When I based myself in Oaxaca after almost 8 years in Asia, I was relieved to be in a place where I could speak the local language and enjoy a cuisine that seemed mostly corn-based and safe for a celiac.
What I didn’t realize was that some Mexican food includes wheat or bread as thickeners, as well as sauces like salsa Inglesa (Worcestershire sauce, basically), or Maggi sauces, each of which usually contain wheat. I communicated my celiac needs in Spanish, but still got sick because the inquiries weren’t specific enough. If I asked whether a mole sauce was thickened with wheat or wheat flour, the answer was no. I would get sick only to realize later that it was thickened with bread. When asked as a follow up, I was told, “but you asked about wheat flour, not bread.”
Thus, the need for a gluten free guide to Mexico was born, and a sufficiently detailed card to make sure no one else got sick either.
Don’t get me wrong: the country is full of wonderful naturally gluten free corn-based snacks, soups that are made from scratch without pesky bouillon cubes, and a wondrous amount of tacos with corn tortillas. My point in sharing those “I messed up” stories is only to make clear that what seems safe in Mexico may not be safe for a celiac. As a result, my gluten free translation card is clear to mention bread, egg bread, and the sauces that may be added and contain wheat.
This guide will help you navigate the dishes you will find, as well as offer alternatives when you are eating out. Snack time is the best time for a celiac, as many tamales, corn tacos, and elotes (corn with cheese, mayo, chili, and lime) are often safe and absolutely delicious. As with any of the other gluten free guides, the goal is both to empower you to eat safely by listing out local names of food, and give you the tool of a celiac restaurant card specific to Mexico to help you do so with even less anxiety.
LAST UPDATED: JANUARY 6, 2023
Spanish Gluten-Free Restaurant Card for Mexico and Latin America
This detailed gluten free restaurant card will help communicate your eating restrictions, and allow you to understand what is safe and unsafe from the menu. Note: The card is available for purchase via Gumroad, a trustworthy 3rd party site that uses Stripe, so you know your information is safe.
Why is this Spanish gluten free card different?
I used several different translation cards on my travels, and I still got sick. I may be more sensitive than some celiacs, but even a small amount of contaminated oil for frying, or wheat-thickened sauce in the food, is enough to make me ill for days. Let alone the joint pain later that week, and the fatigue. And regardless of whether we feel it or not, ingesting any amount of gluten is a problem if we are celiac.
This card is different because:
✅ Immediate download, sized specifically for mobile. You can save it to your phone and have it with you as you travel, or you can print it out and laminate it to take along.
✅ It uses local ingredients and lists of what you can/cannot eat help you eat safely, not just “I can’t eat gluten”.
✅ Unlike less-detailed cards, this card explains that contaminated surfaces or oils are also unsafe.
✅ It is researched by a celiac and goes through two sets of translations to ensure accuracy.
This card is also different from my Spanish gluten free restaurant card for Spain, as it uses names of ingredients commonly found in Mexico and Latin America. Readers have used this one for Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, Caribbean, and South America, as well as for Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
An English translation of the card will be included when you purchase, so you can follow along as you travel. A big thanks to Estela Torres Cota for her help on this one.
Eating gluten free in Mexico: dishes, soups, and snacks
The following dishes are commonly wheat-free in Mexico, as confirmed by translators. This is not an exhaustive list—but the post is over 5000 words already, and I can’t include everything. I wanted to be sure some of the more common dishes were represented so you could recognize them on the menu.
As with any destination, at home or abroad, it’s important to confirm on a case-by-case basis that no flour, bread (for mole sauces, pan or pan de yema can be used), or Maggi/Knorr condiments were used in the dishes.
Tacos (pure corn tortillas only): There are a few specific types of tacos in the “unsafe” section below, but freshly pressed or pre-made corn tortillas are often available at taquerias, even if they also use full flour. It is important to communicate that you need 100% masa / maiz as some places will press both wheat and corn together. The toppings you can get here are infinite! From tacos al pastor (slow roasted corn on a vertical spit, often topped with pineapple slices), to maciza de res, maciza de puerco, tacos de cabeza, tacos surtidos, tacos de lengua, tacos de carnitas and SO MUCH MORE. Please be sure to show them your card, or to ask that there is no seasoning like salsa Inglesa, Maggi sauce or Knorr in the taco meat. Al pastor, for example, is usually marinated in spices and chilies, and is gluten free. But some tacos are cooked on the grill with extra condiments added in, and caution is warranted as always.
