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A hyperlocal look at Dubai

Andreas D. Arditya

The Jakarta Post

Dubai, United Arab Emirates  /  Sun, August 12, 2018  /  12:05 pm
A hyperlocal look at Dubai

Arva Ahmed’s offers a hyperlocal take on Dubai with her Frying Pan Adventures tours. (Courtesy of Airspectiv Media/File)

In search of what’s beyond Dubai’s souks and shopping malls for our article on shopping, J+ by The Jakarta Post reached out to Arva Ahmed.

With her sister Fardia, Arva runs the popular Frying Pan Adventures food tour and a Dubai-themed foodie podcast. “This is home for me,” says the Hyderabad-born Arva, who first moved to Dubai in 1983. The city’s backstreets, she says “evoke a memory of when I was growing up–the Dubai of the 80s and 90s, when it was a much smaller place and more community focused.”

Here is Arva’s guide to Dubai, off the tourist track.

What's the perfect Sunday?

Your Sunday is my Friday here, but in the months where it’s cooler, like December to April, we have farmers' markets. It's such a luxury to meet the farmers and buy vegetables that are fresh from the farm, rather than those that are flown in. I love that morning of talking with people who are passionate about things like honey or Middle Eastern spices and obviously buying my things from the farmers' market.

Best part of the city?

The streets that evoke a memory of when I was growing up–the Dubai of the 80s and 90s, when it was a much smaller place and more community-focused. [Also,] you don't need a ticket to travel [in Dubai]. You can go from one side of the city to another and you'll feel like you’re in a completely different place. You can walk into Meena Bazaar and you'll feel like you're in India. You can go to a part of Naif, which is like little Ethiopia, or drive to Hatta, up in the mountains, and have an incredible meal that’s made by the people of the mountains.

Magic moment in Dubai?

Whenever I find something unexpected – something cultural that I didn't know existed. During Ramadhan once, I found a Malaysian market selling Malaysian home- cooked goodies for iftar [fast breaking]. When I found a Friday market where Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis and Emiratis were cooking at home and bringing food to this very humble market. Or when I went to Hatta and found this guy making this wonderful slow-cooked lamb on his farm.

Read also: What makes Dubai, Dubai

How to see the real Dubai?

Arva Ahmed exploring Dubai’s food culture.Arva Ahmed exploring Dubai’s food culture. (Courtesy of Airspectiv Media/File)

Go into old Dubai with our company, Frying Pan Adventures, and we’ll show you the streets of Dera and will take you for a food and photography tour–that’s where you get to see what the residents are eating. I’d also recommend going to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. You can see oryx and gazelles. It shows you how rich in life something as barren a desert can be. For people who have more time, go for a road trip up to the northern Emirates, outside of Dubai. It's a good way of rewinding and seeing how Dubai looked like in the 70s and 80s.

Advice for guests who can only have one meal?

In addition to hummus and falafel–which really are imported food, though I love them–I would like them to have a traditional meal, a local Emirati meal. They can do it at the Radisson Blu. They have a local Emirati restaurant [Aseelah] serving Emirati food. Al Fanar is another Emirati restaurant.

Best place for people watching?

I love sitting on Al Rigga Road, which is the road I grew up on. It's such a bustling little road. There’s a restaurant there called Al Safadi and I just grab a chair and watch people come and go. There are not so many tourists, it's just the people who live there. You just get this feeling that you’re part of a bigger community.

Up-and-coming neighborhood?

People will tell you that Citywalk is the newest thing, but [...] in Port Rashid, they are planning to set up a bunch of restaurants. It's a blend of the current fad of doing things with shipping containers with one of the older parts of town from the 70s. It’s not really a neighborhood, but they’re building it up in this old part of town.

What do you love to order?

There are too many things for me to say. What do I order? That’s an entire essay. That's a thesis!

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This article was originally published in the Apr. 2018 edition of J+ by The Jakarta Post with the headline "Edible Dubai".