Dalyan, Turkey

Having holidayed in Dalyan several times before being diagnosed with coeliac disease, I was keen to go back and continue enjoying this lovely resort. Last year was my first trip to Dalyan on a gluten free diet and I must admit that I struggled. The hotel didn’t know what was in their food so, other than the gf bread they’d bought for me and the omelettes and yoghurt, I couldn’t really eat much at breakfast. Lunch was even worse – omelettes or omelettes. Tea time in the town was also a challenge as I was met with blank looks in most restaurants when I asked about gluten free options. I ate a lot of cereal bars and pretzels from home! However, it’s such a nice resort that I decided to go again this year and just be more organised. I’d anticipated a poor breakfast and zero lunch options so I took supplies with me. This is how I got on.

We stayed at the Holiday Calbis hotel. It’s the same place we always stay in and so I knew from last year that breakfast would be limited. I did look for hotels which had a better offering for gluten free guests but nowhere did, so I decided better the devil you know and returned to Holiday Calbis. We had emailed ahead to request gluten free breakfast items and they provided bread and biscuits. Last year the bread was inedible (and I’m not a fussy eater) but I hoped that more brands would be available in the shops this year. They weren’t. The hotel provided the only gf bread available in Dalyan which, unfortunately, was exactly what muggles think of when they imagine gf bread. It was hard, crumbly, tasteless, claggy and truly inedible. Any hope of finding some way of making it palatable disappeared when I saw the jams and spreads. Gone were the safe, pre-packed tubs of jam from last year. In their place was a large jar of jam with a communal spoon. Cross-contamination nightmare! And to add insult to injury, they didn’t even have little glass dishes to put your jam in, instead they had provided tiny wafer tubs. They literally had dishes made of gluten. My request for some jam direct from the kitchen was simply met with “we don’t have any”. So I was very glad to have brought my box of corn flakes from home, they were my only source of carbohydrate in the morning. I did manage to supplement them with some eggs, yoghurt and fruit though.

A coeliac’s nightmare, breakfast at Holiday Calbis

Lunch options in the hotel and the town were limited to pancakes, chips and omelettes. We found one restaurant serving gluten free pancakes. The chips are best avoided as restauranteurs tend not to be aware of the dangers of shared cooking oil etc. and it’s very hard to explain if you don’t speak Turkish. Not a problem though, lesson learnt last year. This time I had brought John West tuna salads and Asda and Illumi noodle pots ,which meant I could sit on the balcony and have lunch.

Evening meals, as last year, were fraught with peril! I had anticipated some improvement as reviews on TripAdvisor indicated that more restaurants than last year could cater for gluten free customers. Last year, I ate in the same few restaurants I had found on TripAdvisor but, this year, I was encouraged by reviews on several others, which suggested I could eat there safely. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and you really do need to have your wits about you when eating out here. Most meals are meat, rice and chips so you’d think it would be easy to find a nice dinner almost anywhere but there are several things you need to be on the watch for:

  1. Shared cooking oil. We’re used to this one at home but in Turkey they’re often not really sure what you mean. I’d suggest you get someone to ask the chef, don’t take the waiter/owner’s word for it as they often don’t have a clue how the food is prepared. 
  2. Breadcrumbs in meatballs. Again, ask the chef, not the front-of-house staff. A couple of places assured me that their meatballs would be fine and then came out, having checked with the kitchen, to say they were bulked out with breadcrumbs.
  3. Orzo. All rice is served, beautifully presented, cooked in butter and with tiny flecks of brown in it. It looks like brown rice and many waiters have assured me it is just rice. It isn’t. It’s orzo, which is definitely not gluten free. Lots of waiters seem to genuinely think it’s rice and so, if you’re not on the lookout for it, you could be made ill.

I sent a couple of meals back because, despite my Turkish explanation sheet and my full interrogation before ordering, the rice they served had orzo in it. This knocks your confidence and makes you very reluctant to try new places. At least I can see the orzo – how would I know if a meatball has been rolled in flour or a chip had been cooked in contaminated oil? So, we only ate in 4 different restaurants during our week in Dalyan, three recommended on TripAdvisor and one that looked so nice we thought we would give it a go.