(If the taco options are a bit overwhelming, you might benefit from Tacopedia, a great overview of Mexican eats.)
Quesadillas (if made with corn flour): In Central Mexico and Oaxaca, quesadillas are made from freshly pressed corn, much like memelas (explained below). Elsewhere in Mexico, these are often made from flour, including when found in the United States and Canada. Quesadilla fillings include quesillo cheese, mushrooms with peppers, chicken tinga (shredded chicken with onions, tomatoes, and chilies), and flor de calabaza squash blossoms that partner customarily with cheese.
Empanadas (made from corn flour): as with quesadillas, Central/Southern empanadas are not the kind we are used to in North America, where they are either Argentine (small, crescent shaped wheat pockets) or Tex-Mex (flour tortillas). Elsewhere in Mexico, you must confirm what flour is used.
Arroz: Rice, a staple in menu of the day meals and many main courses, is readily available — often when off menu. I’ve had great success asking for rice when the side dish is something like soup with pasta in it, or pasta on the side. Be sure that it was not cooked in bouillon cube-enhanced water, which can occasionally be the case when you are getting it as a side to seafood.
Memelas: A memela is a Oaxacan specialty, a round corn snack with curled edges that is toasted on a comal (a clay or metal flat surface that is powered by fire or natural gas). Memelas are almost always freshly pressed from wet masa (corn flour) and made to order. Confirm that the flour is pure corn, but I have yet to encounter a Oaxacan stall that adds wheat flour to the mix. These are usually topped with pork lard (asiento), then beans, then cheese—either queso fresco or quesillo.
Tlayudas: Also from Oaxaca, these “pizzas” are actually made from large, crispy corn tortillas and are either served open faced (see below) or more frequently, folded in half and grilled over a fire until even crispier. They’re usually topped with pork lard, beans, avocado, shredded lettuce, and quesillo cheese — then topped with a meat of your choice. Tasajo (Oaxacan-style air cured beef, thinly sliced) is my fave, but you can choose others from chicken to pork to other beef cuts like arrachera. These are almost always gluten free, they’re filling, and delicious. Highly recommended! If eating outside Oaxaca, do confirm tortilla is fully made of corn.
Tamales: Ah, tamales. I love them so much. The word tamal derives from the Nahuatl tamalli, which means steamed cornmeal dough. Nahuatl, the language of Aztecs, was spoken as early as the 7th century, but tamales existed long before then in Mesoamerica. Historians believe that the tamal may have originated as early as 8000 BC to 5000 BC. It was (and remains) a perfect foodstuff to prepare in large quantities, easy to pack up for travel, and had the added bonus of helping small quantities of meat or fruit last longer, and feed a larger number of people. The Maya even had a hieroglyph for the tamal, which highlights just how important it was for pre-Hispanic civilizations.
Safe fillings: rajas (chicken with spicy peppers), elote (corn), cambray (chicken with olives), flor de calabaza / quesillo (squash blossom and cheese), dulce (sweet tamale, usually red on the outside and made with pineapple and sweet condensed milk inside), chepil (a delicious herb), and more. Mole verde with chicken has always been gluten free when I’ve asked. Given the variety of tamales throughout Mexico, the important part is making sure there is no pan or pan de yema in the filling.
Carne Asada: Grilled meat, often served in a menu of the day or a-la-carte dinner menu, with side of rice and beans. Be sure to check spicing to make sure no hidden gluten. These are rarely marinated in a wet marinade (but can be spiced, as with cecina enchilada below), but can sometimes include the dreaded Maggi for seasoning!
Cecina / cecina enchilada: Not to be confused with enchiladas, cecina enchilada consists of boneless pork that is coated in chilies and then cooked. The dry spice blend often involves several types of chili, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and more. The cecina itself refers to a thinly sliced, salted, partly dried sheet of meat – it can be beef or pork. The meat is cut finely (it’s impressive to see!), then folded into an accordion of meat. This cut / type of meat is found on top of dishes like tlayudas, but is also available as a carne asada — so I gave it a separate bullet point.
