With a country that is said to be one of the first countries in the world to cultivate wheat and barley, and practically uses bread as utensil, a trip to Egypt as a celiac can be really tricky. However with the help of this guide and our free Arabic gluten-free translation card, navigating Egypt on a gluten-free diet is definitely possible. After all, can you really not visit this bucket list destination because of food? I don’t think so.
Table of Contents
- Tips For Traveling Gluten-Free in Egypt
- Unsafe Egyptian Foods For Celiacs
- Potentially Safe Gluten-Free Egyptian Dishes
- Gluten-Free Cairo
- Gluten-Free Alexandria
- Gluten-Free Luxor and Aswan
- Tips for Navigating Nile Cruises on a Gluten-Free Diet
- Gluten-Free Resources
Tips For Traveling Gluten-Free in Egypt
1. Don’t Expect for Grocery Items to be Properly Labeled
In Egypt there are no real food labeling laws, so don’t expect things to be properly labeled or mention whether they contain gluten or traces of gluten unless it’s an imported product. While browsing through the supermarket I found a bag of chips with ingredients labeled “corn, oil, spicy cheese flavor” while other bags listed ketchup flavor or bread improver as an ingredient. So when shopping, stick to produce and imported goods with proper labels.
2. Juice Shops and Fruits are Your Friend
One of the best things about Egypt for celiacs is that there is a juice shop on every corner, especially in Cairo and Alexandria. Look out for little shops with netted bags of fruits hanging out front. Juices are usually freshly squeezed and only cost pennies. The most popular juices in Egypt are sugar cane, pomegranate, hibiscus and mango juice. You can also ask for your own juice cocktail like banana and mango, and they will make it for you. Some tips for ordering juice:
- Ask for a straw, as sometimes the glasses aren’t properly rinsed
- Order juices with fruits that are in season, that way they won’t taste funny
With that being said, Egypt is also blessed with awesome fruits, especially in the summer and early fall months. There are fruit vendors everywhere in Egypt, so don’t be afraid to eat your weight in fruits, they’re delicious and healthy.
3. Travel with a Detailed Gluten-Free Arabic Translation Card
Awareness of celiac disease or gluten is almost nonexistent in Egypt! Did you know the Egyptian word for bread actually translates to “life, livelihood, way of life”? So in theory, there is no way they’ll truly understand that their livelihood makes you sick! This is exactly why a good Arabic translation card is needed. Luckily for you, we have one for you! Our free Arabic Translation Card is specific to Egyptian/Middle Eastern cuisine, and mentions some dishes you can’t eat as well as the dangers of cross-contamination.
4. Beware of Possible Airborne Gluten
This might sound weird at first, but you’ll understand when you are there. Bread shops are out in the open, not behind closed doors in a kitchen. This means you could be at risk of getting glutened from inhaling airborne gluten. I encountered a lot of these open-air bread shops while exploring Islamic Cairo. So, I would recommend whenever you see one of these shops from a distance (you will be able to tell from the pile of fresh bread laid outside and the white dust/flour cloud) quickly cover your face with your shirt or a handkerchief. This isn’t by any means foolproof, but for short exposures it might do the trick and help limit the risk of getting sick.
5. Don’t Drink the Tap Water
Celiacs aren’t known for having the strongest stomachs, so drinking Egypt’s tap water can easily lead to stomach cramps and diarrhea. In addition to drinking only bottled water, you’ll want to take other precautions such as brushing your teeth and rinsing raw fruits with bottled water or water that has been boiled. For meals like rice and pasta, I recommend boiling the water first for at least 1 minutes before adding them in. Also, remember to dry all dishes before placing food on them. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s worth it. Nothing is too extreme when it prevents you from getting sick.
6. Avoid Eating at Shawarma Shops
People have recommended eating at shawarma shops for a gluten-free meal by just ordering the plate option, but I highly advise against it. Cross-contamination at these places is serious. It would be like ingesting a spoon of flour! Eating there would be asking for a gluten reaction.
7. Enjoy Meze and Corn
In Egypt, starters, dips and salads, commonly referred to as meze or muqabilat (مقبلات), are often naturally gluten-free, just make sure it’s not served with bread and no flour was sprinkled on it (not very common). Some popular gluten-free mezes are duqqa (دقة), baba ghannoug (بابا غنوج), tahini (طحينة), hummus (حمص), salata baladi (سلطة بلدي) and torshi (طرشي). The best way to enjoy these is with bread, so pack your own pita bread.
Throughout Egypt, you can find vendors grilling corn on the street. This is a great snack you can have anywhere, if you can tolerate corn! It’s a bit more rare, but I also found vendors who grill sweet potatoes.
