My Real Life Hero: Arva Ahmed Frying pan to the fire
She is animated. When you meet her, you have no doubts in your mind that she is obsessed with food. Any food. She uses her own body as a lab to taste and test and taste over and over again before she will ask you to join her in her adventures. Spending time with her means you learn - a lot - about food from everywhere. She will tell you that she is learning too. She probably is. Your views on the food. She is like a wide-eyed child - learning, absorbing, excited. Always. Her enthusiasm for food is unmatched. She has taken me on several culinary journeys to discover places in Dubai I did not know existed. She has a business built around this passion. If you haven't been on one of her tours, even if you are not a tourist, YOU HAVE TO DO IT, at least once. Meet Arva Ahmed - the wandering minstrel of extraordinary food at ordinary places. I have tried so many new things thanks to her blog and her recommendations. She is such a perfectionist - you have to be looking for faults to find one.
Here are her responses to my heroes' questions. You have been warned that you will get sucked in by her and never want to leave.
What inspires you to do what you do?
It’s the adrenaline rush I get when I’ve discovered a gem of a food that’s snuck away in some Godforsaken corner of the city. I’ll walk hours – literally hours – to find that food because there’s an element of discovery that I can never get enough of. And it’s not just the food that I’m after, it’s the journey along the way. Learning about a city and its people, feel agitated and even scared when I find myself totally lost in some dark grimy corner of a city, googling alien dishes on a menu until I can figure them out…doing whatever it takes to get under the skin of a lesser known restaurant and uncover its moment of glory on a plate. The thrill of discovery, learning, experimenting…the journey and the eventual food find, all of it inspires me.
Who is your hero? Why?
I’m lucky, I live with my heroes. My parents. Dad is one of those charismatic characters whose understanding of the world and of business, his perceptiveness, and his integrity is the sort that instantly hits people when they meet him. If I were him, I’d have the ego the size of a brontosaurus…but he’s the most humble person I know. Mum on the other hand has unwavering compassion and selflessness that I find impossibly hard to display for anything more than 23 minutes in a row. And her taste buds and flair for cooking have inculcated my love for food. Sounds cheesy but you know I’m stating the truth because we’re four months away from my birthday and 10 from Christmas…together, mum and dad are my dynamic duo.
If you had a choice of becoming one of your (all time - dead or alive; real or fiction) favourite character, who would it be and why?
When are you happiest?
No specific moment. When I’m cuddled up with a food history book in one hand and a bowl of something snacky in the other. When I’m out on a food tour with appreciative guests and having an out-of-body ‘am I really doing this awesome job for a living?!’ moment. When I’m tucking into something monstrously good and all the right family members and friends are there to enjoy it with me.
What pisses you off most?
Discrimination. UAE employers, take note please – skin colour and skill are not correlated. Also, reckless driving and those arrogant headlights that every second person flashes in your face even though they’d never use them in another country abroad. We really need to get our act together on the roads here, it’s primitive and more than embarrassing. If you need a big pumped-up machine on four wheels to make you feel like you're the king of the road, you've got some serious issues.
If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Give it to me, I’ll show you.
Most embarrassing moment
I have one almost every other day, saves me from having to spend money on the circus. Like the time I sat in the wrong car when a friend came to pick me up. Or the time I was wildly gesturing with a bowl of hummus in my hand during my food tour - without realizing that I'd sent the olive oil spraying all over my white shirt. Or when I did a 60-second long imitation of the Minions ("Banaaaana!") over the phone to my sister - only to realize that I'd been on speaker in a car with her in-laws. Doops.
Most sublime moment
I don't think I've had it yet - which is a good thing. Something to look forward to!
Don't tell me I didn't warn you.
If you want to connect with her:
Her blog: I Live in a Frying Pan