Hotel Dalyance

This restaurant was the one with such an appealing set up that we went in without reading gf reviews. It was new and so I would be their first gluten free reviewer. Well, someone has to go first, don’t they?! I asked about gf and showed them my Turkish information sheet. The man I spoke to was confident and checked with a lady who was English, just to be sure. She was very reassuring as her dad has coeliac and so she understood it perfectly. We sat down with confidence. A waiter came over and talked me through the menu and I picked BBQ chicken. I specifically asked for plain rice and explained that I couldn’t eat the orzo. He said that wouldn’t be a problem. When the food arrived, however, the chef had gone to the trouble to put my main, vegetables and rice on separate plates (why he thought that made a difference I honestly couldn’t tell you!) but hadn’t done plain rice. I tried to explain to the new waiter that I couldn’t eat the orzo and he misunderstood and took away the vegetables and the rice. He then proudly came back a few minutes later without the vegetables but still brandishing the orzo-packed rice. What then followed was like a scene from Fawlty Towers’ restaurant, until I was eventually rescued by the English lady who explained the problem to the waiter and then went inside to explain to the chef. She came back with the vegetables and explained that the chef was now cooking plain rice for me. So I had to eat the BBQ chicken and the vegetables and then, 20 minutes later, the rice came out. They hadn’t even cooked it properly as they’d rushed it.

BBQ chicken, Hotel Dalyance

Kervansaray

We had “the orzo problem” here too at first. I explained when I ordered that I needed plain rice but, sure enough, out came the orzo. Here, the waiter was adamant that it was just rice and I was equally adamant that it wasn’t. The owner was absolutely fantastic and used Google translate to check. The rice was quickly removed but it did leave me with less food than I should have had. The next time we went, reassured by the owner’s diligence, they remembered and served me plain rice. They were so pleased to have catered for me and I would recommend this restaurant if you’re gluten free in Dalyan.

Ali’s Restaurant

I’d almost been orzo-ed here last year so I was extremely clear when I asked about the rice this time. The owner didn’t roll his eyes at me like he did last year either, so things were looking up. He said the meatballs were 100% meat and so safe. Fortunately he checked in the kitchen and it turns out they’re bulked out with breadcrumbs. I chose a casserole instead, which they made with mashed potato instead of chips and rice. It was OK but very, very salty.

Yener’s Place

This restaurant is absolutely fantastic for gluten free. Not only are lots of the Turkish meals available gluten free, but they also have gluten free pizza, pasta, pancakes and bread. Cross-contamination is not a problem as they understand the risks and what they need to do in order to keep coeliac diners safe. Yener chats to his customers and so is always learning. A previous customer had explained coeliac disease to him and so he had adapted his recipes. Someone had told him their coeliac son was jealous of the pancakes, so his chef learnt how to make gluten free pancakes. He was asking me about which beers I could drink because he currently doesn’t have any gf beer available. Next year he is going to label his menus with ‘gf’ because someone told him it helps. At Yener’s Place I had 2 different meatball dishes and a pizza. I could also have the meze starter as he provided gf bread. This is the best restaurant in Dalyan for gluten free food.

This year we didn’t do any day trips requiring lunch however, last year we did. Last year we had booked a BBQ boat trip via our hotel and had checked with the captain that he could cater for me. He told us this would be fine but then flagged us down in town the next day to tell me to bring my own lunch. There’s not much fun to be had in taking a picnic on a boat trip whose sole purpose is to BBQ, so we cancelled. We thought we would probably have the same problem everywhere but we did find a company who had no difficulty in catering for me. Kaunos Tours. We did a BBQ boat trip and a full day Jeep Safari with them and I had a lovely, gluten free lunch provided both times. Be aware that the only gf option on the Jeep Safari is fish.

Looking round the supermarkets I think you’d struggle to self-cater in Dalyan unless you brought things from home. The bread is revolting and the only other gluten free items available are biscuits, spaghetti, mini muffins and, ironically, orzo. If you’re going to self-cater I’d recommend bringing carbohydrates from home. If you’re eating out anywhere other than Yener’s place, I’d recommend you take some gluten free breadsticks with you. The meze starters are gluten free so you can join in with everyone else if you take your own breadsticks.

If visiting Dalyan, watch out for the three main risks mentioned above. Remember to triple check everything and don’t take waiting staff at their word, get them to check. Everyone is keen to help but so many of them just don’t understand. My experiences, gluten free, in Dalyan are exemplified by something a restaurant owner (who didn’t get us over the threshold) said when I asked if he could cater for gluten free. He said “Oh yes! Not a problem. You can eat lots of things, we can adapt dishes. I know about gluten free. You can’t eat pasta, rice, milk …”

Enjoy Daylan, eat with care!

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