Before eating a dish, stir it up. Some Egyptian dishes are layered, which means at the bottom or in between the dish you might get a little gluten surprise, and won’t notice until it’s too late. Always stir first.
9. Double Check Your Rice
Rice is usually mixed with pasta that has been browned. If you see rice with long brown pieces mixed in, chances are it’s pasta, don’t eat it.
10. Stay at Gluten-Free Friendly Hotel
Staying at five-star hotels is truly one of the only ways to navigate a gluten-free diet in Egypt. The other and safest way is to self cater, more on that later. Why a five-star hotel and not a three-star? Because in Egypt, most five-star hotels are more attentive and the staff tend to be trained to cater to people with specific dietary needs, not to mention they have the resources. I found these chefs to be more knowledgeable when it comes to gluten and cross-contamination, and they can easily accommodate a gluten-free diet. To help, I have listed a few hotels in each popular location that can accommodate celiacs below.
11. Egyptians Aim to Please
Egyptians will often say what you want to hear just to please you, which can be difficult for us celiacs. Therefore, when ordering food you want to make sure you are clearly understood. Avoid asking yes or no questions if you can and provide them with our translation card. If, after all your explaining, they offer you a meal you know isn’t gluten-free (check our list below) or they don’t understand, just leave and go elsewhere. It’s not worth getting sick!
12. Stay Somewhere with a Kitchen and Self Cater
Egypt isn’t one of those countries where celiacs can truly eat out safely, as wheat is the backbone of the country. When you can’t trust someone to make food for you that won’t make you sick, but still want to explore a place, the only thing to do is make your own meals. To find apartment rentals anywhere in Egypt with equipped kitchens, use Booking.com or Airbnb. I personally prefer Airbnb. When we weren’t staying at a hotel, we stayed at an Airbnb rental and cooked our own meals. Self-catering is cheaper and safer, so why not do it! To get $40 off your next booking with Airbnb click here.
13. Pack Gluten-Free Foods and Snacks
I don’t often recommend traveling with suitcases full of processed gluten-free foods, as I prefer eating and cooking naturally gluten-free foods and exploring local markets. However, there are some snacks you should bring to make your life a bit easier in Egypt. Here are my musts:
- Bread: Good to make sandwiches for lunch while exploring temples and such.
- Pita bread: Eat like an Egyptian without the gluten.
- Cereal: Quick and easy breakfast.
- Gluten-Free Bars: Great snack to have with you to avoid getting hangry.
Unsafe Egyptian Foods For Celiacs
This list of gluten-containing Egyptian dishes is by no means exhaustive, but it includes the popular dishes we’ve researched and encountered during our trips to Egypt. I recommend Googling each one before your trip so you have an idea of how they look so you can avoid them.
- Fattah (فتة) – Traditional dish made with rice, tomato sauce, meat and cut up pieces of fried pita bread. Usually presented in a layered form, so bread would be hidden.
- Kushary/Koshari (كشري) – This unique dish is an Egyptian staple and is made of rice, macaroni and lentils, and it’s topped with a spiced tomato sauce, chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Usually presented in a layered form, so noodles would be hidden.
- Hamam Mahshi (حمام محشي) – Roasted pigeon stuffed with green durum wheat known as “freekeh” (frikeh).
- Freekeh/Frikeh (فريكة ) – This green durum wheat that is sometimes roasted with onion and tomato, and sometimes with chicken.
- Hawawshi (حواوشى) – Traditional Egyptian sandwich, which is baked pita bread stuffed with minced meat.
- Macaroni béchamel (مكرونة بالبشاميل) – Macaroni pie made with bechamel sauce (contains pasta and flour).
- Aish baladi (عيش البلدي) – Egyptian flat bread, commonly referred to as pita bread. Other varieties of bread include eish fino (عيش فينو), eish shamsi (عيش شمسي), and eish merahrah (عيش مرحرح).
- Feteer (فطير مشلتت) – Flaky Egyptian layered pastry eaten as a dessert.
- Umm Ali/Om Ali (ام على) – Egyptian dessert that can be best described as bread pudding, obviously it’s made with bread.
- Konafa/Kanafeh (كنافة ) – String-like pastry made with a thin noodle-like pastry or fine semolina.
- Basbousa (بسبوسة) – Dessert made from semolina and soaked in syrup.
- Tabbouleh (تبولة) – Salad made with mainly parsley and bulgur wheat.
- Falafel/Ta’meya (فلافل) – Traditional made with gram flour (chickpea), but now wheat is mostly used as a filler.
- Fiteer Baladi – Commonly referred to as Egyptian pizza, rather than placing toppings on top of the dough, ingredients are stuffed into the dough.
- Keshk (کشک) – Yogurt-based savory pudding, made with Kishk balls (fermented bulgur in sour milk or yogurt that’s formed into balls and dried) and flour.
