Happy Birthday to a Fantabulous Community of UAE Food Bloggers!

[Cake credits: Photographed this beauty at the Choco’a stall, at the 2011 Abu Dhabi wedding fair]

Today is a very special day for me. It’s the day when, a year ago, google surfaced the blog of another fellow food blogger in the city – the lovely, positive energy-exuding, Sally Prosser. It’s the day when a half-baked idea was first scrawled as a comment on Sally’s blog, My Custard Pie. It’s the day that led up to the moment when Sally responded with excitement, eager to connect with someone with an equal passion for food.

Who knew that that half-baked idea would rise, over the span of the next twelve months, into the first and only, unbelievably diverse, and explosively energetic food blogger community in the UAE?

I must warn you, this post will be terribly atypical – no foodie drool and deep-fried bits to dunk into some life-changing chutney. No…all this is, is just a bit of history, a bit of context, and a bit of mush to share with each of the bloggers that are part of this community today. I’ve drawn up a very scanty timeline to show how things came to be – or at least my version of it.

Click here for the full blown kahuna version.

But who cares about fuzzy dates and the timeline minutiae, I’d rather just get to the mush. So here it is, here are some of the things that this UAE-based group of talented food bloggers has given me and that I’d like to celebrate today.

  • An ever-expanding pot of unique, passionate voices that bubble up through each of their individual blogs. Each with a different style, a different approach, but a similar degree of contagious passion for food that makes you want to wake up each morning and check them for updates. And that, I do.
  • An album of food experiences and memories that are worth savoring for many, many months, and hopefully years to come. The Iftar dinner last August became the first of many fabulous opportunities to meet each other in person. We’ve done so many different things together, including trekking over to the Shindagha vegetable market at 7am, icing gingerbread at Sally’s home, digging our barehands into the pile of shrimp at the Buqtair shack, popping our heads into the baklava kitchens at the Al Samadi factory, noshing our way through the menu on Shake Shack’s opening day, laying out a mind-blowing number of picnic goodies at our potluck in Safa park, learning tips on photography or how to make macaroons from each other, and splashing spicy broth across the table while trying to dish noodles out of a common soupy hot pot in the back streets of Deira. Each time, the food has usually been good. But it’s the conversations and memories that have undoubtedly always been priceless.

Food bloggers double dipping into Chinese hotpot at Xiao Wei Yang on Old Dubai’s Baniyas Road

  • A support network that has aged over the past few months into a blend of sweet, rich and complex friendships that extend far beyond the world of food blogging. When you meet complete strangers at a dinner table, there’s only so much you can psycho-analyze about that plate of salmon carpaccio. Conversations have branched out far beyond food to practically everything under the sun…families, vacations, pregnancies, relationships, health issues, and a host of other topics not remotely related to what’s on our plates. Support in times of a question, where can I buy vanilla pods, or how do I switch from blogger to wordpress, is practically 24/7 – our facebook wall never sleeps. Opportunities to grow, gain recognition…and well, even enroll in a competition, win it, and appear on TV [thanks to Anja for sharing, and Marta for making us proud by winning the spot on TV.]…all of those and more are shared selflessly with each other.
    Ironically, some of us face-stuffers have also trained side-by-side for long-distance races.
  • Engaging food-inspired conversations that happen at breakfast time, lunch time, tea time, dinner time…and all the times in between. The number of different topics posted up by members on our Facebook wall has soared far past the 1,000 mark [thank you facebook email notifications for giving me this data] – on average, around 5 new posts of something food related every day. That number doesn’t even begin to include the multitude of thoughtful responses and practically ‘live’ discussions sparked off by most of these posts. It could be anything – a member’s latest post, a new restaurant opening, a plea for camera help, an offer to share a stinky piece of cheese, a provocative article on organic food, anything and everything – we relish it all. [And many of us have managed to not get fired from our day jobs while we’re at it.]

