Where to find the best food tours in Dubai
Food tours are my favourite way to get to know a city and nowadays you can find them all over the world. Since my friend Arva dipped her toe into the food tour water here in Dubai, and then did the equivalent of swimming the Atlantic in setting up Frying Pan Adventures, the scene has grown and started to diversify. These three food tour companies show you what Dubai has to offer through an edible itinerary, in completely different ways. Book one, book all!
Frying Pan Adventures
My mouth had to open wide to enclose the crisp shell, I was slightly panicked about choking as my teeth descended on the crisp shell and a flood of spicy, sweet, sour water drenched my tongue. There was no way to swallow as the crunchy sprouts needed to be fully munched so my teeth did their work while my eyes watered and taste buds exploded in shock and pleasure. This was my first experience of pani puri, on my first ever Frying Pan Tour; I’ve been introduced to so many varied and diverse foodstuffs since then. Full disclosure, I have lost count of the number of Frying Pan Food adventures I’ve been on (no joke). Arva has invited me on a fair few to beta-test or just to experience a new one. I’m such a fan that I try to sign up every visitor to Dubai who stays with me so I can witness their discovery of such a different side of the city, plus I get the excuse to come along too. From being greeted by Moroccan chefs who stuck their heads round the kitchen door and ullulated their welcome before cutting our pastilla with a ceremonial sword to being invited into a religious ceremony, to the best bread hot from the oven eaten on the street, every time has been special. I even spent a big birthday taking my friends on a private tour.
Even if you’ve done a trail once before there are always some surprises thrown in as the Frying Pan sisters are continually looking at ways to improve the experience. For visitors to Dubai, I would recommend the Middle East Food Pilgrimage first as it covers a whole range of food from the region as well as giving an insider view into a parts of the city well off the beaten track. North India on a Plate and The Indian Express trail opened my eyes to neighbourhoods and food from a culture which has played such a part in the history of making the UAE what it is today. If Local Flavors : Shop, Sizzle, Savour trail is running, book it immediately; you get to visit the fish market with a veteran local sea-captain (he’s quite a character) who then prepares and cooks it for you. Farida and Arva are self-confessed ‘unabashed food history nerds in the city’ with an insatiable appetite for tracking down irresistible but authentic dishes.
For keen photographers, look out for the food and photo trails which are held in conjunction with Gulf Photo Plus. The evenings I went out in Bur Dubai and Deira during Diwali and Ramadan are some of the most exhilarating and unique experiences I’ve had during 16 years in Dubai. And as the complete antithesis of the belly dancing camps, watch sunrise up close with nature in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve ending with a picnic brunch (provided by Baker & Spice). Absolute magic.
Book a Frying Pan Adventure here.
And don’t just take my word for it – read A Food Lover’s Tour of Old Dubai by The Travel Bunny (just one of hundreds of positive reviews). Read more about when I did a tour of North India, Middle Eastern and a food and photo tour of the Creek.
Tastecapade by bike
Banks of blue bikes started to appear around my neighbourhood of Umm Suqeim, but it took a food tour to make my vague intention to ride one into a reality. A group of us all wobbled off in a circuit, led by Mary our guide and the driving force behind this start-up, with various food stops on the way. We drank fresh juices in a very particular cocktail, we watched the sun go down on the beach while eating and discussing, we talked fished and ate in a harbour, we sat on the floor in a traditional way for a variety of meals and snacks. Our cycle-powered eating excursion was punctuated by little snippets of information not only about the specific course or foodstuff but also how it fitted into local culture and traditions, some old, some quite new. Mary steered us in a gentle and informal way and it was like going out with an old friend; the cycling was not at all arduous and great fun. As Mary and her sister have lived in Dubai all their lives they have a deep understanding and another interesting perspective on the food culture and traditions. All in all a really enjoyable experience and a great one for visitors and residents alike. I definitely learned some new things about the area that I’ve dwelt in for over 16 years and the people who live there, plus went home with a very full tummy and new friends.
Book a Tastecapade tour by bike here. I notice there is a farm trip and a walking tour of old Dubai now too – although I haven’t tried these.
Foodiva’s Dine Around Dubai
In complete contrast to the other two, Samantha Wood of Foodiva concentrates on luxury, high-end and fine dining. As there are around a hundred 5 star hotels in Dubai, all with several restaurants and many with celebrity chefs at their helm, this is as much a part of the food culture as eating cheese bread on the pavement in Deira. Each experience differs as the restaurant scene changes so rapidly in Dubai, plus it’s essential to retain the air of mystery. On every dine around there is always something new and unique to sample. The evening tour lasts for about four hours and starts with a glass of bubbly. At time of writing the latter is Ruinart Rosé Champagne, the bottles opened with a sword by Mathias Kahn, the Swedish National Champion of the Art of Sabrage, at a mystery Champagne bar. That’s guaranteed to set the tone for the evening. Walking is kept to a minimum as any ferrying between venues is chauffeur-driven – so you can do this tour in high heels. I’ve been on two tours in the past at the invite of Sam who is a friend. One was her regular Dine Around and was a trail of restaurants on The Palm Jumeirah, starting with canapé, cocktails and a fantastic view from the balcony near Social by Heinz Beck, ending with a flourish in Bushman’s Restaurant and Bar at Anantara The Palm with the most spectacular deconstructed Eton mess demo the size of a table. I loved the surprise element of not knowing where we were going next. Sam also arranges corporate tours and the second one was in conjunction with European cheeses i.e. total cheese and wine heaven.
Dubai behind the scenes
If the alternative street life of Dubai appeals, the book Dubai: Behind the Scenes is a beautiful souvenir and record of a side of the city which many people never see and is starting to change. It’s a poignant and intimate look through the lens of photographer Jalal Abuthina at the areas of Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama and the many different cultures and communities inhabiting them. From street wrestling to ceremonies and everyday life it’s a really unique memento. See inside the book and find out more… You can order online or find a copy in Kinokuniya (Bookworld), Dubai Mall or Gulf Photo Plus, AlSerkal Avenue.
*I was an (enthusiastic) guest on several of these tours but only recommend things here on the blog that I’m 100% behind.
Have you been on a food tour? Did you eat anything extraordinary? Disclosure: I ate sheep’s brain and eyeball in Istanbul.