- Eggah ( عجة) – Type of omelette made with flour, similar to a frittata.
- Couscous (كسكسي) – Made of durum wheat semolina
Potentially Safe Gluten-Free Egyptian Dishes
I hate listing dishes or meals you can eat in my gluten-free travel guides, as every chef cooks differently and can easily make a naturally gluten-free dish a poisonous gluten-filled dish. So though they may be gluten-free when made the traditional way, it’s important to double check with the chef to make sure it’s truly gluten-free!
- Roz Bel laban (ارز باللبن) – Rice pudding
- Ful / Ful medames ( فول مدمس ) – Mashed fava beans served with olive oil and topped with cumin. This is often eaten with bread, so be sure to ask for no bread.
- Besara (بصار) – Bean dip usually made with pureed split peas/chickpeas and leafy greens. Ask for no bread.
- Dukkah / Duqqa ( دقة) – Dry mixture of chopped nuts, seeds and spices. Ask for no bread.
- Baba ganoush (بابا غنوج) – Eggplant dip made with lemon juice, parsley and cumin
- Gebna qaresh – Type of cheese made of buffalo milk
- Salata baladi (سلطة بلدي) – Salad made with tomatoes, cucumber, onion and chili topped with parsley, cumin, coriander, vinegar and oil.
- Salatit Zabadi – Similar to tzatziki sauce
- Hummus (حمص) – Popular dip made from mashed chickpeas
- Torshi (طرشي) – Assortment of pickled vegetables
- Tehina (طحينة) – Popular dip made of sesame tahini, lemon juice and garlic.
- Kebab (كباب)- Grilled meat on a skewer. Just make sure no bread is grilled on the grill.
- Aseer Asab (عصير قصب) – Sugar cane juice. You can find it in almost all juice shops.
- Karkadeh (كركديه) – Popular tea of dried hibiscus that’s usually served sweet and cold. Most coffee shops sell this drink.
- Torly (تورلي) – Dish of baked squash, carrots and potatoes in tomato sauce. Similar to a vegetable stew.
- Shakshouka (شكشوكة) – Dish of poached eggs in a tomato sauce. Ask for no bread.
Gluten-Free Restaurants & Bakeries in Cairo
Sea Salt Bakery and Cafe
Located on the popular island of Zamalek is Egypt’s first 100% gluten-free cafe. The owner, Passand El Hammami, who is gluten and dairy intolerant, is very passionate about providing delicious, healthy and gluten-free food to her community and those who need it. Besides being a certified gluten-free baker, Passand also makes her own plant-based milks and produces her own flours using their in-house grain mill.
As for the menu, it’s packed with all-day breakfast dishes, salads, baked goodies, breads, smoothies, specialty coffees and of course, falafel. After eating the majority of our meals here while in Cairo, we highly recommend not missing the delicious chicken turmeric rice with pineapple chutney and the falafel wraps. However, our all-time favorites were the cinnamon french toast, and Bashawat Breakfast, i.e. a traditional Egyptian breakfast with ful, tahini, falafel, and shamy bread. Everything at Sea Salt Bakery is dairy-free, refined sugar-free and is available for delivery anywhere in Cairo.
Be Good To You
One of Cairo’s best healthy cafes, Be Good To You in New Cairo has an 80% gluten-free menu that’s clearly marked. For options that call for bread, you can swap it out for gluten-free bread for an additional 10 Egyptian pounds. Bone broth, spring rolls, falafel, meatballs, zoodle noodles and panang curry are just some of the gluten-free options they offer. Also, all their sweets including the popsicles and chocolate tarts are gluten-free. The menu also serves a lot of dairy-free and vegetarian options. They are located in the Kattameya Heights’ Club House.
Celiac Note: They offer couscous, and make bread on the premises.
The Gluten-Free Bakery by Chef Hamdy
The Gluten-Free Bakery in Maadi is Egypt’s first gluten-free bakery. In lieu of the high prices of imported gluten-free products, Egyptian chef Hamdy Mohamed decided to open a bakery where gluten-intolerant individuals can enjoy good gluten-free baked goods without the big price tag. Some of the things they sell are flat bread, bread, cookies, biscuits, pizza and more. Many of their products are allergy-friendly as well. There is another location in Alexandria.
Baked is an online bakery with many baked goods such as cookies, energy balls, paleo bars, bread, and desserts. Everything they make is free from gluten, dairy and refined sugar with vegan and keto options available. I highly recommend ordering a few things before getting to Egypt, and having them delivered to your hotel or apartment rental. They deliver to many popular places in Cairo such as Zamelak, Maddi and Heliopolis. For their menu and delivery days check their Facebook.
