Reader Report: Gluten-Free Amman, Jordan

Just after I returned from Turkey, I received an e-mail from a reader, Nadine Hassouneh, who was about to travel to Istanbul. As we corresponded, I mentioned that I’d love to hear about the gluten-free dining situation in her hometown. Having no idea where she was based, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she lives in Amman, the capital city of Jordan, a country I have long wanted to visit. Nadine was diagnosed with celiac disease earlier this year, and she has already assembled a list of where to find gluten-free food in the city. She was kind enough to write this up for all of us. Thanks so much for your help, Nadine! (For readers who are thinking of visiting Jordan, check out Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and the official Jordan Tourism Board site.)


Visiting Jordan? Worried about finding gluten-free products and places to dine? Well… here is what you need to know!

There are several stores in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, where people can find gluten-free products. There is a superstore called Cozmo located in the area of the 7th Circle in Amman. This store is the best regarding GF products. Schar pastas, biscuits, bread and cake mixes and other products are always available there. You can sometimes find Schar’s Pizza Base and White Bread there too, as well as some De Boles pastas.

Another shop that is well-stocked with GF products is Eman’s Diet Shop. This small store is packed with products for different dietary needs (including gluten free, lactose free, fat free, sugar free and others). It is located in Sweifiyyeh, a hectic shopping area in Amman, near the Nike Store. Al Sufara is a bakery that is located in Sweifiyyeh, too. This bakery is really aware of what celiac disease is and how dangerous it would be if cross contamination occurs in the baking process — they are trustworthy. Al Sufara offers gluten-free rice bread, corn bread, biscuits (we call them Kaaek), and confections. In addition, there are some GF traditional sweets.

Regarding dining, below is a list of restaurants where you can eat safely.

  • Casper & Gambini’s
    A restaurant serving healthy food. Employees there are helpful and are ready to help even if they have to create a dish for you. Located in Abdoun, in the area of Abdoun Mall [address] Mazen Sido Al-Kurdi Street, Abdoun, Amman 11183 [tel] +962 6 5922600 [web] [e-mail]
  • Milano Restaurant
    A restaurant located in Shmesani, they serve delicious Italian food. While a celiac cannot enjoy all that they serve, they can have one of the grilled chicken or steak dishes. It is important to give the staff clear explanation regarding the “no sauce, no wheat” issue. [tel] +962 6 5680670
  • Whispers
    Located opposite to HSBC in the 5th Circle, Whispers serves international dishes. I had Hamour Fillet with sautéed vegetables and it was really good! [tel]
    +962 6 5921850. (Click here for the Lonely Planet review.)
  • Houston’s
    International cuisine you might say, but mainly Mexican and American. The chef is very helpful and willing to cook dishes that are not on the menu to serve your needs. He even created two sauces to serve my needs! Located in Abdoun – Abdoun Circle (this is the one I tried). There is also a location in Shmesani (behind the Power Hut Gym) and in the Food Hall of the Mecca Mall. (Click here for the Lonely Planet review.)
  • Seattle’s Best Coffee & Carna Restaurant
    The employees are helpful, but you have to explain every single detail (such as no sauces, no wheat, no cross contamination). However the result will please you at the end. Located in Abdoun opposite to Fitness First gym previously known as Vy.
  • Centro
    This restaurant is located near the Prime Ministry. Choices such as grilled fish, grilled chicken and grilled steak (all without the sauces) are good options for celiacs.

Some general dining tips: Grilled chicken — with no sauce — is a safe option along with sautéed vegetables Stay away from French fries because most restaurants use frozen ones that are wheat-coated. Salads are a safe bet most of the time, but be sure to ask what the dressing is made of. To be on the safe side, you can ask the waiter to add a dressing of olive oil and lemon only. Some salads here contain “Burghol,” which is an ingredient derived from wheat — an example is Tabbouleh. Unfortunately you must stay away from traditional sweets because most Arabic sweets are made from wheat.

