Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Eating Gluten-Free in Lima

Well, tickets are bought for our next trip, which is coming up quite soon, and this time Liz will be able to join me in Lima.

That, of course, brings up the matter of traveling and dining gluten-free in Lima, and in Peru generally.

There are, of course, hundreds of dishes and thousands of foods that are naturally gluten-free in Peru. Everthing from amazing fruits and vegetables, to meats, seafood, and dairy. Same as everywhere else, but with the bonus that, as a traveler, one gets to enjoy things that one usually does not get to try. Prepared foods, however, are a whole different matter. 

In terms of gluten awareness, Lima is about where the US was, maybe, fifteen years go. The rest of the country, further back.  And, like in the US, it is often seen as an affectation by the middle class, in imitation of foreign food fads (which is not to say that that appreciation doesn't have a kernel of thruth to it).

Through the work of groups such as the Asociacion de Celiacos del Peru there is increasing awareness celiac disease in Peru, at least at the level of producers and retailers, such that most major supermarkets now have a small section dedicated to certified gluten-free products --mostly cookies, biscuits, and crackers of various sorts. Their website, celiacosperu.org, says it lists certified foodstuffs but the links do not work at this time (it does, however, offer a list of certified gluten-free medications available in Peru).  Further, and more current, information about foods and restaurants can be found at their Face Book page.

Prepared Foods

The larger food companies, that are subsidiaries of multinational corporations, follow the EU protocols for food labeling, including listing of allergens in the ingredients.  (I have not seen any mention of shared facility or shared equipment on labels.)  Smaller, local producers, are usually less strict.

Specifically, I have been told by the Braedt company that all their products --sausages, chorizo, and so on-- are gluten-free. Sometimes, retailers will buy large packs and split them up into smaller packages for sale.  If you are concerned by this, then make sure to buy Braedt products in their original packaging, or at the Braedthaus stores.

Likewise, the company that makes the popular Tarí hot sauce and the Alacena line of sauces and condiments has indicated that all their products in that line are gluten-free

Dishes to avoid

  • Ají: Not the hot peppers, but the sauce that is made from them and is found at almost every table. If you don't know how it was made, skip it, as a lot of recipes -specially for the creamy ones- contain crackers.  As noted earlier, packaged ají or rocoto pepper sauces from the Alacena or Tarí brands are ok.
  • Crema de rocoto: Same as above
  • Papa rellena: The potato balls are rolled in flour before frying.
  • Chicha de jora:  Andean corn beer, but oftentimes includes a measure of barley.  Producers usually don't list ingredients, so best to avoid it.
  • Emoliente:  A steaming hot herbal drink, which is great for the winter cold, but contains barley.
  • Ocopa:  The sauce contains crackers.
  • Papa a la huancaína:  Traditionally it is made from cheese, aji, salt, and a little oil, but these days chefs are likely to put in ground crackers for consistency and flavor. Ask before ordering.
  • Ají de gallina: Contains bread crumb as a thickener.
  • Lomo saltado:  Contains soy sauce and possibly oyster sauce.  However, you could ask them to make it without the sauces in a clean pan.
  • Pollo a la brasa: The ubiquitous rotisserie chicken.  In most places it is marinated in a mixture that contains soy sauce and/or beer.   For the original (and gluten-free) version made only with salt and fire, you must head out of town a bit to the Granja Azul.
  • Arroz con pollo or Arroz con pato: They are made with beer.
  • Seco de cabrito, Seco de carne, Seco a la norteña: Green-colored stew with a cilantro gravy. May be made with beer or chicha de jora.
  • Sudado:  A steamed fish or seafood stew. Likely to be made with chicha.  Ask before ordering.
  • Sopa patasca or patache: A soup from the Andes. Contains wheat kernels.
  • Jalea: The seafood is breaded or floured, and fried.

Bear in mind that, particularly outside of Lima, trigo (wheat) or cebada (barley) may have different names depending on the form they take. Some examples:
    • Pusra: coarse-ground barley.
    • Morón: coarse-ground toasted barley or wheat.
    • Salvado: bran.

Eating Out

As Peru experiences its culinary boom and more and more cooks come out of culinary schools rather than just home kitchens, it is easier to find restaurants that can and are willing to accommodate requests for gluten-free preparations. This is specially the case the higher one goes up on the price scale.

Here are some tips to make your ordering experience easier:

- Avoid the lunch rush. You'll get better service, a more attentive hearing from your server, and more care from your cooks, if they are not rushed or stressed. Particularly important if you are working across a language barrier.

- Don't go cheap.  Peru is a place with seemingly an eatery on every block. Most of those offer an inexpensive prix-fixe lunch, called the menu (if you want to read the menu, ask for the carta). The nature of these places is that they are meant to get workers on their lunch break in, fed, and out, quickly. The food is already fixed and they have neither the time nor the ability to handle special requests.  Better to go to a restaurant where the ordering is a la carte.

- Don't count on either your server nor the cooks knowing what the heck you are talking about. Most will never have heard of celiac disease (celiaquia), and as for gluten, the thinking is likely to be "I don't know what that is, but know I didn't put any of that in there."  It is better to be as specific as you can as to what foods you need to avoid and which you can eat.

- Give your server and cook something to help them remember what you need.  Liz and I came up with this card a few years ago to present to waiters,

 It says,

I have a disease called celiac disease and I must follow a rigorous gluten-free diet.

I could get very ill should I ingest foods that contain grains or flour from wheat, barley, rye, or oats, or that contain ingredients made with wheat, barley, rye or oats (for example: soy sauce, beer, bread, cookie, various sauces).

I can eat rice, yuca, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, meats, eggs, fish and shellfish, fruits, vegetables of all kinds, as long as they are not prepared with ingredients that contain gluten or are prepared on the same surface or with utensils shared with foods with gluten. If in doubts, please use freshly-washed utensils.

Thank you for your help.

More information about celiac disease at http://celiacosperu.org

The card has helped a lot, and staff have always been appreciative. In some instances waiters or the kitchen staff asked to hold on to it for reference. Feel free to copy it.