Kaju is Egypt’s first and only raw vegan food brand in Egypt. Everything they produce is vegan and free from dairy, sugar and gluten. Though they are known for their delicious ice creams and vegan cheeses, they also make truffles, raw cakes and pizza. You can find their products in the freezer section of Sunny Market, El Market and Zamelek Market or you can order them online via Greenolic. Kaju also owns the food booth Earth Deli at the Zamalek Market. You can find them every Saturday from 10am-4pm serving gourmet vegan food like burgers and pizzas that are also gluten-free.
Glow is a wholesale company that sells handcrafted juices, smoothies and acai bowls. They also sell some soups and plant-based milk. Their products are clean and nutrient-rich, as well as being free from preservatives and added sugar. You can find them all over Cairo in supermarkets like Sunny Market, at Sea Salt Bakery and Zamalek Market (Saturday only).
Celiac Note: Their Broccoli and Oats Soup contains oats which I am not sure is certified gluten-free.
Supermarkets in Cairo with Gluten-Free Products
El Market Grocery Store
El Market is a small specialty grocery store in Maddi that sells prepared and frozen foods from independent food companies that are passionate about good quality and healthy food. Some of these companies include Baked, Sea Salt Bakery and Kaju. El Market stocks many gluten-free items like bread, pita bread, ice cream, baked goodies, bars and natural juices. They also sell natural gluten-free foods like dates, honey, olives, etc. El Market is probably the best store in Cairo for finding gluten-free foods and goods all in one place. I highly recommend a visit.
Celiac Note: Yum is a company at El Market that makes gluten-free products, but they may contain traces of gluten as it’s not made in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. El Market now delivers throughout Cairo. Check their website for delivery days.
The Zamalek branch has a dedicated gluten-free food section that includes pasta, cookies, flours, Nestle GF corn flakes, cookies from Schär brand as well as the Egyptian flour brand Crystal. There several Alfa branches in Cairo, however I don’t know if they stock gluten-free products as well.
A western-style supermarket that stocks many of Baked’s products like their nut butters, energy bars and muffins. They also stock flours, cookies, Eat Natural’s bars and chips.
It’s a more upscale supermarket, similar to Gourmet Egypt and on the pricier side. They have excellent fresh produce and stock many international products like Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flours, Haagen Dazs, and Barilla. They also stock local gluten-free brands like Kaju (in the freezer section) and frozen gluten-free pita bread.
Other Supermarkets That Carry Gluten-Free Items
- Health Harvest
- Bio Shop
- Royal House Supermarket
- Greenolic (online)
Gluten-Free Hotels in Cairo
- Kempiniski Nile Hotel (Their restaurant, Osmanly, offers GF food)
- The Nile Ritz Carlton Hotel
- JW Marriott Hotel Cairo
- Steigenberger Hotel El Tahrir
- Four Seasons Cairo
Alexandria is a bit less gluten-free friendly than the capital. However, there is a gluten-free bakery and fresh seafood everywhere. It’s worth checking out upscale seafood restaurants to see if they can cater to you. Be sure to avoid battered fish and fried foods. I recommend getting steamed seafood seasoned with salt and lime. If you want to do the grill option, make sure gluten-containing foods aren’t grilled on it like pita bread. As for supermarkets, you can find some gluten-free products at Sarai Market (Sarya Market) and Zahan Market.
Gluten-Free Hotels in Alexandria
- Four Seasons Hotel Alexandria
- Tolip Hotel Alexandria
- Hilton Alexandria Corniche
- Sheraton Montazah Hotel
Gluten-Free Luxor and Aswan
Luxor and Aswan can only be navigated if you self cater or stay at a five-star hotel. You can also do a Nile Cruise where all meals would be included, and they can cater to your dietary requirements. As for supermarkets, there are mostly small corner stores that don’t have much food wise, but you can find openair markets that sell fresh produce in both cities.
Gluten-Free Hotels in Luxor
- Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa
- Steigenberger Nile Palace – Convention Center
- Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor
- Pavillon Winter Luxor
Gluten-Free Hotels in Aswan
Tips for Navigating Nile Cruises on a Gluten-Free Diet
- If you can, avoid cruises that only do buffets for all meals as it will be difficult to accommodate you.
- Most cruise ship chefs are happy to make gluten-free meals for you. Be sure to ask ahead of time and specify your dietary need with a gluten-free Arabic translation card.
- I recommend bringing on board GF flour, pasta, pita bread and bread and giving them to the chef to help them diversify the meals they can make for you. It helps a lot.
- Gluten-Free Arabic Restaurant Card (Free)
- eBook: 1000+ Dedicated Gluten-Free Restaurants Around the World
- GF Egypt Facebook Group
I hope with this gluten-free Egypt guide you’ll be a bit more confident about maintaining your strict gluten-free diet while crossing Egypt off your bucket list!