Chorizo (Mexican sausage): As with many Portuguese sausages, bread or flour fillers in chorizo seems to be the exception and not the rule. Chorizo is usually a deep red colour, as the meat is — of course! — spiced with chilies before it is stuffed. There are other options, such as a green chorizo, seasoned with green chilies and cilantro (spoiler, it’s awesome). Unlike Spanish chorizo, it is sold raw — the Spanish version is often dried and cured sausage in a casing. You’ll find this meat option in tacos, tlayudas, carne asada and much more. It’s fab.
Consommé: This dish is a lamb or goat soup, but not the thin broths you’re thinking of. In Mexico, the soup is actually deeply rich, as it’s the liquid that the barbacoa goat or lamb is cooked in. Flavoured with avocado leaves, garlic, and spices, it comes in smaller sized bowls because it packs a huge punch. Given how it’s made, there has yet to be a place that adds flour or any thickeners. If you’re at a restaurant (instead of a barbacoa stall) it is always worth asking.
Garnachas/Huaraches: These are mini disks of corn that are deep fried, and then topped with meat, onions, crumbled cheese, and pickled vegetables. I have no idea why these haven’t taken North America by storm, because they are bite sized snacks of awesomesness. (These are similar to sopes or gorditas). The key here is ensuring the oil is uncontaminated.
Chocolate and corn drinks like champurrado or atole or hot chocolate drinks such as agua de chocolate so long as you ask for it without the pan de yema (an egg bread often with the chocolate drink). The corn and chocolate drinks are made with only corn, no extra fillers (but lots of delicious spices).
Horchata (rice milk drink): horchata is made from rice, milk, water, and spices. It can be topped with cantaloupe and walnuts, and comes in a variety of tastes and styles throughout Mexico. Often incredibly sweet, it’s a refreshing option with tacos on a hot day.
Flautas/Taquitos/Tacos Dorados: These thin, crunchy taco tubes are served topped with lettuce, fresh cheese, and often refried beans. They’re a wonderful snack but beware of cross-contamination as many vendors will serve them with chile relleno, which are often dredged in flour. Again, make sure the tortillas used are pure corn.
Alambres: While the name sounds like it may have something to do with dancing (is that just me?), alambres are actually a very filling plate of grilled beef or pork, onions, sweet peppers, bacon, cheese, salsa, and avocado. Of course, it is served with corn tortillas on the side. The word alambre means “wire” – sadly nothing to do with dancing. But it refers to the fact that in parts of Mexico the meet is often cooked on a skewer! It’s basically a Philly cheesesteak, swapping out the bread for tortillas. Can’t go wrong! Confirm tortillas are corn, and none of the sauces mentioned at the top of the post were in the meat.
Chapulines: Eating bugs may not be your thing, but they are delicious. In Oaxaca, these fried, spiced grasshoppers are found in a variety of dishes or just on their own. Naturally gluten free.
Totopos: In North America these are just referred to as tortilla chips, but totopos is the name found in most of Mexico. Confirm chips are made from corn tortillas, and oil is uncontaminated.
Huitlacoche (This is a really cool looking grey corn fungus that tastes wonderful in quesadillas or cooked into rice. Since it’s an unfamiliar ingredient to many, I wanted to make mention and to note it’s completely gluten free.
Enfrijoladas or entomatadas if made from corn tortillas, and no mole sauces are used. Both are usually breakfast foods.
Chilaquiles: Breakfast of champions! Tortillas gone stale, re-fried or baked in the oven and smothered in with green or red salsa — or the delicious “divorciados” option with both. Topped with raw onions, cheese, herbs, and sometimes crema (cream), they’re finished off with a meat of your choice or an egg.
Jicama: Crunchy, refreshing vegetable that looks like a giant turnip. It’s part of the yam bean family, and — fun fact — got to Asia via the Spanish who found it in Mexico. Often served with chili and lime, and safe for celiacs.