The easiest way to describe gluten intolerance when you are in Jordan is by relating it (although scientifically incorrect) to an allergy to wheat and its derivatives.

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Editor’s note: I’d love to hear about the gluten-free finds you’ve made in your hometown and in your travels. You can contact me directly at glutenfreeguidebook [at] gmail [dot] com, or leave a comment on the site. I’m also creating a Facebook page to make it easier for readers of the Gluten-Free Guidebook to share information. My heartfelt thanks to all of the thoughtful readers who have already contacted me. I wish everyone all the best — and happy travels — in the new year!

Sushi for Celiacs in New York

For many people, fast food means the Golden Arches or a food court; for me, it used to mean sushi. I know many New Yorkers who feel the same way. Unfortunately, after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my sushi consumption dwindled. It wasn’t just the fact that I had to smuggle a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce with me into restaurants — I’ve been shameless about that. But sadly, it turned out that some seemingly innocuous ingredients in sushi were sometimes marinated in soy sauce, and that the fake crabmeat used in many maki rolls is made from wheat. Fortunately, Lilli and Loo has come to the rescue.

I’d first heard about the restaurant in the spring, when one of my favorite bloggers, Allergic Girl, hosted the first of her Worry-Free Dinners there. The first time I tried the restaurant, months later, I found that it offers great gluten-free lunch specials. The pan-Asian options run from Kung Pao chicken to Singapore noodles and Pad Thai, all of which are served with green salad (the non-noodle dishes come with white or brown rice, too). The specials are served Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and cost $10.95 each.

Still, dinner is what really won me over. There’s a long list of gluten-free appetizers (including tender chicken satay with a sweetly spicy peanut sauce) and entrées… and then there are the sushi rolls. There aren’t a lot of options, but what is on offer is special, like the Tuna Lover’s mix of spicy and fresh tuna with pomegranate vinaigrette and avocado, or the Black Angel’s blend of rock shrimp tempura and spicy tuna with purple basil. LIlli and Loo also gets points for convenience — since you can dine in or get your order to go — and for food-allergy awareness.

I haven’t yet tried Lilli and Loo’s new sister restaurant — Lili’s 57 — but I’ve heard that its celiac-safe sushi offerings are more extensive. Gluten-intolerant New Yorkers, get your chopsticks ready.

Lilli and Loo [address] 792 Lexington Avenue (between 61st & 62nd streets), New York, NY 10021 [tel] 212-421-7800 [web]

Lili’s 57 [address] 200 West 57th Street (at Seventh Avenue), New York, NY 10019 [tel] 212-586-5333 [website]

Landmark Dining in Istanbul

Before I left for Turkey, I e-mailed a friend for advice. Like me, Alison is a travel writer — her blog is called A Curious Mind, and she’s penned articles for everyone from The Washington Post to The Huffington Post — and she had visited Turkey a few weeks before me. It turned out that her trip was a whirlwind press tour — she only spent three days there in total. Still, she had plenty of suggestions for what to see and do. Her one restaurant recommendation was for Hamdi, an Istanbul restaurant that is close to the Eminönü ferry docks. “They had a pistachio kebab that I cannot stop thinking about,” Alison told me.

While I loved the places that she mentioned (including Topkapi Palace, home to many of the Ottoman sultans), I wondered whether Hamdi would work out. Perhaps I’d had good luck with restaurants early on in the trip, while I was in Selçuk, in part because I was visiting in November, technically the off-season for Turkish tourism. Restaurant owners and staff had taken good care of me, but on a couple of those nights, my husband and I had been virtually the only people in the restaurants. Hamdi is listed in every travel guidebook, and it’s popular with locals — everyone wants to enjoy its spectacular views of the Galata Tower and the New Mosque (otherwise known as the Queen Mother’s Mosque). Would a crowded, busy restaurant be up to the task of preparing a gluten-free dinner for me?