  • An opportunity to be part of something that’s far bigger and way more deliciously decadent than any one blog alone. Without sounding too profound, it feels like we’re ushering in an era of explosively active food blogging in the UAE. Boy, that does sound profound. The group has grown so rapidly because each blog has often acted like a voice for this community, and surfaced valuable connections that either become new members of the group, or become friends or collaborators of the group in some other way. Fellow bloggers, you have shared not just a meager taste of the goodies on your plate, but graciously gone far beyond to let us all double dip into your world of friends, connections and resources. For building a community that transcends each of our individual blogs, I thank each and every one of you.

While I really do admire and appreciate every one of the 56 members in the group, there are three that I’d be wronging if I didn’t mention them. Sally, Anja and Chirag – the three of you had been instrumental in providing offline advice and feedback from Day One about how to grow and administer the group, providing a wealth of thoughtful ideas, pulling the group forward in your own quiet but special ways, and often responding to lame ideas [by yours truly] that were thrown out into the ether with such naïve enthusiasm that anywhere else, they would have fallen flat and crawled out in pain. For growing the group when there really wasn’t one to begin with, you guys truly rock.

I get embarassed about going all mush on everyone, but at least I’m not alone. Chirag‘s story of how he joined the group is one of my favorite ones, because for once, I hadn’t creeped someone else out wih a strange comment, rather they’d turned around and given me a dose of my own medicine! Not surprisingly, we’re friends to the core now. Najla dedicated a pretty pink moist chocolate cake so that the group could celebrate virtually, and we had more cakes and drinks streaming in on twitter, facebook and blogs from Sally, Dee, Didi and Abby. Sandy shares what being part of a local blogging community means to her – “I can put a face to everyone’s blog name” and how the group “has helped me find my calling.” And Meris, in her lovely evocative voice, tells us what we meant to her as she looked to take private baby blog into a public cheesecake fantasy.

This is as much mush as I can squeeze out of me in a year, maybe even two. I’m full of memories and emotion, and totally out of words [this is when you as the reader sigh with relief.]

Happy Birthday to a phenomenal community of UAE food bloggers.
Here’s to many more months and years of eating, growing, and building lasting friendships for times to come.

(A final touch of nostalgia, that first email which went out to the tiny group of bloggers we cobbled together using google searches and blog stalking.)

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.

29 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to a Fantabulous Community of UAE Food Bloggers!

  1. Sally says:

    There’s a lump in my throat Arva. Here’s to many, many more posts, ’Twitterings’, meet-ups, eating, writing, snapping and foodie-ness inspired by our virtual leader <3

  2. saleem says:

    Congratulations to you and the other food bloggers and all the best in future as well

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sally – Likewise Sally, likewise. It took a slice of custard pie to completely change what blogging meant to me.

      @saleem – thanks for all the support dad, you’ve been so constant in your positive words for my blog and this group, I feel very lucky. Thank you.

      @sidiqa – AND WE LOVE YOU TOO! :D I will tell you just how much we do over a slice of blueberry cake ;)

  3. Didi says:

    Happy birthday! Glad to be in the presence of such passionate food bloggers :-) So I am not the only one creepy enough to introduce myself and meet up with strangers then :-) Harharhar!

    The timeline is just so cute!

  4. accordingtodina says:

    Congrats on this HUGE achievement! So proud to be a part of FIA!!! A very happy birthday and Thankyou for having me! You guys rock!!! Here’s to many more birthdays!!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Didi – I’m so glad you are part of this first year,our first ’blogger-in-transit-waiting-for-residence’ ! You’re one of the lucky ones who’s moved to the city with a blog, and got an instant community of foodie friends…all it took was a love of food and a yummy blog that captures it all.

      And no, trust me, there are lots of us (points to self) who win the Creepy Crown by a mile!

