Alkebulan is the first African dining hall in the world, and its grand opening in Dubai has already expanded the narrative and landscape for African food.

The fine-dining African food hall is the first of its kind to celebrate and platform the boundless variety of African cuisine. Alkebulan invites visitors to discover the beauty of African food while offering opportunities to engage with live music, art and various events.

It features no less than 11 African restaurant sections, each carefully hand-picked by acclaimed chef Alexander Smalls. 

Alexander Smalls, an Award-winning and hugely iconic chef in the global culinary scene, opened the food hall in Dubai last fall after the Expo Dubai 2020 was delayed due to COVID-19. It is said that in early 2020, Smalls sought out a location in Harlem to open what he intended to call the Harlem Food Hall.

Following a series of COVID-19 related delays, this visions was put on hold. In its place, a world-first food hall concept was born, championing African dishes in the Middle East. 

Credit: Alkebulan

Alkebulan (pronounced al-kee-boulan) is named after the oldest name for Africa and translates to ‘Mother of Mankind’ or ‘Garden of Eden’, a fitting reference to the abundance and richness that the food hall provides. Inside the highly anticipated dining hall, you’ll find 11 African restaurant concepts including choices between South African barbecue, East African seafood, Senegalese baked goods and Kenyan goat dishes.

“I also incorporated African street foods and, under that umbrella, you have South African bunny chow, West African bread cakes, and all kinds of wonderful things from Nigeria and Morocco,” added Smalls in an interview while elaborating on the impressive depth that Alkebulan plentifully offers. 

The food hall, a welcomed addition to Dubai’s already flourishing luxury reputation, sets out to be a well curated example of the culinary variety that the continent has to offer. As a vision that Smalls had been developing for well over a decade, Alkebulan is a perfect addition to the successful chef’s wider goals. While in conversation with Food & Wine, Smalls shares that “I’ve had five restaurants, starting with The Cecil in Harlem, all of which have been about the food of the African diaspora. About six or seven years ago, I set out to create a destination that would tell the story of African food on five continents [and tell] how through slavery, Africans changed the global culinary conversation.”

This commitment to storytelling through food is what reserves the award-winning cookbook author as a key voice in the global conversation about the African-diaspora and its culinary contributions. 

While the world is already deeply impressed with the history-making opening of Alkebulan, Smalls shares that he has plans to deepen his contribution in the African culinary scene. Smalls, full of justified optimism for the future of African food and his ability to showcase it, reveals that “[T]his is only the beginning. As a disciple of the beauty and brilliance of African food, I’m taking it all over the world.” 

The exciting project is just getting started and will result in versions of Alkebulan food hall openings in Harlem, London and in at least eight other cities.