Discover Dubai's hidden food scene on a very special walking tour
You'd be forgiven for assuming Dubai's dining scene begins and ends at epically indulgent brunches and overly grand restaurants run by celebrity chefs.
They do exist: think £520 steaks, £1000 dollops of caviar and foie gras-infused whiskey cocktails, but Arva Ahmed, who grew up in Dubai, is on a mission to prove there's more to her city.
Arva launched Frying Pan Adventures in 2013 as a series of culinary walking tours, to uncover an enticing underbelly of lowkey family run eateries in the emirate - without a single gold-dusted amuse bouche in sight.
The four-hour Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage, for example, takes you through a network of narrow streets in Deira, the oldest area of Dubai, tasting Arabic and Iranian dishes and baklava from sweet-shops Ahmed visited as a child.
Here Arva chats to Food Tribe about why's it's so important to show Dubai's alternative food scene, all the cultures in the city and where to buy the tastiest falalels in town. Please note we made it a goal not to use the phrase "melting pot of cultures," and have succeeded, we think.
Frying Pan Adventures
What's surprises people most about Dubai's food scene?
The sheer diversity of cultures that have made the city their home. This is the city that's given me my first taste of Nepalese momos, Uzbeki naan, Azerbaijani kebabs, Syrian fatteh, Palestinian musakhan, Iraqi dolma and Bosnian kebabs and the list keeps getting longer. We're essentially travelling the world with plates of food. The best form of travel if you ask me!
How do your tours work?
Our food tours are themed for example there's the Dubai souks and Creekside walk, Little India on a Plate tour and the Sufra Experience which explores exciting specialty feasts, uncharted culinary routes and contrasting food cultures in the UAE.
The tours are moving dinner parties where we host around 10 guests and visit multiple places in Dubai's oldest districts to taste authentic local food. On Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage we visit three restaurants and two sweet shops, but the experience goes far beyond eating, which is why guests come back.
Frying Pan Adventures Facebook / Falafels
What were your goals when you first launched?
Our goal when we first started was simply to showcase a different side of town, the one that we'd grown up in during the 80s and 90s when Dubai hadn't yet earned its reputation for the glitzy skyscrapers and ultra luxurious hotels. But over time, we realized that there was a bigger goal at play. We want to use the city as a way of learning about all its cultures.
Are you popular with residents as well as tourists?
Definitely. Food is a universal broker that everyone understands and it can open up so many conversations around history, traditions, beliefs and politics. Dubai is like one massive cultural dinner table and both visitors and residents are welcome to pull up a chair to our tours of it.
What makes your tours stand out in city like Dubai?
We're less focused on a set itinerary and more focused on unfolding a narrative in real time. Our guides are storytellers who really know the city, its people and its food and weave in historical facts and personal anecdotes as they go. We would never serve you a plate of food without painting the context around it, whether that's the history of the cuisine, the story of the cook or the process of how the food was prepared. Each tour feels engaging and immersive.
Frying Pan Adventures
What's your favourite stop along the tour?
I'm not supposed to have favourites, but I have a special soft spot for our first Palestinian-Jordanian stop. Not only do they serve the best falafels and hummus ever, but the staff there combine pride for their food with humour and an amazing energy. That really makes you feel right at home as soon as we arrive. They've been a part of the tours from the very start.
What is the best part about Dubai's hidden food scene?
We're not perfect, but at its core, the culture here in Dubai is one committed to opportunity and progress. From a culinary standpoint, this means we're attracting talent from all parts of the world and giving people a safe place to preserve their own food heritage and experiment with new styles. There's so much that's being added to the food ecosystem here, I am constantly playing "catch up". I can't eat any more meals in a day, it's just not possible!