Gluten-free in Zanzibar

With Coeliac Disease a gluten-free diet is a necessity not a choice. So a trip to Zanzibar – though enticing in so many ways – did fill me with some trepidation…

…wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights.

I am always nervous when travelling, not for the sake of travelling, but when you are travelling with a specific dietary requirement it can be pretty much hit or miss. It can be tricky trying to explain your needs to a waiter than knows only a few words of English, whether you are vegan, gluten-free or kosher. In my case, its gluten-free; not from choice or any desire to diet, but because a gluten-free diet is the only way to manage Coeliac Disease.

Whereas once a gluten-free diet was unheard of, now it has become a celebrity diet. I will not complain because it has meant more products available for us than ever before, but the result is also that many places think of it as a fad, an allergy or an intolerance. It can be all those things, but to me its much more! Eating a strict diet is my only way of staying well.

So, there I was, bound for Zanzibar wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights. I always take some supplies. My hand luggage always contains some basics that I can eat on the flight such as bread rolls and cheese, biscuits or chocolate. Do check that the country you are flying to has no restrictions on food as some are very strict and you may only be able to take enough for that flight, or certain products.

My first hotel was a small hotel in Zanzibar, in Stone Town. As expected, the waiting staff were not very knowledgeable on gluten-free and looked at me slightly confused. I explained as best I could, and they very kindly said they would get the chef for me so that we could discuss what I could have and be safe.

In fact, every hotel I stayed in from then on, I explained to the staff that I had this issue and maybe it would be best to speak to the chef. The result was some amazing meals throughout my stay on the island.

Fresh food cooked to order -what’s not to like?

As most hotels have limited set menus that are changed daily based on available produce, you know what you are getting is fresh. And in the smaller hotels, everything is made to order so nothing is wasted. Results were a lobster dinner big enough for 2 people, and amazing steak with a specially made brandy and peppercorn sauce, and a beautiful piece of barracuda, which I had never eaten before, in a saffron sauce. I always had options of rice and fresh vegetables, and the desserts… well! These ranged from pannacottas with fresh berries and sauces to flambé bananas with caramel sauce and ice cream. The bread wasn’t great, but then, it often isn’t and when you have such beautiful meals it’s not needed. At breakfast there was always choices of fruits and cooked options. Eggs whichever way you wanted them, bacon, and one hotel went out of its way to get gluten-free flour to do pancakes for breakfast and make bread so that I didn’t feel left out. That’s service!

So, would I recommend a stay on the island to anyone with particular dietary needs? Absolutely. My thanks to The Swahili House, Matemwe Lodge, Tulia Zanzibar, Breezes Beach Resort & Spa, Unguja Lodge and Fumba Beach Lodge for keeping me safe and healthy. Fresh food cooked to order and plenty of it. What’s not to like?