Nopal: Cactus! Specifically the Opuntia cacti that we call prickly pear. There are hundreds of varieties of Opuntia in Mexico, and they’re used for traditional medicine, the fruit is used for desserts, soups, salads, and ice cream, and the pads are de-spined and then cooked for tacos and other dishes. Nopales are a bit slimy for some, but cooked with chilies and sauce they are very tasty.
Flor de calabaza: These refer to bright orange squash blossoms, which I have started to see at markets in Montreal — these were definitely not for sale when I was growing up in the city! They aren’t just beautiful, however, they’re delicious and gluten free.
Chicharrón: Fried pork rinds are now trending as a snack food in North America, but here in Mexico they’ve been eating them for a long time! They are sold in big sheets in the markets, or softened with tomatoes and salsa and made into tacos, or served as a crunchy snack in bars or at tiny ambulant street vendors. Celiacs: be sure to confirm they’re made of actual pork skin and not flour instead. I have not encountered a flour version but others have, and it’s important to ask.
Tostadas: Thin, round disks either baked or fried, tostadas are usually made of corn and then topped with beans, cheese, guacamole, and a protein of your choice. Confirm made of corn, and fried in uncontaminated oil.
Queso fresco, panella, Chihuahua, Cotija, and quesillo: These are but a few of many cheeses produced in Mexico, and all listed here are gluten free. To look out for: processed cheeses in supermarkets or fast-food stalls.
Flan: A delicious, simple desert made of water, sugar, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, and milk, and one that really satisfies! Popular dessert throughout Mexico. Confirm no flour was used to thicken, but recipes do not call for it and traditionally-made flan will be safe.
Fruit: Don’t miss out on all of the amazing fruit that Mexico has on offer! From tuna (prickly pear cactus fruit), to papaya, guanabana, mamey, zapote negro/zapote, and much more, they are a great refreshing snack on a hot day.
Elote / esquites: Both are corn snacks, decadently topped with mayo, cheese, lime juice, chili powder, and salt. Elote refers to the corn on the cob version, a popular snack for kids. Esquites are the same concept but taken off the cob and served in a little cup, served from a steaming metal pot. One of my favorite snacks!
Pozole: A thick stewed soup with hominy, meat (you can get pork, chicken, beef, and more), shredded cabbage, radish, cilantro, and lime. And spicy salsa to top it off! Regional varieties differ, so it’s hard to call it “one” dish, but my advice is to try each pozole and make up your mind about what’s best. Doubt check broth contents for Maggi, but restauranteurs were appalled when I asked, as it suggested their broth wasn’t in ‘original’ form. A comforting dish on a cool day.
Sopa de lima: A Yucatan specialty, though it’s found elsewhere, this delicious “lime soup” is tangy as its name would suggest, with crunchy fried tortilla strips (confirm not made of flour), shredded boiled chicken, and vegetables like chayote and carrots.
Guacamole: No doubt you’re familiar. Avocado, lime, onions, and occasionally a grasshopper or two. Some places serve it with cheese on top. Note that when you’re getting guacamole with totopos as an appetizer, this will be the guacamole you may be used to if you’re from North America. However, when eating tacos or other snacks, the guacamole often comes in a squeezable dispenser and is more watery/blended.
Salsa rojo, hitomate, salsa picante, salsa verde: These are all versions of salsas that you can find to top your dishes on this list, and again since Mexico is a huge country there is a wide variety in salsa types! Confirm that these are made from scratch with no flavoring condiments like Maggi, but if made by the restaurant/vendor they are usually safe.
Cochinita pibil: This consists of a delectable pulled pork dish that is braised for hours in achiote and spices. Ask if bread or flour added but traditionally it is made celiac-friendly. I can’t do it as much justice as Serious Eats, so I’m quoting from them: “Real cochinita pibil is far from mild or dry. True, it’s not spicy (the heat comes in the form of intensely hot condiments on the side), but it has a uniquely sweet, earthy aroma imparted by bitter Seville oranges, achiote, charred garlic, and a host of other spices. That earthiness is backed with the herbaceous aroma of the banana leaves it’s cooked in, along with smokiness from hours of slow cooking.” Sounds good right? Go eat some.
Birria: Birria is a slow-booked stew flavored with chilies, herbs, and spices. It’s customarily made from goat or sheep, and is thick and hearty. Made from scratch, it is traditionally gluten free. As with any meat dishes, confirm no gluten-filled condiments.
