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A close up photo of a plate of food. It is a full fish with lots of garnishes.

I Was Wrong About Food Tours

Controversial opinion: I don’t like food. Wait, WAIT!! Before everyone grabs their pitchforks, let me explain. If good food is placed in front of me, through absolutely no effort on my part, I will happily savour every bite. I will also very much appreciate the time, effort, and skill that went into preparing that food. But if any part of that process relies on me, that’s where things go south. I have zero culinary skills. I don’t get any pleasure out of trying new recipes. And in general, I’m constantly annoyed that I have to eat three times a day for my body to keep functioning. All of which is to say that I was rather perplexed when a friend suggested that we take a food tour together on a recent travel trip. Me? On a food tour? That seemed like a recipe for disaster. And yes, that pun was entirely intentional.

The food tour that was proposed was the Dubai Souks and Creekside Food Walk by Frying Pan Adventures, and I will admit that I was hesitant at first. My friend is a massive foodie, so I understood why she wanted to go on the tour. However, I wasn’t sure if there was anything of interest in it for me. However, the tour summary promised both delicious food and the history of the area, so I thought “Why not?” and we signed up. Side note: Apparently my friend knows me very well, because she later confessed that she had chosen this tour on purpose because she knew that she had to lure me in with the promise of history. And that’s how I found myself on a food tour for the first time in my life. I couldn’t have chosen a better company for this experience.

The logo for Frying Pan Adventures, a food tour company. The word adventures is written across a red frying pan.

Frying Pan Adventures was founded in 2013 by sisters Arva and Farida Ahmed, and it was the first food tour company to be founded in the Gulf region. It was born out of Arva’s food blog, I Live in a Frying Pan, which she started in 2010 after living abroad for several years. Upon her return to Dubai, she found that the city had drastically changed during her time away. Both Arva and Farida grew up in what is now considered to be Old Dubai, and Arva’s blog celebrated the food and restaurants of their childhood. All of the small, independent, and local restaurants that were now ignored in favour of all the celebrity chefs that had come to dominate Dubai’s food scene. 

When you think of Dubai, images of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, and the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest artificial island, probably come to mind. But Dubai is so much more than just these modern engineering marvels. In fact, most people forget that Dubai was once just a small fishing village, and a lot of this history is preserved in Old Dubai, a lively and bustling neighbourhood that is filled with historic architecture, souks and spices, and a distinctly lived in and local atmosphere. It’s a cultural experience all on its own, and that’s a big part of its appeal. As Arva so astutely points out, the more that the modern, futuristic Dubai grows, the more desire there will be to see a different side of town.

A photo of Arva and Farida, owners of Frying Pan Adventures. They are standing side by side, looking into the camera, wearing t-shirts that say Keep Calm, I'm Your Food Tour Guide.

I was one such person with that desire, so when I read that the Dubai Souks and Creekside Food Walk was centred around this neighbourhood, I was intrigued. And when Arva herself showed up at the meeting point wearing a “Keep Calm, I’m Your Food Tour Guide” shirt, I was hooked. Something about that shirt told me that this was going to be a tour like no other. And I was right. For the next four and a half hours, Arva took us everywhere in Old Dubai. She told us the history of the city and its people. She explained cultural traditions and social practices. And in general, she was a veritable foundation of knowledge about everything. And then there was the food.

A photo of a food vendor looking into the camera with smile, holding out a plate of falafel.

Yes, the food. The thing I normally couldn’t care less about suddenly became the most fascinating thing in the world. Arva didn’t just lead us from restaurant to restaurant. She told us the history of food in the region and the part it plays in people’s daily lives. She told us the story of each neighbourhood through the way that it eats. And she fed us some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. 

Needless to say, Arva was one of the most incredible tour guides I’ve ever had, and I was constantly amazed at her ingenuity with how she presented all of the information to us. A particular favourite was how she turned what could have been a boring lecture on spices into a riveting game of Spingo. Yes, Spingo. Spice bingo. I told you this tour was amazing. Later, as we crossed the creek on a traditional Dubai abra, eating an incredible frozen noodle dessert, I couldn’t help but think that this experience wasn’t just amazing. It was magical.

A photo of a food tour guide explaining spice in a Dubai souk for a group tour.

I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about how much I was going to enjoy this tour. But looking back, I’ve never been so happy in my life to admit that I was completely wrong. About everything. Not only was I wrong about that particular tour, but I was also wrong about food tours in general. This one tour made me completely re-evaluate everything I had previously assumed about an entire sector of the tourism industry. Food tours aren’t just about eating food. They are a fascinating window into the history and culture of a country, city, or region, and my time with Frying Pan Adventures is now one of my favourite memories of Dubai.

To be clear, I still don’t like food. It still annoys me that I have to make time to feed myself three times a day. And it’s infinitely more likely that I’ll burn down my kitchen before I cook something that’s even remotely edible. But you better believe that I will be booking a food tour every time I travel from here on out. It’s an incredible way to learn about a new place, and it puts delicious food in front of you with no effort required on your part. More importantly, as Arva says, “Food is one of the most universal ways of telling a story.” I can’t believe it took me this long to figure this out, but now, I couldn’t agree more.

Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.