As a rising number of people globally choose to forgo gluten, we speak to Amer Zeitoun, nutrition expert and partner of Maki Bahrain, as the restaurant introduces coeliac-friendly dishes and a dedicated kitchen space.
The number of people adopting a gluten-free diet has dramatically risen over the past few years as more people are diagnosed as intolerant and a number of alternative practitioners continue to claim wheat is unhealthy.
While Celiac Disease is actually quite uncommon (it’s reported only one percent of the American population has it), the demand for gluten-free food has exploded, even in Bahrain. One restaurant which is meeting those demands is Japanese fusion spot Maki where they’ve not only introduced celiac-friendly sauces and dishes, but have also introduced a whole new cooking area. Nutrition expert and Maki managing partner Amer Zeitoun tells us why.
So what exactly do we mean by ‘gluten’ and going ‘gluten-free’?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Many people suffer from celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy. These are medical conditions and types of food hypersensitivities concerning gluten.
Eating gluten-free has becoming a bit of a trend around the world, even if the diner isn’t intolerant. Are there any benefits to this?
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of confusion in the global market regarding gluten-free diets. As per my knowledge, in modern science, there isn’t so far any crystal clear evidence that gluten is bad for everybody. This is unlike, for example, the bad type of cholesterol or saturated animal fats. However, some alternative and preventive medicine advocates suggest that some people suffering from certain illnesses like migraine, joint pains, bone pains or other body disorders are cured after simply converting to a totally gluten-free diet.
I would say that going for a short while with a gluten-free diet and checking if your own health issue(s) have recovered is a worthwhile test. Having said this, I would like to point out here that since gluten is found in many common nutritious foods, it is advisable to consult a dietitian before switching your diet.
Why did you think it important to introduce gluten-free dishes at Maki Bahrain now?
The idea came from my observation that the local market lacks the availability of foods that are both gluten-free and of fine dining quality. I thought that gluten intolerance sufferers would definitely appreciate the availability of highly innovative and tasty dishes. To my surprise, many diners, including myself, who have no recognised gluten intolerance issues, like these dishes and include them in their favourites list.
Much of Japanese cuisine is gluten-free anyway. Why have you made special efforts to introduce specialised items to your extensive menu selection?
Even though the Japanese cuisine offers plenty of gluten-free dishes like rice, the large variety of sushi with pure fish, chicken and so on, the main problem for gluten intolerant diners is the sauces that are paired with these foods like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo and others. Some of them usually contain traces of gluten due to natural fermentation process. So we are providing a special gluten-free sauces.
We went one step further by adding new dishes that will make a gluten intolerant diner happier and feel even more special. Some of these dishes include the mouth-watering prawn tempura and vegetable tempura with our special brown rice flour.
From the sushi side we have Oliver Shiromi Sushi that has the healthful brown rice, white fish, crispy Togarashi [chilli pepper], and our homemade extra virgin olive oil and fried garlic. We also created a special salad dish named Tartufo Red Quinoa salad. It has red quinoa, Morrocan truffles, pine nuts, dried cranberry, cherry tomatoes, avocado, rocket, coriander with our extra virgin olive oil.
On top of that, since some gluten intolerant people are hypersensitive even to the tiniest presence in their diets, we created a separate section in the kitchen dedicated solely for the preparation of all gluten-free items. This section will have a dedicated fridge, pans, utensils, chopping board, knives, and other necessary equipment.
What were the inspirations behind the exclusive dishes and who created them?
Innovation and creativity in Japanese fusion fine dining cuisine is a hallmark trait for Maki. My eldest brother and founder of Maki, Mohamad, has always been the main inspirer for the creation of new and creative dishes.
Open Sat-Tue noon-11pm; Wed-Fri noon-midnight. Bahrain World Trade Centre, West Tower, King Faisal Highway (1752 2733).
Other celiac-friendly spots
Numerous eateries in Bahrain offer special gluten-free options but these have a more interesting selection for the celiac diner
Organic Foods & Café
This family run cafe and supermarket caters to all sorts of diets in the all-natural, organic way, including gluten-free folk. The cafe’s kitchen do pizza, waffles and pancakes which are all gluten free, made to order.
Open daily 9am-10pm. Seef Mall, Seef (1333 3285).
This French five-star hotel also makes an effort to cater to our celiac suffering friends at all five of their outlets. Italian restaurant Fiamma, Arabic spot Pashawat, all-day dining place Saraya, South East Asian award-winner Wok and the award-winning seaside seafood restaurant La Mer have gluten-free options on and off their respective menus.
Various outlet opening times. Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa (1763 6363).