I'm guilty of having flown through Dubai numerous times without ever leaving its enormous and busy airport. But this podcast episode has captured my imagination with its tales of diverse international cuisines, Arabian desert landscapes and hidden gems in ancient stone laneways.
We hear from Farida Ahmed, who grew up in Dubai and runs a food tour business, that Dubai is much more than its well-known ultra-modern skyline. Farida’s postcard takes us beyond the urban landscape as she explains how we can best explore the city and the desert beyond.
Dubai is a relatively small city with a big city feel due to its diverse and immense expatriate population. People from around the world call Dubai home, bringing their own culture and cuisine to the city.
To understand that Dubai is not just a modern city, Farida suggests you:
explore its historic quarter including the Dubai Museum and many quirky art galleries.
take an abra (traditional boat) ride for an affordable tour of the historic Dubai Creek, which divides the city in two and eventually empties into the Arabian Gulf.
visit an archeological site discovered in the 1960s that only recently opened to the public, and
visit the Dubai Frame at sunset to see both the new and old parts of Dubai as the sky darkens and the city lights up.
For a deeper understanding of the indigenous people of the area and their culture, she recommends a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Farida says it's a good idea to visit Dubai outside of the summer months when it is too hot to enjoy daytime activities. High daytime temperatures also mean it's a city that comes alive at night when it's much cooler, she says.
For a unique desert experience, she suggests seeking out a company that has access to a part of the Arabian Desert called the Desert Conservation Reserve. These tours introduce you to the people and wildlife of the desert but only a few companies (one is Royal Shaheen) have access to this protected zone, and they are strictly managed to do no harm to the environment.
Farida also recommends taking the opportunity to get outside Dubai for a road-trip to the other surrounding emirates which, while only a short drive away, are all very different to each other.
The food scene in Dubai is vast and diverse with food from all around the world. Her recommendations include:
Jumeirah Lakes Towers, home to everything from Korean to Italian.
The Arabian Tea House, housed in a traditional home that once belonged to a pearl merchant, where you can try the indigenous cuisine.
International City, Dubai's unofficial Chinatown, for restaurants that specialise in cuisine from all of China's provinces.
Asado, an Argentinian steakhouse in downtown.
As general manager of a food tour company, of course Farida recommends a walking food tour as a good way to get access to the more out of the way culinary gems to be found in the back streets of Dubai's old town.
There's a lot more in this episode including camel milk chocolate, a coffee museum and the area's first farmed oysters. You'll have to listen to the episode to get the rest of Farida's insider tips on how to get beyond the guide books and tourist traps on a visit to her home town. Perhaps, like me, you'll be leaving the airport when you next fly through Dubai.
Farida's Tour Company Frying Pan Adventures also has a podcast of its own, called Deep Fried, in which they explore food history, culture and recipes, and you can follow them on social at Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.