The Gluten-Free Traveler: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

By December 14, 2013News & Events

Read and enjoy the first edition of The Gluten-Free Traveler… and you’ll find a draw for FREE STUFF at the bottom! 

Whether you’re a diagnosed celiac, gluten sensitive or you choose to eat a gluten-free diet, how many have you found yourself in a situation that goes something like this:

  1. Submit vacation request to the boss
  2. HORRAY it’s approved!
  3. Save up all your pennies, forfeiting lavish nights out on the town (at your favorite gluten-free friendly restaurants) for quiet nights in cooking and watching Netflix (trying healthy gluten-free recipes you found following @gfyyc on Twitter, OF COURSE)
  4. Google, Google, Google… where to go, where to stay, what to see. The world really is your oyster!
  5. Get inspired, find a gem of a hotel and BOOK! (*insert credit card here*)
  6. The countdown begins! One can go as for as downloading the ‘countdown’ app to know to the exact second you will be stepping foot on that plane!
  7. Start packing and stressing what to pack – oh the anticipation builds!

And then all of a sudden, one morning a few days before your highly anticipated departure, while you’re standing in your kitchen munching on a gluten-free cracker dipped in fresh, homemade hummus, you start to wonder…

“WHAT AM I GOING TO EAT THERE?! I’m gluten-free! Do they even know what that means in that part of the world? What do they eat over there? They don’t speak English… how on earth am I going to communicate my dietary restrictions?”

You scramble for your phone and download the Google Translate app and frantically punch in and save the translations for “gluten-free” and “no wheat” and “allergy”. Bingo!

Well that’s a safe start and always something we recommend doing. But as an experienced traveler myself, I have certainly come to realize that it would be oh so helpful to be able to find a little gluten-free specific travel information to read up on before you go somewhere. Hell – it may even start to weigh in on where you decide to go! It does for me. And I happen to be a very big fan of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta, specifically, for this reason, amongst others. I usually go there a couple times a year and although I do speak Spanish at a beginner level (closer to intermediate as I get to my 4th or 5th glass of vino), with a few key phrases and a helpful blog like this, anyone should be able to get by without much of an issue—no guarantees of course, as you are in another country (although even in our beloved Canada, as most of us have experienced before, nothing is really a guarantee 100% of the time). But this should certainly help!

I have been going to Puerto Vallarta for about three years or so now. My parents discovered it, as they began to adopt the ever-so-popular “snowbird” lifestyle so many Canadians do. I’ve always been a fan of Mexico—Latin America in general—and it’s fairly close and easy to get to (plus I had a free place to stay!) so I jumped at the opportunity to come down and visit when they suggested it. The first time I came down, I had only recently realized my gluten sensitivity, so although I’d been to other parts of Mexico and South America before, I had never previously considered how to maintain a gluten-free diet whilst travelling to this part of the world. First and foremost, the water may not always be to blame for your “upset stomach” while abroad (foreign H2O has been taking heat for too long and it’s time to to rebuilt its debauched reputation! Perhaps you have always just had a food allergy and never realized before?! Whoda-thunk?!

Okay, enough about me. Let’s talk about the city: Puerto Vallarta. This high-energy, tourist-friendly, gem of a city, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. First of all, if you haven’t been here already, I highly recommend you go. GO NOW! Even if you aren’t gluten sensitive. If you can’t tell by my frequent visits and gushing descriptives, I love it there. Absolutely one of my favorites. But travelling to Mexico is also one of the easiest places to be gluten-free! Most of the food you find yourself enjoying down there is already gluten-free, because most foods are made with corn as opposed to wheat. So that REALLY helps. Before you even get started, with your translations jotted down, rehearsing your pronunciations, it’s likely that about 50-75% of that menu is already gluten-free and safe for you to eat. Amazing right?

gf guacamole  gf nachos

Look for things like tacos, fajitas, chips and guacamole… most tortillas are already made with corn. That being said, you will want to confirm with your server, because some do serve flour tortillas! How dare they! Especially places that are use to serving North American tourists, for whom flour tortillas are the norm. So here are some questions and key phrases you will want to keep in the back pocket of your sarong and clarify with the servers before you fold up your menu, sip your margarita and wait patiently for your Mexican dinner to be served.

