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Celiac In Africa?

5 posts in this topic

Hi all,


I'm a recently diagnosed Celiac living in Senegal. I'm wondering if there are other Celiacs in this forum currently living in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Africa-related threads I can find on here seem to be pretty old. I've just started my gluten-free diet 10 days ago and so far so good, I think. Dakar has a lot of fresh food options and quite a lot of restaurant fare that seems to be naturally gluten free (for example grilled fish and an excellent Thai restau).


I'd love to know how anyone else living in Africa has coped or is coping with being gluten free. It seems like there will be advantages (much less reliance on wheat in the local cuisine and less consumption of processed foods) as well as disadvantages (zero awareness among the general population and the food service industry).


Anyone have any experience living and traveling gluten-free in Africa, particularly West Africa?





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I have never been in Senegal, but I've been to Nigeria I had no problem with gluten (not one glutening in 10 days). Most staple foods are naturally gluten free (rice, casava, yam, plantain, etc.). The only problem I can think of is the common use of Maggi cubes (cubes) in soups and stews, which seems to be prevalent in Senegal too.

Hopefully somebody can give you more information about Senegal more particularly.


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Hi Mistinguette, thanks for your response. That's great that you found it so easy during your 10 days in Nigeria. I travel a lot in the region and don't yet know how eating gluten free on the road in West Africa will go. As you mention, Maggi seasoning and Jumbo spice cubes have become ubiquitous in Senegalese cuisine, which would otherwise be gluten free. Families and restaurants spend hours cooking a single traditional dish to be eaten communally, so it wouldn't be possible for me to get a serving without Maggi unless I ordered a special preparation (probably with at least 2kg of rice) hours in advance. 


At home in Dakar, I cook for myself a lot and eat out at restaurants that in theory have a lot of gluten free options (fresh seafood, Thai, Japanese, etc.). But, I'm still trying to figure out where all the hidden traps are. I thought the Thai was fine because they don't use soy sauce, but then discovered that Oyster Sauce also normally has gluten. There are fresh meats, seafood, and veggies in the supermarket, but buying anything canned or processed, even just sauces can be complicated since they come from France, Spain, India, China, etc. The ingredients may not be listed in English or French, and when they are, I still don't know what the labeling requirements are in each manufacturing country. I'm only on day 11 of my gluten free diet, and it's going to be a long learning curve not knowing any other Celiacs in a similar situation to ask questions of.


Your experience in Nigeria is definitely encouraging though, and right now, I'll take all the encouragement I can get. Cheers!


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It's definitely a learning curve. Thai and sushi are my go to food when I eat out :) Pad thai and curries are usually gluten free but I always ask and remind them about soy sauce. I avoid sauces that look gravy-ish or like it has been thickened (I am intolerant to corn too so I am being extra careful). As for sushi, I usually bring my own tamari (gluten free soy sauce). I avoid miso, tempura, imitation crab, eel, any fancy sauces and fish eggs (was told they have gluten). I was also told once that I couldn't have spring rolls because the rice paper they used has a small amount of wheat in it :(. Indian food can be gluten free also. I've had good experiences in different Indian restaurants.


While in Nigeria I stayed with relatives most of the time and told them about the gluten in maggi cubes so I was fine. These cubes are starting to have a bad reputation too because of the amount of salt and MSG. Plus African food is so tasty it really doesn't need that! Being on the road is more difficult (I packed some food such as rice cakes and fruits). Maybe you can ask to take a look at the seasoning they use so you can check for yourself? Going to someone's house is a challenge too because they offer you food. I ended up eating lots of rice and little stew to minimize the exposure. Luckily I was just fine.


I believe that products imported from Europe will have to mention wheat or gluten in the label if they contain any. In my opinion, it's just easier to stay away from anything processed if you can.


In any case, you seem to be doing great for someone who just got started with the diet! You will see that it becomes easier with time. There are still so many things we can have. 


Keep us posted !  


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That must be tough to be intolerant to corn as well! I haven't done much baking yet, but I'm counting on being able to make corn tortillas and continuing to use corn starch as thickener in homemade curries. 


I agree about the seasoning cubes. Senegalese food is delicious without it, so it really doesn't need it. But people are pretty addicted to it here now, and the marketing is everywhere. As you say, traveling will be a challenge, not only in terms of what I can eat, but also in terms of being offered food in people's homes. It's so rude to refuse to eat with your hosts. Your strategy of heavy on the rice and maybe just a taste of the sauce is probably a good approach.


When you eat Thai, do you worry about Oyster Sauce? The Thai here told me they put it in most things, which I didn't realize was a problem at the time. That was only two days into my diet, and I did have some brief gastro symptoms the next day, but I wasn't sure if they were related. Next time I'll have to ask to see the Oyster Sauce bottle, and possibly have them cook without it, but I'm not sure how that will affect the flavor. I also haven't found any wheat-free soy in Dakar yet, so I may have to do some creative sourcing on that. Are all rice wrappers suspect or just some that you were offered? We have rice wrappers from Vietnam that only list rice flour as a starch, and I also get Chinese bean vermicelli that uses corn starch along with the beans. I've only once seen rice cakes for sale, in the special diet section, but I'm hoping they reappear at some point, along with the one type of gluten-free 'Maria' crackers. I can live without bread and crackers, but I really do want something to put all this nice French cheese on from time to time. Cheers!


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