougainvilleas, and many little mosques, before ultimately walking back through Qasr Al Hosn (orange route). Alternatively I head to the Corniche and walk back along one of the parks there (yellow route). For my final stop–particularly if cookies didn’t strike my fancy that day—I head to Läderach, a Swiss chocolate shop in the (dubiously named) “Souk” side of World Trade Center. You don’t even need to go into the mall/souk, you can access the shop directly from the street (near the small mosque and a line of fabric shops). Like the cookies, it’s not a cheap dessert option (about 100dhs for maybe 100g or so slab of chocolate), but I feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck. Plus you can ask for many free samples of all the different flavors of chocolates they have while you’re deciding which to buy–my go-to is the milk chocolate with macadamia nuts and the dark chocolate with raspberry.
And there you have it. The unhealthiest walk on this side of a bar crawl.