Travelling with Food Intolerances: How we Ate in a Egyptian Hotel as “Failsafe” Vegans for 10 Days

The hotel has a Pharaonic Theme, this is the lobby over looking the pool and the Red Sea

The Sheraton Soma Bay has a Pharaonic Theme, this is the lobby over looking the pool and the Red Sea

Pool overlooking the Red Sea

Sheraton Soma Bay: Pool overlooking the Red Sea

This where we’ve just been on holiday. Heavenly right? It is the Sheraton, Soma Bay in Egypt, an isolated resort on the Red Sea.

So, even though the hotel has an enormous mouth watering buffet (which from a previous year, as an undiagnosed food intolerant honeymooner I stuffed myself with every morning and night), it was necessary to pre-plan the meals and snacks for my kids and myself before I left Australia. Actually, I’m a bit of a cheat as we visited the same resort last year, we lived and learnt from our stay then and came very prepared this year.

Now, firstly, it is worth bearing in mind that we are at the extreme end of the food sensitivity spectrum. My two kids (3 and 5 years old) and I can only eat a selection of foods from the most basic food list set out by the RPAH Elimination Diet and the lists given by the Food Intolerance Network (the “Failsafers”). So what you will see below is how we managed to do this with a very small amount of permitted ingredients. I am a Vegan and so is my youngest, my older daughter can tolerate dairy at home but always refuses dairy when travelling, so for the 10 day stay in Soma Bay, she was also a temporary Vegan.

Secondly, our special needs diet for the 10 days was only possible thanks to the excellent, caring, hardworking, enthusiastic, completely obliging and utterly LOVELY chefs at the Sheraton. They all totally deserve an individual mention, so here they are:

Ahmed, Head of Food and Beverage. Ahmed speaks perfect English and set us up with the Chefs. He was extremely helpful throughout our stays this year and last.

Ahmed, Head of Food and Beverage

Ahmed, Head of Food and Beverage

Head Chef Omar. This delightful, energetic and intelligent Head Chef was our lifeline for brainstorming a meal plan, finding out what permitted foods he had stocked (and would send someone out to buy) and made it quite clear this his kitchen was ‘my home’ too. He made himself available practically all day to answer any queries I had about our meals. He took our food intolerances EXTREMELY seriously and made sure his staff were all in the know.

Head Chef Omar, whose excellent communication skills between us and his staff helped our holiday run smoothly

Head Chef Omar, whose excellent communication skills between us, him and his staff helped our holiday run smoothly

Senior Chef Rafeek was in charge of over seeing our lunch and dinner meals. We organised a nutritious failsafe soup for each of these meals. He would make up a large batch every other day and reheat portions as necessary to avoid us having to wait for him to create a fresh batch for each meal.

Senior Chef Rafeek

Senior Chef Rafeek, our ‘Go-To’ every day for lunch and dinner arrangements.

Chef Mohammed was our Pancake making champion. The humble Orgran Buckwheat Pancake mix has never tasted so good believe me. Each morning Chef Mohammed would have a clean mixing bowl and whisk waiting for me so I could mix my ingredients, he also carefully scrubbed the Crepe frying pans clean of any residue oil before making ours. His pancakes were delish and I’ve missed them every morning since we got back!

Chef Mohammed

Chef Mohammed who makes the best pancakes the box of Orgran Premix has ever seen. Note the old style Crisco Sunflower Oil bottle I sent to Egypt in Jan LOL.

Pastry Chef Fathy let me into his Pastry Kitchen for a number of hours over our stay. I showed him how I made cakes and cookies and he applied his expert knowledge to my recipes and the results were amazing! We even made the Orgran Bread Mix and the loaf came out looking very professional. Thanks to his patience and hard work we were well stocked with delicious desserts and also aeroplane snacks for the 24 hour journey back to Australia.

Pastry Chef Fathy

Pastry Chef Fathy, the Cake and Cookie Pro: the perfectly formed biscuits are his of course, mine are wonky and irregular 🙂

What I Brought from Australia (for the hotel stay):

Now, because I’d travelled here the previous year (and had lived in Egypt for some years prior to this) I was already very knowledgable about what food would be available. For example, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to ever find out if the Oil contained antioxidant 320, and that “maple syrup” was a concoction of various flavours and colours. Considering most of my highly used products are only found in specialist food stores here in Australia (and are even hard to come by in the UK) I knew I needed to pack pretty much EVERYTHING except fresh produce. I started preparation in January by sending  5kg of products back with my mother in law who’d come to stay, but I managed to fit everything else into our luggage. We flew with Emirates and so had 32KG each. We stayed within our parameters even though when flying to the UK my husband and I both had our bikes in bike boxes for the Triathlon World Championships!

One Jar of Kitchen Creations Pear Jam (will bring two next time)

10 Packs of Orgran Buckwheat Pancake Mix (one per day)

Four Bottles of Sunflower oil (I allow for two a week for baking and cooking and bring extra in case of spillage)

1KG Buckwheat Flour (will bring another 1KG bag next time)

500g Potato Flour

500g Tapioca Flour

Four Bottles of Maple Syrup (for use in baking as well as desserts and breakfasts)

One pack of Rice Crackers (two would have been better)

One pack of Buckwheat Crackers (two would have been better)

2KG Raw Cashew Nuts

Three small tubes of CSR Golden Syrup (for baking, breakfasts, desserts and for making Failsafe Medicine)

500g Buckwheat Groats

Two Packs of Choices Muffin Premix (used up one in the UK prior to Egypt,  next year I’ll bring another one or two with me)

Four Tins of Canennlini Beans (a protein backup, learnt from past experience that a backup is always handy. Their main use ended up being for the flight back to Oz).