Caldo de pollo, caldo de res: Caldo is soup, and these refer to chicken and beef soups. Unlike birria or some of the other dishes, the chicken and beef soup broths are usually clear, served with a generous portion of vegetables and occasionally rice. Confirm the base has no bouillon cubes. This has otherwise been a consistent go-to for my day-to-day eating.
Barbacoa: This refers to a style of cooking, one that can be made with lamb or goat. It’s rich and flavorful, with smoky aftertastes and the lingering smell of avocado leaves. No gluten goes into these recipes. Same broken record about condiments but traditionally made babacoa will be gluten free.
Mezcal and more: gluten free drinks in Mexico
A lot more than what is mentioned here, but I wanted to make note of:
- Mezcal, tequila, and pulque – These are alcoholic beverages made from the agave plant, and all very different in taste and process. None use malt, and they are safe.
- Agua frescas: In between water and juice, these “fresh waters” refer to lightly flavoured cold drinks, with fruit and sugar, including my favorite — Jamaica (hibiscus flower).
- Beer: At this time, there are no Mexican-made gluten free beers on the market. (Despite the rumours, Corona is not gluten free.)
Gluten free restaurants, shops, and all-inclusive resorts in Mexico
I’ve added an extra section here because readers have asked for all-inclusive resorts frequently. As with any of the other guides, I will keep updating this section as I receive more information.
All-inclusive resorts in Mexico: which are safe for celiacs?
- Grand Velas are luxury resorts with locations in Los Cabos, Riviera Maya and Riviera Nayarit. Each resort has a selection of restaurants, most of which have gluten free dishes identified on the menu, as well as room service that can accommodate gluten free needs. The head chef at Grand Velas Riviera Maya says that guests’ dietary needs are registered into the resort’s computers upon arrival, so that staff are automatically notified when guests provide their room number. He also assures that separate cookware and utensils are used in order to avoid cross contamination for gluten free dishes.
- Iberostar resorts in Mexico have a reputation for accommodating the needs of Celiacs thoroughly. It is however, important to check with the individual resort before booking, and to double check when you arrive. This is one place the translation cards come in handy!
- Similarly, Valentin Maya resort in the Riviera Maya is known to be Celiac-friendly, with gluten free breads and treats available in the dining rooms and gluten free dishes clearly marked on restaurant menus.
- The Karisma group of hotels and resorts offer an all inclusive gourmet experience that caters to a variety of dietary restrictions, including Celiac disease. Their resorts include the Generations Riviera Maya Resort, El Dorado Spa Resorts, and Azul Beach Resort Sensatori.
- Secrets Resorts are high end adult-only resorts with locations in Baja California, Huatulco, and Puerto Vallarta, as well as multiple locations near Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel. Each of the locations can accommodate Celiac guests.
- While Sanará in Tulum Beach is not necessarily all-inclusive, it is an luxury eco hotel that offers yoga, a wellness center and a completely gluten- and dairy-free restaurant called The Real Coconut on site. The Real Coconut has breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, as well as a drinks menu that boasts herbal cocktails alongside fresh pressed juices and medicinal lattes.
- Seadust Cancun Family Resort rolled out a new gluten free menu in May 2019, resort-wide. The gluten free Cancun menus are in the resort’s 10 restaurants. The new menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, such as gluten-free cereals, pancakes, pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and, for dessert, gluten-free pineapple pie and apple pie.
Shops with gluten free products in Mexico
- The Green Corner is a higher end grocery with multiple locales in Mexico City that emphasizes local and seasonal products, and carries a range of gluten free and vegan items. The branches in Coyoacán and Condesa have organic restaurants attached to the store.
- Chedraui is a Mexican grocery and department store chain that carries gluten free items, many of which I purchased when I lived there. It had gluten free pancake and waffle mixes, to sauces, and a lot more. Very robust items but often spread out throughout the shop by food/product type, and not in a fixed “gluten free” section.
- Superama is a supermarket chain owned by Walmart that carries gluten free products and has locations all across Mexico. So does Walmart itself.
