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Celiac Around the World: Yara from Lebanon


Picture of Yara and pictures of Lebanon

I recently interviewed Yara. She is currently living in Saudi Arabia but she is from Lebanon. She graciously agreed to let me interview her about both countries. This gave me a unique look at two different countries from her perspective. The interview about her celiac diagnosis and her life in Saudia Arabia can be found HERE.

Eating out in Lebanon

How knowledgeable is the food industry in Lebanon regarding Celiac?


"Although Celiac is common in Lebanon, it is not taken seriously. There is one restaurant called “Mon general”(located in Aintoura) that can prepare gluten-free meals upon request that are celiac safe, and there is another one “Al Mandaloun” (located in Dbaye) that has recently added a gluten-free burger to its menu. This burger is lab tested every once in a while. On the other hand, some restaurants added “gluten-free meal,” such as burgers, to their menu without taking into consideration the cross-contamination, this means that they only use a gluten-free bun, but they use the same sauces (that might contain wheat), same grill, and same kitchen."


Are the menus clearly marked for allergens and gluten-free food?


"NO, and it is a BIG no. None are marked for allergens."


Do restaurants usually have something you can eat safely?


"Never! Unfortunately, they can offer meals that do not contain bread assuming that they are safe, thinking that wheat is only in the bread (not in spices, sauces, oil…)."



What is the easiest/hardest about eating out?


"The hardest of eating out is the cross-contamination risk and the kitchen staff's lack of awareness. Restaurants that offer gluten-free meals are located in a specific area; both are in Kesserwan region. A Lebanese celiac has to take his/her food if he/she plans a road trip, or goes out to a city that is far from "Kesserwan."


How common are Celiac/gluten-free dietary restrictions in Lebanon?


"Many, many companies label their products without any testing, thinking that products that do not contain wheat or are naturally gluten-free are definitely celiac safe even if they are produced in the same line of products that contain gluten. Ridiculously, you can find the sentence “Made in a facility that uses wheat” on labelled products. There is NO rule or regulation that can protect a celiac person if he/she got hurt after eating a product that is labelled."


Buying Gluten-Free food

Is it easy for you to find gluten-free options at the grocery store?


"During the economic crisis, between 2019 and 2022, gluten-free products were unavailable in the market, or, there were available in minimal quantities. The crisis continues but agents and dealers are importing gluten-free products since the end of 2022. Currently products are widely available in almost all supermarkets, but unfortunately for some, they are not affordable."


Are foods clearly marked gluten-free?


"Products might be labelled gluten-free but this does not mean that they are celiac-safe."


What would you say is your biggest struggle eating gluten-free in Lebanon?


"The biggest struggles eating gluten-free in Lebanon are products, prices, and safety."


Is eating gluten-free more expensive in Lebanon?


"In general gluten-free products are more expensive than regular products. The prices are very high, and products are priced in dollars (foreign currency) and can differ from one supermarket to another. For example, you can find the 1 kg Schar pane mix B priced at $10 in one supermarket and $13.5 in another. You might say that the difference is not huge, but for a country where the minimum wage is under $20, the price is very high.

(Just to be clear, before the crisis, the dollar rate was 1,500 Lebanese pounds, and the minimum wage was 675,000 Lebanese pounds which was $450. Currently, the rate is 90,000 Lebanese pounds. Salaries were adjusted, but not in a way that can fit the high cost of living)."


Does the government help with the expense of gluten-free food?


"No, the government does not help with the expenses and never did."


Medication

Do you have to worry about gluten in your over-the-counter or prescribed medication?


"Yes, before taking any medication (if needed), I make the necessary research to check if the prescribed medication is gluten-free and safe."


Travel in Lebanon

If someone was coming to Lebanon for the first time, what are the “must-see” spots?


"Where can I start? Lebanon is an amazing country. There is plenty of sightseeing. I would suggest:


In north Lebanon: Tripoli citadel, ouyoun al samak (fish eye), Cedars of God, Ehden reserve, Gobran Khalil Gobran Museum, Batroun old souk, baatara gorge waterfall, Qannoubine monastery, old train station, El Korneh Alsawde (the highest peak in Lebanon).


In Mount Lebanon: Chouane lake, Jabal moussa, Jeita Grotto, Byblos castle, Byblos old souk, Lady of Harissa, Beit Eddine, Shouf Cedars reserve, Moussa castle, Faqra temple, National Museum of Beirut, Afqa Waterfall, Mim Mineral Museum, Pigeon rocks.


In Bekaa: Niha castle, Baalback temple, Lady of Zahle, Assi river (for rafting), Anjar Ruins, Taanayel lake, Hermel Pyramid, Ammiq wetland and many wineries like Domaine des tourelles, Massaya, Latourba, Chateau Rayak, Chateau Ksara, Domaine Wardy (the Best), Cave Kouroum, Chateau St Thomas.


In Southern: Jezzine waterfalls, Saida Soap Museum, Sidon Sea castle, Khan EL Franj,

Rihan grotto, Maghdouche.


The nightlife in Lebanon is Amazing."


What are some of your favorite foods?

"I like Lebanese Mezza, hummus with tahini sauce, Moutabal, tabboule (parsley and tomatoes salad), Fattoush (all green veggies with tomatoes, onions, and pomegranate molasses sauce), grilled potatoes, barbecue."


Food pictured above bottom left Fattoush, Lebanese barbeque and Tabboule

Thank you, Yara for sharing information about Lebanon. It is clear from your interview how much you love your home country. I would love to visit both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon as well as try some of the AMAZING gluten-free food your shared!

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