Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Day 1:
I arrived on Sunday evening to the aftermath of a rainstorm.  Gutters and drains being nonexistent in the infrastructure, many of the streets were flooded.  Thankfully our hosts had provided transportation in an SUV with a high carriage.  Many of the intersections had water levels well above the curb for the sidewalk.  Unlike the poor guy beside our vehicle on a motor scooter, we remained dry all the way to our lodging. 

At this point, we were starving and headed over to the Mexican restaurant, Barrigas, next door.  I produced my card from Select Wisely that contains a Spanish translation of the laundry list of gluten prohibitions.  The waiter read the card intently and showed immediate concern mixed with mild frenzy.  He began discussing the card with another waiter and the staff immediately retired to the kitchen for a 20 minute consultation with the cook.   My poor colleagues were waiting at various levels of patience for a chance to place a drink order. 

We finally flagged down another waiter and ordered some libations.  I stuck with Margaritas on the rocks, with salt, of course.  I'm in Mexico for goodness sake!  Finally our drinks came and my coworkers were feeling more contented and a little less frustrated with my apparent hijacking of the waitstaff.  When the waiter came back to the table with my food allergy card in hand, he informed me that the one safe food item would be the salad with grilled chicken.  I admit that I felt a level of disappointment...I wanted Mexican food...not salad.  But he was adamant that this is what I should order.  I'm pretty sure he thought I could keel over and die right there at the table.  I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been an ambulance on speed-dial.

My meal arrived and was a fresh beautiful salad with moist tender chicken pieces.  No salad dressing...so I grabbed the pico de gallo meant for the flour tortilla chips at the center of the table and distributed it generously over my salad.  It was actually quite delicious.  When it came time for desert, I was stuffed and chose to abstain until later in the week.

Day 2:
Breakfast buffet at the hotel had yogurt and papaya.  Yum!  This coupled with my orange juice with a tablespoon of psyillium husks (brought from home) provided me with a perfect start to the day.

For lunch I packed instant oatmeal, a spoonful of flax seeds, and a bag of Cheetos with the assumption that the office cafeteria would not be forthcoming in fresh gluten-free food.  Much to my delight, the lunch line had a fresh cactus salad with tomatoes and onions, grilled chicken, and rice.  So, the oatmeal remained on standby for tomorrow.

Dinner was a bit of a welcome reception for us, back at the same restaurant as the night prior.  This time I waited for the table to order drinks first...learned my lesson from the night before.  When the waiter came over, I again produced my food allergy card and this time was prepared to negotiate for an enchilada.  The server was hesitant and had a bit of a worried look, but eventually acquiesced.  The plate came with 3 corn tortillas wrapped around shredded chicken and topped with cheese served next to refried beans and spanish rice.  (I'm lactose intolerant, too, but there's only so much negotiation I'm willing to go through.)

Good conversation and 2 margaritas made dinner a great experience.  I was almost certain that I had successfully ordered a gluten-free Mexican meal all on my own.  But, as we retired back to the hotel, it was quickly apparent that my stomach was expanding inch by uncomfortable inch.  This is my tell-tale sign of being glutened.  The negotiation continues...

As my 3 week trip continued, the folks at Barriga's began to truly understand what I could eat and what I couldn't.  Many Mexican restaurants will add wheat flour to their corn tortillas for flexibility.  Do not assume that all corn tortillas are safe!  

But I feel confident now that any Celiac can dine at Barriga's Restaurant in Ciudad Jaurez and get great service.  I have truly broken them in!  They will give you rice, beans, chicken, steak, salad, and excellent salsa.  And if you bring your own tortilla chips, they will be completely understanding.  And definitely drink some Margaritas...they were invented in CJ and are just delicious!