      @DevinaDivecha – True dat! And many more crazies to come :)

      @accordingtodina – And congrats to you and every other member for making this all happen Dina! This is why I love FiA, made so many awesome friends…momo and special ostadi memories with you will stay etched in my mind for times to come! waiting to make that pani poori memory soon too :D

  5. FooDiva says:

    God bless lovely post Arva…as someone that’s a newbie blogger with six months into our Famished In Arabia cum Table Talk community, you guys are an amazing support network. I doubt there are any foodie groups out there, or other industries for that matter that can rival what you guys have built. Many happy returns all!

  6. Dubai BItes says:

    So grateful to be a part of this dynamic community.I learn something new, everyday! Happy Birthday to us all!

  7. kooksfood says:

    Awesome timeline!!! and Happy Bday FIA… am really glad I get to be a part of this group! :-)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @FooDiva – Awww thanks for the lovely words. You have no idea how much this means coming from you, one of FiA’s most well-informed, Dubai-experienced, foodily-connected ladies of the city. You’ve been a real gem to have on board, really admire you as a person and your divalicious blog. Here’s to many more fun dinner chats and laughs together!

      @Dubai Bites – I know, me too, it has been a lovely learning process hasn’t it? Not just about food, but about blogging, social media in general, and about how to transform a couple of cyber comments into a real community. Always love reading your blog (which is usually a lesson of sorts to me!) and chatting with you in person – can’t wait to do more of it all in the year ahead :)

      @kooksfood – Thank you!! I’m glad the timeline is getting some love! I’m super glad you’re part of this group too, gotta use more FiA time scouting about in the back streets of Old Dubai, what say? ;)

    2. kooksfood says:

      More back street wandering…? Sounds like a plan! :-)

  8. Sukaina says:

    Happy Birtday FiA. Thank you to Arva for setting this group up. I have met some of the most amazing group of people through this group and it’s all down to you. Thanks :)

  9. najla koya says:

    Happy Birthday FIA!!! Kudos to your high spirit and energy !!! Am glad to be part of this wonderful group.. Thanks Arva :) Ohhh, I loved that timeline :)

  10. Meris says:

    Happy Birthday FiA!!! Proud to among you, so very glad !! : ) Huge shout-out to Arva and Sally. Great write-up, Arva!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sukaina – And you are one of the most amazing photographers and bloggers the group has met Sukaina. Really been inspired by your blog and learned so much from how you photograph since we got connected through Famished. The group is lucky to have you!
      …oh and we ADORE Baby M!

      @najla koya – thank YOU! :) Thanks for the gorgeous pink cake post you dedicated to FiA. Since the time you joined the group, your posts have paralyzed me with cravings on many a morning, but I still keep going back to your blog for more :)

      @Meris – Meris, thanks for the lovely words, the awesome FiA b’day post you dedicated to the group, and above all, for all the cheesecake goodness that you slice out on our facebook page. You’re aware that you have magic powers to kill my entire day’s worth of productivity with exotic cheesecake uber-cravings right?!

  11. IContemplate says:

    Wow.. this is such a wonderful thing that you all did. Kudos!! A food blogging community to support eachother’s passion for food and all things food,. WOnder if you are willing to extend outside of UAE to say, Bahrain? If yes, do let me know. I am sooo interested.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @gourmetpoint – Yay! Thanks for the support, I love that you guys are always rooting for the group and our bloggers, thank you!!

      @abigail – and you lady, and you! I’m hoping the FiA cake-a-thon features some purple yam goodness ;)

      @IContemplate – Thanks! Just checked out your blog (http://sliceofmylyfe.wordpress.com/) and added it to my RSS feed (yay, more blog posts over my cuppa chai in the morning!). I’m not sure the same approach would work across the GCC – you lose the power of physicial face-to-face interaction and events, which is really what takes a online community like this to the next level. Putting faces behind blogs, though of course we haven’t really met all our bloggers.

      I will email you to think this idea through…

      @ginger and scotch – thank you, and me too, can’t wait for the FiA cake madness to hit!

  12. Zahra Abdalla says:

    Love the background story, and very happy to have found you guys. I feel that this is the start of a beautiful friendship :-)


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