Interview with Farida Ahmed, Co-Founder of Frying Pan Adventures, A Food Tour Operator in Dubai

Interview with Farida Ahmed, Co-Founder of Frying Pan Adventures, A Food Tour Operator in Dubai

Fancy an exploration of culinary hidden gems in Dubai? Embark on a delectable journey through the hidden alleys and flavorful narratives of Old Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures, the brainchild of the dynamic sister duo, Arva Saleem Ahmed and Farida Ahmed. Frying Pan Adventures is a venture born out of a commitment to preserve the culinary heritage, stories, and community spirit of Dubai. Their tours offer a unique and immersive experience, guiding participants through hidden doors that many tourists and even resident expats may overlook.

Delve into the world of this food tour company as Farida Ahmed, the co-founder of Frying Pan Adventures, unveils the inspiration and unique offerings of the venture.

The food tour company was born out of a desire to showcase the lesser-known side of Dubai, a side often overlooked by the gleaming skyscrapers and modern extravagance. This part of the city was where the co-founders, Arva and Farida Ahmed grew up during the 80s. It then became the canvas for Arva's brainchild, Frying Pan Adventures.

Founding Sisters of Frying Pan Adventures - Arva Saleem Ahmed and Farida Ahmed

Despite their differences in personalities, the sisters find a connection in their shared core values. Running a family-operated enterprise, the co-founders play to their strengths in dividing responsibilities. Arva takes on the role of the financial expert, managing numbers and steering creative initiatives, including designing tours and events, as well as overseeing social media content. On the other hand, with a background in hospitality, Farida focuses on the human side of operations, handling customer-facing aspects such as service and human resources, while also actively participating in tours and providing support to Arva in social media content creation. Together, their diverse skill sets contribute to the seamless functioning of this venture.

The initial phase of Frying Pan Adventures revolved around food blogging, focusing on the smaller, humble places in Old Dubai and the stories woven around them. The idea to showcase these hidden culinary gems emerged during the transition from blogging to developing a passion for the stories behind the food and the people crafting it. Their inspiration stems from the need to provide grounding and connection, especially amidst Dubai's rapid changes. Farida points out that,

"No matter how far ahead you move, you still need grounding, you still need connection, you still need these simple shared experiences that are rooted in something that perhaps is a little bit simpler."

Crafting Culinary Experiences

Image Credits: Sheban Naim

The selection of culinary experiences for the tours is a meticulous process. Currently, the team offers three full-time tours; the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage, the Dubai Souks & Creekside Food Walk, and the Little India on a Plate Tour. The choices are deeply rooted in their personal experiences, with some restaurants being longstanding favorites from their childhood, regularly frequented, or even part of their home dining. Recommendations from family and friends also play a significant role in shaping the tour's culinary destinations. One of the founders, Arva, adopted a Sherlock Holmes approach in the early days, exploring the streets and back alleys of old Dubai. Spots stumbled upon during these adventures are considered for inclusion if they align with the tour's theme and resonate with the group. New establishments are also evaluated to ensure a balance between exceptional food and high standards of service and hygiene.

This food tour company tries to alter its experiences to cater to both repeat residents seeking nostalgia and first-time visitors eager to explore the hidden gems of Old Dubai. Returning residents often find themselves drawn to the tours not just for the delectable cuisine but for the rich narratives shared by each guide.

Farida says,

"We share not just food, but we share so many stories and every guide brings their unique flavor, personality, and personal anecdotes."

This ensures that even seasoned participants walk away with fresh insights or fondly recalled memories. Seasonal tours, a loyalty program, and community events ensure that even frequent participants discover something new with each visit. From Eid Biryani gatherings to Onam Sadhya meetups, the company continues to innovate, ensuring that the offerings remain enticing and fresh. They also have a newsletter that shares insider tips and tricks on culinary adventures in the city.

Heartwarming Encounters

Image Credits: Sheban Naim

The soul of Frying Pan Adventures lies in the community spirit of Old Dubai. Farida recalls some of the memorable encounters from their tours that exemplify this spirit. During one of their Middle Eastern food pilgrimage tour, a restaurant owner helped out Arva generously after she realized that she had left her wallet at home. The act of generosity and trust displayed by the restaurant owner left both Arva and Farida moved.

On another Middle Eastern tour, Farida recounts a visit to a Baklava shop where an Emirati gentleman enthusiastically joined the Gahwa ceremony, sharing personal stories and traditions. She happily shares,

"It was a very special, unexpected experience, where you have someone from the land telling you how important the hospitality of Gahwa and their traditions are."

Farida also shares another memorable tour experience which highlights the national dish of Iraq, Masgouf, a massive 3 to 4-kilo fish rarely associated with the country's cuisine. She explains how their tour has been able to challenge one-dimensional perceptions and bring attention to often-overlooked ancient cultural elements.

Overcoming Challenges

Image Source: Andrea Salerno Jacome

Amid the challenges of recent years, Frying Pan Adventures, like many others, faced the hurdles posed by the global pandemic. They had to undertake significant adjustments to their walking food tours. Previously accommodating up to 12 people on shared tours, the pandemic necessitated a scaling down to smaller groups of 6 to 8. To maintain affordability without raising ticket prices, creative solutions were implemented. Hygiene became a top priority, with tour participants receiving tote bags containing essential items such as wet wipes and sanitizer. During the pre-pandemic period, audio systems were provided, however, during the pandemic, guests were encouraged to bring their earphones or purchase them.

Frying Pan Adventures also successfully transformed their tours into guidebooks allowing people to explore independently. These guidebooks detail restaurant names, recommended dishes, and captivating stories, providing an immersive experience at one's own pace. They also launched a digital spic guide that featured over 70 spices helping people to explore the spice souq at an expert level. These adaptations and resilience showcased by them in the face of adversity and opened new avenues for exploration and engagement.

Changing the Culinary Scene

Since its establishment in 2013, Frying Pan Adventures has played a pivotal role in reshaping the local food and culture scene in Dubai. The founders believe their culinary excursions have revealed an often overlooked side of the city, broadening perspectives.

Farida proudly shares,

"I like to think that we have helped open people to the idea and the possibility that there is another side of Dubai, another side of the city worth eating at."

Considered a forerunner in unearthing hidden gems, Frying Pan Adventures has become a beacon, enticing both residents and tourists to savor the authenticity of old Dubai. The team has received substantial support from the tourism sector. As Dubai's multicultural tapestry unfolds, Frying Pan Adventures remains a storyteller, preserving the cultural narratives and flavors that define the heart of the city.

Beyond Culinary Tours

Image Credits: Andrea Salerno Jacome

Looking ahead for this food tour company, the team aims to enhance its video and social media content. A key focus lies on amplifying the VIP pass program, with plans to introduce additional community meetups and corporate team-building events. Recognizing the appeal of team bonding through gastronomic experiences, the team is keen on offering a unique lens through which corporate teams can explore the city's diverse culinary landscape. Additionally, participants can enjoy fun and creative games like a food scavenger hunt that involves solving a thrilling mystery through culinary clues, providing a fresh and engaging approach to their offerings.

Spearheaded by the Ahmed sisters, Frying Pan Adventures continues to evolve and innovate promising an immersive culinary experience in the Old Dubai.

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