Introduction to Gluten-Free, Vegetarian Travel in Morocco

Essaouira, © Jasmine Irving
Essaouira, © Jasmine Irving
Souks in Fez
Souks in Fez

All kinds of rich smells find their way into each nostril, sticking to the hairs on their way in. There are the spices which catch in your throat when they’re being ground, the sweetness of incense smoke curling around hanging rugs and eventually resting in the stitching. Then there’s the stench of raw meat combined with dirty water stagnant in the heat. Or the pungent smell of caged chickens and their faeces which make my nose wrinkle and lips twist. Soon this is covered up with fresh bread, the aroma of loose herbs and crepes frying in hot oil. I remember those crepes from the last time I was here, dressed in honey but neatly wrapped up; they made the perfect snack for resting the feet after hours of getting lost in the souks. So what would I eat this time round when most foods available make my body attack itself?

Well, there are lots of ways around it so travelling as a coeliac, although more complicated, needn’t put you off – there are still plenty of adventures to be had. In summer 2012 I spent a month exploring Morocco, and there were ups and downs as I discovered the dos and don’ts of gluten free travel. In Fez, there were many little street stalls throughout the Medina, my friends all got kebab sandwiches dripping in sauce and then I noticed a bowl full of plain boiled rice and another full of boiled eggs. So, I asked for a plate of rice with an egg and it was the equivalent of 30p – bargain. It helps being able to speak French in Morocco. Another very helpful way to get round food issues, which I hadn’t anticipated, was we made friends with the locals in every place we visited; the guys I was with were musicians so the music was a good way to get talking to people. Our new friends talked to people I was getting food from in Arabic to inquire about gluten which worked much better than my bits and pieces of French.

The main point about gluten free travel is to stay in places where you have access to a kitchen then you can’t go wrong. This way you are in control of your own eating, and can easily buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the local markets to cook up anything you like in the safety of your own kitchen! In Morocco, I found the best things for breakfast was yoghurt and fruit, then for lunch something simple and light such as salad and nuts with omelette, dinner would be a big vegetable tagine – a Moroccan dish which is simply delicious. The people I was travelling with were amazing at accommodating my needs, especially as not only am I gluten free but also a vegetarian which makes things even more complicated! We would make a big tagine together and everyone would let me take out my portion first before they all dug into the shared tagine pot with bread.

We didn’t have a plan; we just went where it seemed natural to go. In Essaouira, there was lots of fish to eat and I even tried an octopus tagine (I should really start calling myself a pescetarian considering Octopus is not vegetarian…). Marrakech, there are plenty of amazing food stalls in the main square and a Moroccan friend we had made who joined our travels, talked to the stall holders for me to make sure I could get something to eat. Street prices are so cheap. Of course, there are travel cards you can get online which explain coeliac disease in different languages, so have a look on coeliac UKs website or google “gluten free travel cards” if your not from the UK and download them to show to anyone you will be getting food from. There’ll be more detailed blog posts about the different places we visited in Morocco but this is just an Intro.

So, my Main tips for your gluten free back pack are :

-Substantial emergency snacks, i.e gluten free cereal bars
-A plastic bowl and spoon (this was very useful when we were camping and I needed to take out my portion of the dinner before everyone else contaminated it with bread)
-Pro-biotics, these boost your immune system which is a great extra protection when travelling and will help your tummy sort itself out if you do pick up anything like Diarrhoea
-Rehydration sachets, again for potential Diarrhoea, that goes for people who aren’t gluten free too!
-Always carry water
-A bag of gluten free muesli for emergency breakfasts when there’s nothing else
-Pick up any packaged gluten free snacks along your travels and keep them on you

DSCF2336

Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen
Fez
Fez

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