It turned out that I needn’t have worried. The night that we dined at Hamdi, the fourth-floor dining room was packed and we scored the last available table. I was amazed that, even in such a busy place, all of the staff read the Turkish celiac card I had with me. After a quick huddle, two waiters were assigned to my table — the one who was working in that section of the restaurant, and another who was serving a different section, but who spoke very good English and could translate my needs to the kitchen. I ended up having an incredible kebab, a mix of lamb and veal with pistachio nuts, served with a tomato salad. Because every dessert on the menu featured pastry (Hamdi is famous for its baklava), the kitchen prepared a fresh fruit salad for me. It was a luxurious meal, even thought the restaurant isn’t an expensive one. And now, like my friend Alison, I can’t stop thinking about that amazing pistachio kebab.

Hamdi [address] Tahmis Cad. Kalçin Sok. 17, Eminönü, Istanbul [tel] 90 212 528 03 90 [fax] 90 212 528 49 91 [web]

Finding the Unexpected in Istanbul

It’s hard to describe just how rich Istanbul’s history is. Everyone knows that it’s the city where East meets West, literally: part is in Europe and part is in Asia, with the Bosphorus Strait dividing the two. I was enthralled by Hagia Sophia — or Ayasofia, in Turkish — the great church built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537 (it’s now a museum). Across the street from it is the Sultanahmet Mosque (also called the Blue Mosque), built by Sultan Ahmet I in 1617, famous for its stunning tiled interior and six minarets. But the most surprising place, to me, was a treasure that was forgotten for centuries beneath the bustling city: the Basilica Cistern.

At roughly the same time Hagia Sophia was constructed, Justinian expanded and rebuilt the cistern, which had been created during Emperor Constantine’s reign. While its purpose was purely functional — the cistern served as a reservoir for the city, capable of holding 27 million gallons of water — its form was a work of art. Justinian’s builders reclaimed 336 columns from local Roman ruins to support the cathedral-like brick ceiling. It’s hard to believe, but this subterranean Byzantine treasure was forgotten in the Ottoman age. Rediscovered in the 20th century, it was repaired and opened as a tourist attraction in 1987 (after being used in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia With Love).

It seemed to me after visiting the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici in Turkish, literally ‘sunken palace’), that Istanbul was a rare city in being able to overlook such a gem for so long. But that’s the thing about Istanbul — there is an abundance of everything. This can be enthralling, as you wander through its historic places, or confusing, as it was in the case of restaurants. Sultanahmet is filled with restaurants, most of which have men in front who try to lure you in, often loudly and aggressively. The approach didn’t whet my appetite, and it made me seek alternatives. In a pedestrian alleyway off the crowded Divan Yolu, I found one restaurant, Amedros, where the host out front smiled and nodded politely. I showed him my Turkish celiac card and he became curiously excited. He showed the card to a waiter, who became equally animated. They assured me that the kitchen would be able to make a safe meal for me. One added, “This card, it is wonderful.”

I discovered over dinner why they were so thrilled with the celiac card. A few weeks earlier, a tourist who had a food allergy had dined at the restaurant, but she hadn’t told the restaurant staff about her issues and they watched, horrified, as she had a serious reaction to the peppers in her dish. The staff was relieved — grateful even — to find out what my dietary issues were and were happy to accommodate them. The menu at Amedros is available in English, and it offers detailed descriptions of each dish, but you can never count on avoiding an allergen by ordering something that just looks safe. My meal there was simple — a green salad, followed by grilled sea bass and veggies, all paired with a light, white Turkish wine — but it was safe (and delicious!). The staff actually thanked me at the end of the meal for telling them about celiac disease. It was a wonderful evening, and a reminder that Istanbul is full of surprises.

Amedros [address] Hoca Rüstem Sokak 7, off Divan Yolu, Sultanahmet, Istanbul [tel] 90 212 522 83 56 [web]