- KuidaT is a vegan and gluten free brand that makes a variety of products from breads to hamburger buns, cookies, pizzas and cakes. They have an online store that offers various monthly box subscriptions, as well as the ability to order individual loaves of bread or boxes of donuts. Numerous natural grocery stores across Mexico carry their range.
- Cuesco Fino Sabor Natural (fine, natural flavor) in San Luis Potosí.
- Ecobutik in San Angel, Mexico City.
- Distrito Foods makes a gluten free mole and sells other gluten free flours at their Mexico City store.
- Tonari Mercadería Gourmet in Chihuahua.
- Almacén Orgánico in Metepec
- La Miscelánea and Xiguela are two smaller shops in Oaxaca that sell gluten free and organic products. Xiguela also offers online shopping.
Gluten free restaurants in Mexico City
In addition to pure corn-based or rice-based Mexican food listed above (the street food options aren’t to be missed!) , the following spots offer gluten free eating in Mexico City:
- La Otilia is a dedicated gluten free bakery in Mexico City that values nutritious food, well trained staff, and your four legged pals as well (they get special treats!). They offer up a selection of cakes and pastries, baguettes and buns, and a breakfast and lunch menu to boot.
- Zero Glutentaciones is another gluten free bakery that caters to a variety of dietary restrictions, and offers take home pastas and bake mixes in addition to their fresh offerings.
- Hadasa Gourmet in Mexico City not only offers gluten free pastries, sandwiches and other specialties; they’ll cater parties and banquets in your home as well.
- Ojo De Agua is a café serving gorgeous breakfasts with a number of gluten free options, as well as vegetarian and vegan.
- Energuía, another celiac-friendly bakery that is proud to create 100% gluten free treats with Mexican and international grains and protein that doesn’t contain gluten. This includes breads, cakes, pastas, marmalades, chutneys and cookies – and much more.
- Pan Filio, yet another gluten free bakery in Mexico City, this time in San Ángel. Offers cupcakes, bread, empañadas, cupcakes and much more.
- Amsterdam Market, with gluten free breads as well as nut butters and other baked items. A list of their stores by area on their Origines Organicos site, here.
- In Coyoacán is also Las Mamazotas Kitchen, certified by AcelMex (the Mexican celiac association) as safe for us to dine at happily. They offer cakes, croissants, and sandwiches, as well as other baked goods.
- Café Urbano located in Hotel Presidente Intercontinental, was certified the Mexican celiac association, and is an option for people who want upscale, safe dining.
***A note about Pan Gabriel: this is an organic and self-described safely gluten free bakery with two locations in Mexico City. It used to be in this guide, and I called to confirm their safety status before I included it. However, readers have written in to say they got sick when eating there, even when in person asking about whether it is safe for celiacs. One of them ended up in the hospital for severe symptoms caused by consuming gluten. I have thus removed it and wanted to make mention for full transparency.
Matt from Wheatless Wanderlust also has a thorough restaurant guide for celiacs in Mexico City here, and Becca and Dan from HalfHalf travel have another Mexico City guide here.
What is NOT gluten free in Mexico?
As I mentioned at the top: beware of condiments like Maggi, Salsa Inglesa or Knorr cubes/seasonings. I got sick at tacos made from scratch where they were frying up and seasoning the meat using Salsa Inglesa. The gluten free Mexico restaurant card accounts for these and should help keep you safe.
In addition, people may get glutened with:
- contaminated oil (frying products in the same oil as breaded products)
- tortillas that are a mix of corn and wheat (more common in the North, less so in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, and San Cris)
- mole sauces that are used as flavouring in tamales, especially mole negro and coloradito
- rice cooked with bouillon cubes, or flavoured with condiments above.
Tortas: Sandwiches. All off limits.
Pastel: Cake. Rare to find gluten free baked goods here — even the corn breads have wheat flour — unless you seek out a gluten free bakery.
Certain mole sauces / Tamales with those mole sauces: Mole negro, mole rojo, mole coloradito and sometimes mole amarillo are all often made with breadcrumbs. (See this post for more.)
Chile relleno: Some stuffed chile peppers are dredged purely in egg and fried, instead of with egg and wheat flour. It seems to be the exception and not the rule, and you will be wise to avoid this snack.
