Sometimes a trip to a neighboring town or a nearby mountain is enough to fill you, refresh you, and give you extra strength to continue with everyday life, which you will admit can sometimes be very depressing and exhausting. Escape to another world, another culture, and a different way of life is not always so simple, especially not for someone who has a different diet. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.
Good preparation is 90% of the work done.
When planning a trip, it is important to find out about the food that is typical for that area, because in some parts of the world wheat and its products are very common, while in others wheat is replaced by rice, corn or other gluten-free cereals. . Egypt is definitely a place where people eat a lot of dough and pastries, but on the other hand, they also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Their tables are adorned with many sauces, dips and creams from various vegetables and dairy products. Of course, for a celiac, all this can be a potential danger of contamination, which is evident in their kitchens. What you can always eat without worries is fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat, or fish prepared without any additions.
After studying the traditional cuisine of the place you are going to visit, it is even more important to inquire about the life of celiac patients in that country. The most relevant for that are Facebook groups and pages that are talking about the gluten-free diet and the life of celiac patients in that country. At such a place, you can immediately conclude whether and what kind of gluten-free products you can find in their stores, and you can certainly ask questions in the group to help you. I found a gluten free Egypt group and realized that I would have to prepare well for this trip. There I saw that the selection of gluten-free products in the markets is very poor and that it is better to take some basic things, such as gluten-free Schar bread, a package of pretzels, and a biscuit, in a suitcase just in case. If you do not find a group or site that deals with gluten-free life in the country or city you are traveling to, you always have another option, and that is to contact the CYE – Coeliac Youth Of Europe group and ask a public question. There is always someone from that city or someone who has already had experience with traveling to that place with a lot of useful tips.
Whenever you buy a plane ticket, be sure to indicate that you need a “special meal” and of course explain that it is a gluten free meal. This service is usually charged around € 5 but is worth every cent. No matter how long the flight lasts, a meal on the plane is always welcome. Sometimes the flight is late, or you have to wait a long time for a transfer, and in such situations, a warm meal when you get comfortable on the plane will make your trip better. This time we flew Egyptair and Turkishair airlines. If you pay for a gluten free meal, a meal with your name will be waiting for you on the plane, which will be different from the others and will be very tasty.
Sometimes the plane staff will just bring you a meal, but my advice is to always ask and emphasize that you have booked a special meal.
If you have a European passport, you will need a visa for Egypt. You can request it ten days before the trip online or directly at the Egyptian Embassy in Belgrade for $ 12, but you can also get it at the airport in Cairo or any other airport in Egypt, and then it costs $ 25. What is specific about the airport in Cairo is that before issuing a visa, you may be asked to show a hotel reservation and a return plane ticket to make sure that you have arrived there as a tourist, which does not apply to other tourist destinations in Egypt. They did not ask us for any documentation, but we had everything ready because the Egyptian Embassy in Belgrade advised us to do so.
When you go to exotic destinations or places where the culture is quite different from yours, in this case Cairo, Egypt, it is important to choose a good, proven hotel. The hotel will be your home for a few days, and the staff will be someone you will trust and rely on if something goes wrong. I came across the article “Gluten free in Cairo” and I was very happy when I read that I will still have some gluten-free options there, but of course, as every time, the situation in real time is a little different. Half of those restaurants are closed, and in other places it is not exactly as the article says. Until you go and check all the options yourself, you can’t be sure. In the end, just one safe place in an unknown city is enough for a celiac to be carefree. The hotel you will certainly not go wrong with, is the Kempinski Nile Hotel which really offers gluten-free options in its restaurants, and I will write about that later.
We stayed at the Hilton Cairo Zamalek hotel which is located on the island of Zamalek on the river Nile. This is a part of the city that is very well-organized because there are a lot of embassies in it, so the security on the streets has been strengthened. The staff is very friendly and we were lucky to meet the assistant hotel manager Salma, who took care of us for those four days at the hotel. Every problem, misunderstanding, help was solved in the shortest possible time, with a warm and sincere smile on her face. She gave us her phone number so we could call her in case something unforeseen happens when we are out of the hotel. If you travel without an agency, moments like this are priceless! This hotel has no clear indication that it offers gluten-free options, which was no problem for breakfast as it was always something that someone on a gluten-free diet could eat. The Kempinksi Hotel is a 10-minute taxi ride, or about a half-hour walk from the Hilton Hotel, so we had no problem with other meals.
