A family-run food tour company in Dubai is calling on the local community to help keep the business afloat after it was hit hard by the pandemic.
Frying Pan Adventures launched an online spice guide, The Ultimate Guide to the Spice Souq, after it was forced to stop physical tours for the second time in January because of the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
From allspice to barberries and aniseed to cassia, the Dh50 guide offers detailed insight into the origins of 74 spices available in Dubai souqs.
Arva Ahmed, founder of the company, had to cease walking tours for eight months out of the past 12, which has been devastating for her small business.
"We launched the electronic pocket guide to help recoup our basic costs," she told The National.
“Our business relies on being outdoors and eating with people. A week before lockdown last year, we took a call to stop the tours as news of the virus spreading globally felt too close to home.
“At the end of January, my team and I took a call to stop the food tours again.
“Shortly after that I tested positive for Covid-19, as did my elderly mother and father. It’s just been a terrible time.”
So far, 180 copies of the e-guide have been sold, generating about Dh9,000.
Before the pandemic, Frying Pan Adventures hosted three main tours in across old Dubai – the Middle Eastern food pilgrimage; Little India on a plate; and Dubai souqs and creekside food walk.
During the south and north Asian tour, guests got to watch fermented rice and lentil batters transform into a variety of crispy, crumbly breads. And for a taste of the Middle East, foodies got to feast on the lesser known dishes of Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.
Ms Ahmed, 37, who runs the business with her sister, Farida Ahmed, said she hopes the physical tours will be up and running again in September.
With a core team of four full-time guides plus additional freelancers, she was forced to put everyone on unpaid leave in the new year.
“I started this company in 2013 and painstakingly picked each guide because they had such a passion for food, culture and storytelling,” she said.
“Our food tours are curated for culture-conscious travellers who love food, communities and stories and our guides really brought their personalities into the mix.
“Making that decision in January was a heartbreaking low for me and my biggest worry now is that when I do restart tours again, will they be able to come back and work with me?”
From March to September last year, the Indian mother of one said her team channelled their efforts to help the community and support independent restaurants in Deira and Bur Dubai.
They set up a community initiative on their website where people could donate meals to those in need.
“We knew so many of the restaurants we did our tours with were struggling because of the lockdown closures,” she said.
“In addition to that people were losing their jobs and struggling financially.
“We had a small team on the ground so decided this kindness initiative would be a good way to get some income flowing back for struggling restaurants.”
While Ms Ahmed and her family have recovered from the virus, she said the past few months were some of the darkest times in her life.
Since launching the electronic spice guide, the support from customers has been overwhelming and she hopes things will start to improve over the next few months.
“Last year was devastating for tourism companies like ours and it might be a very long while before we can recoup our basic costs,” she said.
“That’s why, once again, I’d like to ask for your support in keeping our business alive through these dormant months.
“We know everyone has a lot going on right now, so even if you’re unable to support us, please send us your positive vibes and prayers, and know that we’re sending you ours.”