Gluten-free in Istanbul: Abir Moujarkash's impressions

1. Can you kindly present yourself?

My name is Abir al Moujarkash, a 20-year-old celiac patient from Zahle, Lebanon.
I’m currently studying commerce and business administration at Beirut Arab University and next year I'll start my graduate degree.

2. How did you find Istanbul as a gluten free vacation? easy? tricky?

Since it was my first visit to Istanbul, I prefered to take with me all my gluten free stuff, including bread, biscuits, and even coffee-mate, in order to avoid having problems.
In this way, it was quite easier to deal with food-related issues. For example, I used to take my bread to the restaurant, to order a Shawerma sandwich.

Abir in Istanbul
3. What was your best gf meal? restaurant in Istanbul?

Before travelling, I researched a bit about gluten free restaurants and found one near our hotel.
It’s called Buhara 93 (located in the old city: European side, Sultan Ahmet area).
And when we arrived there, I visited it. Inside the restaurant, I had my first surprise. I handed the host my Turkish celiac card, and he exclaimed, in English, “Celiac disease! Yes, we know this!” He was familiar with the disorder and helped me in pointing out what would be celiac-safe on the menu. There weren’t many choices, but the tomato salad and lamb kebabs I had, were delicious.

4. Do you recommend any special dishes for gluten free tourists?

No special recommendation, but the turkish “wara2 3enab b zet” (stuffed wine leaves) are really yummy.

5. What was your worst experience? where no one understood your needs?

My worst experience was that most of the Turkish people do not speak Arabic nor English! So, it was somehow difficult to explain my needs... Sometimes, having a translator was necessary...

6. Gluten free issues aside, what was your absolute favorite spot in Istanbul?

Istanbul, in general, is an amazing city with a variety of touristic & historical places. To be more specific, Princes' Island and Pierre Loti were the top places that drew my attention and amazed me.

7. How was the gluten free meal on the plane?

 MEA offered me an extraordinary gluten free meal consisting of “yummy gluten free baguettes” with cheese, juice, vegetables, and fruits.

8. How long have you been gf? and how did going gluten free change your life?

 I’ve been a celiac patient since I was 9-years-old, which means that I’ve been following a gluten free diet for the past 11 years... 
Being gluten free, made me more cautious, responsible, perceptive, and also knowledgeable about different medical and nutritional issues. 
It made me more ambitious! My dream is to create a perfectly gluten free Lebanese  restaurant and store.
As a the first step, I started the “Lebanese celiacs” group.

9. For you, what would make Lebanon a gluten free paradise?

In order to turn Lebanon into a gluten free paradise, we need to:
- change people's perception about celiac disease
- have gluten free menus in restaurants
import a wider variety of gluten free products for supermarkets, since the existing options are so limited.

photo of Istanbul taken by Abir Moujarkash


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