A day in Cairo
Cairo is a huge city and any tour plan will exhaust you whether you go to those places by walking or by taxi. We did not use public transport because we wanted to walk as much as possible, and we gladly took a taxi to distant places, which is quite affordable. The only thing you have to pay attention to is to agree on all the prices of taxi rides before you get in the car. Due to the hectic pace of the city, I advise you to make sure you have a rich and caloric breakfast that will keep you being full until lunch. Breakfast at the Hilton Cairo Zamalek Hotel is a buffet where everyone can find something for themselves. What I advise is to always bring your gluten-free bread with you, and you will manage for the rest.
Fresh fruits, as well as compotes and freshly squeezed juices from various fruits, are at every step, and they are certainly welcome in a gluten-free diet. Take care to wash all the fruit well before eating, as well as to drink only bottled water, which you also have in hotels in abundance.
After breakfast, we arranged to go to Giza to see the pyramids, via Booking. While we were waiting for the driver, we walked through the nearby streets and came across a couple of healthy food stores where you can buy all kinds of nuts, as well as dried and fresh fruits, but also some gluten-free products. I also found some Schar products in a healthy food store in Zamalek. In addition to biscuits, you can also buy gluten-free pasta.
What pleasantly surprised me was the hot, baked sweet potatoes on the streets. Just as you can buy hot chestnuts on our streets during winter, in Egypt you will come across a man baking sweet potatoes on every other corner. Two potatoes cost 10 Egyptian pounds, which is about 0,5€. A warm, delicious treat during a fresh night walk around the city.
Cashew nuts, dates, fresh tangerines and water were all we needed for a four-hour tour of the impressive buildings of ancient Egypt.
Any activity in an unknown city can be arranged, checked and paid online via Booking. For those who, like us, do not like to travel with agencies, this is the app that will make every step of your journey easier. From booking a hotel, through ordering a taxi at the airport, to excursions and tickets for various tourist attractions.
If you pay a guide for this tour, you will not have to think about buying tickets for the pyramids, riding a camel or driving a quad on the Sahara because they are very well planned, have their people on every corner and everything is very easy and stress-free. Egyptians are a very pleasant people, but most will not be able to control their excitement when they see tourists coming from Europe or America, and many will want to take pictures with you. If you agree to one selfie, expect a whole line of fans in front of you waiting for you to take pictures with them. In addition to learning some new interesting things about the pyramids, which you may not have known until now, the guides know very well what the best places to take photos are. Along the way, they will take photos of you and eventually send you all those photos on Viber. Some of these tours include lunch, we did not go into explaining celiac disease on these occasions, but we planned lunch in the place that seemed safest to us, and that was the Kempinski Nile Hotel.
Before going to the Kempinski Hotel for lunch, we sent an email to one of the two restaurants located in the hotel, asking if they have a gluten-free menu. We got the answer within 15 minutes, with all the gluten-free menu they already have for guests who have different diets.
The first day we went to an Ottoman restaurant, with the aim of trying something traditional and authentic. The restaurant manager respected us very much and made sure we really felt safe. We ordered beef tails in tomato sauce and Ratatui. We also got gluten-free bread that they make in the restaurant. I was very interested in what kind of flour they make bread from, and I got the packaging for inspection. It is their flour, It wasn’t familiar to me, but it says that it is a mixture for gluten-free pastries, based on potatoes and rice. Egyptian food is specific for its strong spices. They use turmeric, cumin, anise, cardamom, ginger a lot. The mixture of all these spices gives a specific taste to each of their dishes.
The other day we went to their other restaurant where the menu was completely different. More European-oriented. On their menu as well as on the Ottoman one, under each dish, it was marked which diet it was adapted to (vegetarian, gluten free, contains nuts, etc.). I must admit that there were fewer dishes on this menu that were adapted to a gluten-free diet, but again enough that everyone can choose something they like.
Going to Cairo should not end with just visiting the pyramids, which are really something worth coming to and seeing. If you want to feel the true spirit of today’s Egyptians, then walk around the city, but not only the main streets. Go a little deeper to really experience their culture and way of life. Cairo is a city that smells of the Sahara and radiates a rich history that is woven into every street you pass. People are modest but smiling and very willing to talk to tourists. What can be a double-edged sword is that in order to make you happy, they will say that they understand you even though they have no idea what you are talking about, and that becomes a serious problem if you talk about celiac disease. On each trip, I carry a translation of a short text about celiac disease into the language spoken there, so I did so this time as well. Salma, from the beginning of the story of Egypt, was thrilled when I showed her a text in her language about a problem I have that she didn’t understand while we were speaking in English. She says that it is very well written and that it explains the problem accurately. I found it on the internet, and now I share it with all of you and I hope it will help someone like me.