"Gluten Free in Amman" by Laurie Jones
Being gluten free in Amman is actually a lot easier than you think; you just need to be informed. Coming here I was, for lack of a better term, over confident. I am no stranger to navigating around foreign places with my allergy and although I’ve had some bad experiences, I was typically able to do a good job. I don’t eat a lot of gluten-free substitutes like rice pasta, so I figured it would be the same here. Also with AMIDEAST, my host family already knew that I was allergic to gluten, so I was sure I could navigate the rest of the city and be totally fine for the two months I was here.
I got to my host family’s house and it was great! They had bought me gluten-free pita, which was exciting. I knew that pita bread is a big part of Middle Eastern cuisine, so I was very thankful even though I didn’t think I would ever eat it…
Oh, how wrong I was! I eat that pita every morning, either with hummus or lebneh or even cheese and strawberry jam. It is just what people eat here for breakfast.
For the rest of my meals, thankfully with my host parents, I have a packed lunch and a gluten-free dinner every night (except for one lunch, but that was an accident and I caught it beforehand). And because I am in a homestay, I have at the opportunity to try some amazing things!! 100/10 would recommend.
I am now on week six and have had many bad run-ins and have found out that I am not just allergic to gluten itself, but also foods cooked with gluten. However, I am here to help you so you may not make the same mistakes I did.
1. Learn the words!!!
You NEED to learn the words for “I am allergic to bread.” This is mainly for me being allergic to things being cooked with bread. The transliteration is:
“3ndee hasaseea min hubez” or عندي حساسية من الخبز
This literally translates to “I have an allergy to bread.” This is helpful because although many people know the term “gluten free” here, a lot of people don’t know what it means. If it is cooked with bread, then this puts you in the clear.
2. Either avoid barbeque or get ready to work with your Arabic
A very popular and very delicious food here is known as barbeque and I think that everyone must have it at least once while over here. Also, someone is very likely to take you.
But be aware: All of this food is cooked with bread. The fries, the meat, everything that is served to you on the giant platters with crepes on either end are cooked with bread. I found this out the hard way and let me tell you “the third time is the charm” doesn’t apply to everything.
Luckily on one of our excursions, I had some help and was able to clearly communicate that I couldn’t eat the food cooked with bread and had a wonderful and delicious time. But be on guard.
3. Falafel is confusing
Depending on your tolerance, falafel can be kind of in the air. It is everywhere! And everyone loves it so you HAVE to eat it at some point. (It is also in my opinion one of the most incredible foods ever, so I’m a little biased). Most places do not make falafel with bread, but some places do. I have never had an allergic reaction and I’m pretty sensitive, but just a disclaimer.
Many places that may just sell sandwiches will often give you just pieces of falafel for a very good price so that is also an option. But for all of the experience, go to Hashem in Amman. It is so good and a very good price. Everyone has their favorites so try around, but that is a great place to start.
4. Mansaf is great at home!
One of the Jordanian specialties is mansaf. It is a delicious meat and rice dish cooked with a special kind of yogurt. If you want to eat it, you should eat it at home in any case, but especially if you are gluten free. In restaurants they put cooking crepes all around it and cook with them for the ease of taking the food in and out of the pan. At home or at someone’s house it is easy to communicate the issue and have it made without the bread. Honestly, it is best home-cooked anyways, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
5. You can get gluten-free kanafeh
Kanafeh is a Jordanian and Middle Eastern staple and it has a layer of what has been described to me as pastry on top. At famous places like Habibah, it is not gluten free. However, there is a place called Beat tha Wheat (it is right next to Mecca street) and it specializes in gluten-free cookies, cakes, AND KANAFEH. I recommend going there either for their kanafeh or their almond cookies, but also all the normal gluten-free stuff.
Being gluten free, you already know that almost any restaurant can be gluten free; it isn’t that hard. However, I do have some recommendations if you want to eat some yummy things made specifically for you.
The Wild Jordan Center: This is more of a café and honestly my favorite place in Amman. The view is lovely and the oatmeal pancakes are almost just as good! Go at least once, just for me!
Jafra: A very well known café in town and if you want an old town Amman feel, this is a good place to do it.
Shams El Balad: Not going to lie — this place is kind of bougie. However, if all expenses are paid, it has really good options. I highly recommend their bean sprout falafel. Very good! (also go a bit early before the crowd gets there)
Avotaco: I didn’t realize how much I missed the options I had at Spanish restaurants until they weren’t available to me. This place is right near Mecca Street and there are many other places, but this is the one I’ve been to and it was nice. Before I leave though I will be trying Cinco de Mayo. I hear that is the best Mexican restaurant in town.
OJs: This is for the people that are doing gluten free right and/or are missing a good salad. It is very healthy and I’ve heard very good! I am not much of a salad person, but my good friend says she loved it.
Luigi’s Pizza: I met someone else here who has celiac disease and she recommended Luigi’s for the place to get gluten-free pizza. If you are missing a bit of that at home, this is where to find it. I haven’t personally tried it, but it is on my list.
7. Get gluten-free pita
I recommend getting gluten-free pita. Also, if you are going out to eat, BRING IT WITH YOU. It is not hard to do and every restaurant I have gone to is more than willing to heat it up for me even if they are confused as to why they are doing it. My host mom gets all of mine at Al Sufara Bakery. I visited there once myself and found that they have lovely tarts and cupcakes as well, so definitely stop by, get yourself some pita and maybe drop a kursh or two and get a tart.
Also I buy apples and peanut butter at the Carrefour near my house and that is a lovely snack on these hot summer days.
I think being gluten free in Amman can be very easy you just need to know some things before hand. I have personally grown to love eating hummus with a spoon. Most food here is gluten free but always communicate with new restaurants that you have an allergy or an intolerance. You have to make a little bit of a bigger deal here than you would in the states but in the end, you don’t want to be sick and no one here wants to make you sick so you’ll be fine!