Travelling to Doha with food allergies was one of the first times I had my food allergy comfort zone tested. I have been to Singapore and Dubai, which are places I would deem similar when dealing with food allergies. All three locations have people who speak English, but not good enough that you feel they understand food allergies and their severity.
Dining out in Doha with food allergies
I only ate out once during the six days in Doha. I ate at the hotel, and they made me a very safe and delicious meal of fish and steamed vegetables. However, my confidence in dining out was not boosted when the head chef told me they have gluten-free bread if I wanted some, but that the week before a guest with celiac disease reacted to it. A 5-star hotel restaurant had glutened a guest and was telling me this casually as though it was no big deal. As you can see this made me strongly reevaluate my food allergy comfort zone in Doha.
More reasons for my lack of confidence in dining out was for the most part, as I mentioned earlier, communication. There were a few times where I felt like the waiter had no clue what food allergies are.
I almost ate out a second time at an Indian restaurant. I don’t eat Indian food very often because of all the potential cross-contact and needed to remind myself that it’s better not to risk it. The manager was adamant at finding me a safe meal. His confidence in being able to cater to my allergies was very enticing, but I stuck to my gut feeling of better not. This is a situation where I wonder if I could have eaten there. I go back and forth about whether it would have been ok and if he truly understood how to cater to multiple food allergies (since all my allergens were on the menu). As much as I wanted to give the restaurant a try it’s better to stay safe in the long run. Plus I had Raisin Bran at the hotel room, my favourite cereal and we don’t get it in Germany, so it was indeed a treat!
If you do want to eat out in Doha, I would suggest sticking to hotels because they have a trained international staff. I also read that some chain restaurants are allergy friendly because they have a protocol in place. I was in Doha to chill at the pool and decided not to venture out to a mall for food.
Grocery Stores in Doha
Before we went, I did some research on what grocery stores there were in Doha. They have two french chains Monoprix and Carrefour. It seems both stores are catering to expats and stock foods from France and England. That means the original labelling is on all the products, yay for European labelling laws!
One tip is to always read both the original label and the importer’s sticker. Once in Dubai I found what appeared to be safe dried cranberries, since this is a rarity, something in my gut said ‘don’t trust it’. When I peeled away the importer sticker and read the ingredients printed on the packaging my gut feeling was confirmed. They did indeed contain sunflower oil. Be diligent and go with your gut!
If you are going to grocery shop in Doha, I would skip Carrefour and go to Monoprix. It is a little pricier, but the produce is way better, they have more brands I knew from Europe, and they have an excellent free from range (better than my supermarket in Berlin!).
General tips on travelling to Doha with food allergies
Nuts are everywhere! I’m not kidding. At our hotel, they served nuts at the bar, at the concierge, and in the spa area. At the souq, there were open bags of peanuts, seeds, and other nuts. This is a part of their culture, so just be ready to encounter some assorted nuts.
Hookah is also very popular and smoked outside of restaurants and bars. This could be problematic if you have asthma and you may want to consider dining inside.
Also, note that they do have a dress code for many places. Ladies, I highly suggest bringing a scarf with you and leaving the short shorts at home. I saw a woman who had to wrap a scarf around her waist because her booty shorts weren’t appropriate.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in Doha. I went for the warm weather, the sun, and a to experience a new culture. I knew eating would not be a priority and adjusted my expectations for this trip. I am also fortunate to have a husband who is ok with me just drinking while he eats. This way I can see and smell the food but not take any risks.
Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!