  • Maiz” (corn)
  • Trigo” (wheat)
  • Glutin” (gluten) – but this is not always recognized here, so depending on how sensitive you are, I often clarify by saying “trigo” so they understand what I’m trying to say
  • Yo tengo una allergia de trigo y glutin” (I have an allergy to wheat and gluten)
  • Tienes comida sin glutin?” (do you have gluten-free food?) – this one isn’t always the most effective because a lot of places that aren’t familiar with the gluten-free diet or the celiac allergy will just say NO, to be safe, when in fact, after you ask clarifying questions about wheat and corn, etc, it turns out 90% of their menu is gluten-free, haha, so don’t give up too easily
  • Tortillas maiz or tortillas de trigo?” (corn tortillas or wheat tortillas)

Watch for breaded shrimp (coconut shrimp is a very popular dish) as well as breaded fish in fish tacos! I highly recommend eating oodles of shrimp and fish tacos (they’re two of my favorite dishes) but just be sure to ask your server if they are “con trigo?” to be certain. And you can always request that your fish be grilled instead of fried. They will most likely be very flexible with this. (“Puedes grille?”)

gf fajitas

I made sure to do lots of research while I was down there… out and about sampling as much as I could. I thought I would highlight a few of my favorite discoveries for you all.

K’ rico Bakery (www.losmercadospv.com) – Take a stroll down to Los Mercados one day and pop into this little artisan bakery. They have gluten-free muffins and a to-die-for gluten-free chocolate cake that will blow your mind.We served it at a dinner party and everyone loved it (even those who aren’t gluten-free… so that’s saying something)!

gf muffins pv  gf chocolate cake

 

 

 

Casa Gourmet – While you’re out in that end of town grabbing a cake, pick up some gluten-free friendly groceries from this little shop. It’s pretty tiny, but I loved that they had a dedicated section for us!

image (3)  casa gourmet pv

Joe Jack’s Fish Shack – Make sure you sit upstairs. The little rooftop patio is oozing with charm and character. The mojitos are tasty as hell. And just ask your server for gluten-free options. They can grill the fish, serve you corn tortillas and you are sorted!!

Swedes – ALL TIME FAVORITE! This place was opened by two Swedish guys who came over to PVR three years ago and fell in love with it (as so many of us do). They own a restaurant/bar on the very edge of downtown, second and third floors, open air. It’s lovely! I met up with some friends there on one of my first nights in town and inquired with Morgan, one of the owners, as to what on the menu was gluten-free. After checking with the chef he came back with good news! About 75% of the menu was already gluten-free, without any modifications necessary. I quickly became a regular at this place – it serves amazing food and a perfect option for when you need a break from the usual Mexican fare. Things I enjoyed the crap out of: the salmon, the chicken breast deluxe and the most phenomenal thing I ate during my entire month down there, the Portabello Mushroom. Highly, HIGHLY recommend it. The goat cheese on top is the nicest finish. And, they’ve just started opening for breakfast and will even make your Eggs Benedict with portabello mushrooms if you ask! Definitely make this a stop on your trip down here, and tell them I sent you! Morgan is looking to increase the number of gluten-free options he offers, as well as offer dairy-free selections and will be updating his menu’s so you can tell by a quick glance what is safe for you!

image (1)  image (2)

And there you have it! Now you have a guide for your gluten-free holiday in PVR. Just use your keywords and key phrases, and keep the questions basic, and you’ll be fine. You’ll find yourself able to enjoy so much great local grub in this part of the world – along with a margarita or two!

Adios!

FREE STUFF: We’d like to send YOU for some gluten-free Mexican cuisine in the YYC at one of our favorite hot spots in the city, Xocolat Posh Mexican Cuisine! Enter NOW!

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