Hoping to be of help to all those living gluten free in the United Arab Emirates – نأمل أن نكون عوناً لكل من يعيش حياته خالية من الجلوتين في دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة
The important thing to remember when visiting the UAE is that there are no laws here fully covering allergens in food. Its also important to remember that most of our food here is imported, and even if a brand is familiar to you, it may not be made in the same country that you are used to from back home. Take great care when reading ingredients and don’t assume that gluten or wheat will always be labelled clearly or in some cases, at all. Take a packet of Lentils in the UK for example, if this packet of Lentils has been exposed to gluten in the UK, then it should be declared on the packet. Here in the UAE, you may find a pack of lentils that has been literally rubbing it self in gluten, and the label wont mention it. Common sense will need to be used also, because chances are, most lentils that you see, will off course never have met with any gluten. Read labels carefully, check where products are produced and become aware of basic food labelling laws from countries such as the USA, Australia, UK and the EU.
Another issue is education. In many countries its safe to assume that any waiter or supermarket employee knows what gluten is. Here, thats very often not the case at all. And most waiters will tell you they DO know what it is, when actually, they don’t know at all. As a general rule, when dining out, speak to a manager and order through a manager. Ask clever questions, don’t say, ‘do you know what gluten is?’ Rather ask, ‘Can you tell me what gluten is?’, that should give you an idea of wheather the person knows or not.
Most 4-5 star hotels are used to visitors that are gluten free, and should be able to cater to you as long as you explain about your dietary needs in advance. Likewise, most restaurants connected to hotels should be able to cater to you as long as you phone in advance and let them know you are coming. Again, speak to someone in charge, not just the lady who answers the phone.
Personally when I travel to anywhere now I like to stay in Self Catering accommodation. Then I can make packed lunches, eat a safe, non contaminated breakfast and choose when to eat out. There are many Hotel Apartments all over the UAE, just speak to your travel agent or use your best friend Google 🙂
Most supermarkets in the UAE will have atleast some gluten free food, but the range is not going to be what you may be used to from back home. The gluten free foods are often spread out rather then in one small section so you may need to play detective to find what you need. Each supermarket generally carries just one brand of Gluten Free pasta, so you cant pick and choose. If you want a certain brand of something you will need to go to the supermarket that stocks it.
Organic Foods & Cafe and Gluten Free Supermarket.AE probably have the best selection of gluten Free foods in the region. Both should be able to arrange a delivery shortly after you arrive. If you have favourite products from back home, then bring them.
There are no Gluten Free Cafes or restaurants in the UAE at this time, nor do any of the restaurants have a separate dedicated Gluten Free kitchen. You will need to take care when going out to eat, be patient and explain carefully about your needs.
Our Facebook page is full of great advice, we often get tourists visiting asking questions about a specific area or hotel. With over 1000 members, usually, someone will know the answer to a question.
UAE is a wonderful place to visit and many Celiacs and Gluten Free people live here, just inform yourself and take care.
Enjoy your stay!
Please note that the above is information taken from my own experiences and that of our members. While this is my opinion, it may not be shared by everyone.