On the Food Trail in Old Dubai

One of the most challenging articles for me to write was the one I’ve unconsciously been writing for the past four years since I started this blog. I’d invite you to read it here: Al Ghurair Magazine – On the Food Trail in Old Dubai – Arva Ahmed

Why this article means so much to me. I was asked to articulate my thoughts on ”the disconnect between the hole-in-the-wall places and the five-star places” in Dubai, and appropriately for a publication recently launched by the first shopping mall in Dubai, Al Ghurair. The mention of Al Ghurair often unleashes a flood of childhood memories for me – Americana Chicken Tikka, Hardees, Sindabad Fun City (with that creepy merry-go-round music) – and it is still alive in Old Dubai, still down the street from me and still trying to innovate, but in a different way. They have recognized their Old Dubai stature and branded themselves as ”[Soul of the City] Discover Dubai’s Original Urban Community.” The branding is backed by initiatives to support this part of town and its community, be it local artists or a magazine which features articles focused on life, people and culture in Old Dubai. Writing this article for Al Ghurair’s magazine just brought things full circle in many ways that only a girl playing Pacman in the Al Ghurair video arcade in the 80’s would appreciate.

The editor was gracious enough to let me share the stream of consciousness that I was finally able to transpose into coherent sentences. While I feel so strongly in favour of the hole-in-the-wall places, even irrationally so, I really wanted to be less fanatical and biased in my views. Consciously prohibiting myself from spewing out prejudiced statements made the article even harder to write – and I don’t even think I succeeded. Thanks to Sheban for being my sounding board as I laboured over the words and debated aloud with myself. Thanks also to the guests on my food tours who were unknowingly privy to statements proclaimed on the tour that were eventually transcribed into this article.

This article is written from the depths of a soul that strongly believes in trawling the streets to discover food, and to use that food to make your stomach and eventually your heart feel grounded in a city that often aspires to be every other city but itself. I’d love to hear your thoughts when you read it here > Al Ghurair Magazine – On the Food Trail in Old Dubai – Arva Ahmed

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

12 thoughts on “On the Food Trail in Old Dubai

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sally, thank you for the gracious feedback. I already feel like I’ve won an award if this comes from you :)

  1. Didi says:

    Beautifully and soulfully written Arva! I’ve always loved down-to-earth places in no matter what part of the world I am.

    Hope someday our paths would cross again in a 10-seater, obscure joint round the corner :)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Thank you Didi! As we say here, may there be butter and sugar in your words! I hope we have another chance to sneak around a corner of Dubai and share a bite of something totally unexpected. Amen.

  2. Erum @ TotalSalads.com says:

    Stunning article and amazingly honest writing. I think you are a really unique voice in highlighting the smaller authentic restaurants around Dubai and how they are a reflection of a part of the city that tourists and many residents never really see. Now I feel hungry again.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Erum, thanks for taking the time to read the article and share such appreciative feedback. Hungry is the perfect state to be in Old Dubai, and you usually end up leaving with an experience that doesn’t just fill your tummy, but quenches your thirst for discovery. Even if a restaurant adventure turns out to be a complete disaster, it’s usually got enough character to be memorable.

  3. shaima says:

    Oh my goodness. Im yet to clink on the article and you’ve brought back memories i didnt even think i remembered about our trips to Al Ghurair whenever we’d visit from Abu Dhabi. It was THE place to be in way before even City centre was born.
    You really need to give courses about food writing.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Shaima, so glad to hear that the post brought memories back of Al Ghurair! What days those were….and whatever happened to Sindbad Fun City?!

      I think you’re too kind, I can barely write a sentence without a spelling mistake every five words, let alone deliver a food writing course. But thank you for the thought. Writing a heartfelt article (hopefully without typos) gives me a sense of completion on the cycle of exploring, eating, experiencing – and internalizing.

  4. IshitaUnblogged says:

    Well done Arva. I can absolutely understand the emotion. Would love to read the article – the link’s not taking me anyway.

  5. GA says:

    What a coincidence we were at Al Ghurair last week, it evoked some memories for me too. Great article, well done Princess :)


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