Processed soups if base is made with Knorr or Maggi seasonings
Tortillas de trigo (wheat tortillas), which are found a lot more commonly in the North of Mexico and the Yucatan, including for quesadillas and empanadas. In the more Southern/Central areas of Mexico, corn tortillas are the prevalent option.
Burritos: These are almost always made with wheat tortillas. These aren’t as common, but are found in some parts of Mexico.
Some enchiladas: An enchilada can be a variety of things, and refers to a corn tortilla that is rolled around a filling of meat or cheese and bathed in salsa. Note that if the salsa is, as with other dishes, made from a thick mole sauce – it’s probably thickened with bread and off limits. Enchiladas with salsa rojo or salsa verde are usually safe.
Churros: I weep for my lack of churros, fried dough sticks often dipped in chocolate that look amazing. Sadly they’re made from wheat.
Panque de elote: If you ask, most vendors will say their corn cakes are made from corn — but I’ve yet to find a spot that doesn’t include some wheat flour added in. Best to verify with the restaurant but I would urge caution.
Michelada: This includes beer, and often Worcestershire sauce/Salsa Inglesa, and is a no go.
Cream-based soups: Per the Mexican woman, also celiac, who translated this card on the 2nd round: cream based soups in Mexico are often thickened with flour.
Salsa Inglesa – this is the common name for Worcestershire sauce, some of which is non-branded and made in Mexico. While not all Worcestershire Sauce contains wheat, almost all of the ones in Mexico do – with the exception of Inglesita, a Guadalajara-based Worcestershire sauce that gluten free, aged in a white oak barrel, and vegan. You can find Inglesita at La Miscelánea in Oaxaca, but the sauce company’s Facebook page is fairly responsive so you can send them a message to ask about where to find it elsewhere in Mexico.
I got glutened during a taco binge because they were dousing the grilled meat with it. It is thus important if you are getting tacos to ask if it was used in marinating or grilling. Yes, my celiac card notes that it’s off limits because 99% of the Worcestershires / salsa inglesas are with gluten.
Celiac disease in Mexico
According to the nonprofit organization Asistencia al Celíaco de México, the prevalence of celiac disease in Mexico is approximately 1 per 150 people. Population-wide studies estimate that approximately 800,000 Mexicans had celiac disease as of October 2018, though as with many countries the condition is likely underdiagnosed. Per researchers, the prevalence of celiac disease in Latin America is similar to that reported in Europeans, i.e. approximately 1% of the population.
For your travel purposes: the Mexican Celiac Association costs about 550 Mexican Pesos to join (about $30USD). Membership comes with access to their mobile app, which lists gluten free establishments that are safe for celiacs.
Best books to read about Mexico
For those of you looking to visit, here are some wonderful books to help learn a little more about Mexico and its food before you get there.
- For guidebooks of a different sort, please see The People’s Guide to Mexico—I recommend it to anyone spending a lot of time in the country.
For food books and cookbooks about Mexico:
- I bought Tacopedia and lugged it to Mexico, charmed by its bright colourful cover and fun style. It’s not the most comprehensive food book but I found it useful and part guide, as it suggests stalls to eat a variety of dishes from tacos to tamales and so much more.
- The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, by culinary legend Diana Kennedy, combines 3 of her other books about the country into one useful reference. With classic recipes from around the country, including many I’ve never heard of, Diana writes expertly about the country she loves.
- Eat Mexico is a love letter to Mexico City’s stalls and markets, with recipes to keep your kitchen busy for eons. It’s only available in hard cover but it’s worth the wait as I found it enjoyable not just for the recipes but also for the stories and photos that accompany them.
- In the From the Source series of food books from Lonely Planet, their Mexico book features 60 recipes from around the country.
- For vegan readers, Vegan Mexico: Soul Satisfying Regional Recipes from Tacos to Tostadas may be for you!
- From 2019, Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral’s book is clearly one I couldn’t pass up: Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico.
- Out in 2020, The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico is a wonderful companion to your food-filled dreams.
- And also from 2020: by Rachel Glueck & Noel Morales is a beautifully-illustrated anthropological cookbook called The Native Mexican Kitchen, focusing on indigenous cuisine.