Citric Acid

Storage Tupperware and Packs of Ziplock Bags (INVALUABLE!)

What We Ate

Breakfast: Buckwheat Pancakes with Maple Syrup, Pear Jam, Cashew Nuts and or Cashew Nut Spread and/or a portion of Buckwheat Porridge.

Lunch: Lentil Soup which consisted of red lentils, green beans, potato and celery, with either Buckwheat Pasta, boiled potato or crackers (rice or buckwheat). By the way, I experimented with this soup at home a few weeks before leaving to that my kids were accustomed to the taste. Believe it or not, the green beans were actually very tasty in the soup (in moderate quantities). Dessert was a leftover pancake from breakfast or a cookie/cake cooked with Chef Fathy.

Lentil and Permitted Vegetable Soup with "chips". My kids gobbled this down every night like there was no tomorrow.

Lentil and Permitted Vegetable Soup with “chips”. My kids gobbled this down every night like there was no tomorrow. The soup was made only with water and the chips  boiled then lightly fried in my oil that I’d bring to the Kitchen every late afternoon. I added oil and salt to the soup for flavour in our room.

Dinner: Lentil Soup with the same vegetables served with boiled potatoes lightly fried to make golden ‘chips’. Dessert was a couple of biscuits, cake or handful of cashew nuts with maple syrup.

The produce of Chef Fathy and my afternoon's labour in the Pastry Kitchen. YUMMO.

The produce of Chef Fathy and my afternoon’s labour in the Pastry Kitchen. YUMMO.

Now, to the average person, this will seem like a terribly unvaried diet, but to me and my kids, it was a daily banquet! Firstly, for the first time (actually second, as we went to Soma Bay last year!) since having children 5.5 years ago, I didn’t have to cook and clean up! Bliss. Secondly, although each meal was the same, I’m sure you’ll agree they were very nutritious and thanks to the talented Chefs, they really tasted yummy. To be honest, it felt really, really good to eat so simply for that length time. One interesting observation I have made from this (and last year) was that I felt myself listening more closely to my body for when it was full. Although Chef Rafeek’s soup was so tasty it make me greedy for more, it was easier to stop eating at ‘full point’ rather then progressing to that overfull feeling that I often get at home when I have more dietary choice and eat a more varied diet. I wonder if sticking to a simple, less varied (yet fully nutritious) diet could play a role in helping people to lose weight..?!! Saying that my youngest (who is on the thinner side) thankfully didn’t loose any weight during the trip which is a real triumph for me!

Next year we hope to stay even longer and so I am already planning how I can add a little more variety considering the stay will be extended. I am going to try and master a easy bake, yeast free bread that I will premix into zip lock bags in Australia so that I can just add oil and water in the hotel kitchens. There is a local Egyptian pear available but I couldn’t get it to ripen (it ended up black and sunburnt), I think they just eat them hard. But I did later discover in Cairo that other varieties are available so I will ask Chef Omar to purchase some of these in the Hurgharda Market before shortly our stay next year. There is also cabbage available in Egypt, I didn’t ask for it to be put in the soup this year but will experiment with it next year in order to add some extra nutrients. This year I packed 5 fresh loaves of Choices Bread and 4 Naturis Buckwheat Loaves (NB not Failsafe) but since we travelled to the UK first they were used up there. Next year we will fly direct to Cairo and so I plan to freeze the loaves in the Sheraton Kitchen once we arrive.

Well that’s my thesis! I hope you have found it useful (and maybe tempted you to pay the lovely Sheraton in Soma Bay a visit? 🙂 More posts coming soon on Food for Long International Flights (we had 7 flights in total, including the two 24 hour stints to and from Australia) and other Travelling Tips for Food Intolerant Families. You can follow my blog by email or via WordPress if you want to know when they are posted. Or you could like my Facebook Page: Naomi Cook Writer/Author in order to stay up to date with my Blog and my Kid’s Books.

For more on Food Intolerance and my Failsafe Vegan recipes, click on the links!

Hey, do you have any ideas for things I can bring/prepare for next year? How do you travel with a Food Intolerant Family?

  3 comments for “Travelling with Food Intolerances: How we Ate in a Egyptian Hotel as “Failsafe” Vegans for 10 Days

  1. caroline
    November 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Wow ! I am so impressed. We are flying to the US next June and i am already thinking about food for the flight ( and possible delays !) for my FS,DF,WF son. Obviously you were allowed to take Sinchies on the flight. were they the 80mls ones ? Also did you take a freezer block in the cooler bag – are they allowed these days ? I just don’t want to get to the security check in and not be allowed to take things on teh flight with us. or did you have a dietitian’s letter ?

    • Naomi R Cook
      November 13, 2013 at 1:44 am

      Hi Caroline, I’d absolutely love to hear how it goes for you, please do let me know? Particularly what products you can find in the US. I took the 200ml sinchies and because they were frozen, they acted as the freezer block. We didn’t have a letter but I’ve always been allowed to take food on to a flight (leaving Aus, UK and Egypt) but I’m not sure how strict the USA is. They’d be really stingy to not let you bring food considering the high number of allergic/food intolerant people these days. It would be a disaster for us (and I’m guessing you too!) Please do let me know how it goes, I can even blog it for you, if you aren’t a blogger, just so we can share it with everyone else. 🙂

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