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Getting gluten free food in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

By Elaine Lucas

Galapagos Island
Galapagos Island in Ecuador. Courtesy of David Berkowitz

I was diagnosed with the coeliac condition in 1984. Since then, my sensitivity to gluten has declined, so the occasional "error" is no longer disastrous. However, repeated exposure to gluten still leads to problems. For instance, I became ill after three days in South Africa - and discovered that "Snowflake Flour", which my hotel had added to sauces (supposedly gluten-free) was actually a brand of wheat flour.

I have just returned to the UK from Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I took laminated copies of your Spanish restaurant card with me, which proved to be very useful. Thank you very much.

Ecuadorian cuisine uses a lot of gluten-free cereals and starches, which include include many types of corn quinoa, and cassava (manioc). Bananas / plantains are staple ingredients in most meals, and restaurant menus sometimes mention quinoa. I experienced no problems whatsoever on the Ecuadorian mainland.

The situation changed, after we had boarded our yacht in the Galapagos. Our travel agent and the ship's management assured me that they were familiar with the gluten-free diet. However, I became ill after three days afloat. The yacht manager, who spoke reasonable English, denied that they had served me any dishes containing wheat, rye or barley.

I insisted that the manager checked again with the chef - and discovered that Ecuadorian cuisine often uses soy sauce (salsa de chine or salsa soya), which contains wheat. The chef on the yacht was totally aware of the difference between soya and soy sauce.

For travellers to South America, it would be useful if you could include bananas, plantains and quinoa in the list of ingredients that are OK - and add soy sauce to the list of unacceptable items.

[Note: Any Spanish speakers, if you are able to help out by amending the Spanish card as Elaine suggests, please get in touch]


Wherever you're going, remember to take a free gluten free restaurant card with you.

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