Thursday 29 December 2016

A Celiac at Sandos

This year was a family Mexican Christmas year. It's the year that I throw my hands up, yell 'fuck it' and go to Mexico for Christmas. We love it, we really do. I love that every second year, someone else fusses over me for a change while the kids swim in pools and someone makes my bed for me. I usually book a smaller resort with little or no buffets and a way for me to speak to the chef and the staff get to know me.  This time, we tried something a little different. We decided to step out of the box and visit the large, adventure filled Sandos Eco Caracol resort near Playa Del Carmen. This was a really cool resort with Cenotes, wild monkeys, Mayan ruins and lots of great service and warm sun by the pool. I loved the experience of it.

The food? Not so much.

As far as the Celiac friendly factor, it wasn't good. Basically, I was really hungry for most of the time. 

When I booked the resort, I contacted them and the concierge wrote me back to tell me that they could certainly accommodate my disease and all I had to do was to talk to the concierge upon arrival and get a letter to notify the chef of my allergy and all would be well. 

Once checked in, I headed over to the concierge to speak with Noe who was very helpful in composing my letter. So, letter in hand, I head off to eat. 

International Buffet - This is where I found myself our first night because we arrived so late. I tried to show the letter to one of the chefs behind the buffet line to no avail. He kind of read it, handed it back to me and shrugged. on. I had a bunch of fruit and cheese but couldn't get anything hot because I had no idea what was in anything else. The nice thing about this buffet is that there is a bread table off to the side so your chances of cross contamination from bread is low. However, I couldn't even try the rice or potatoes because I had no idea what was on it and apparently, the cooks didn't either. I think all the food is prepared way in advance or comes from a package so the chef doesn't know what has gluten and what doesn't.

 I had to eat breakfast and lunch at the buffets because there isn't anything else open and I had no choice. The a la cartes are only for dinner which was rough. Like....rough. I struggled throughout the day as I watched my family eat burgers and tacos and pizza and pasta all day and complain about how full they were and how much weight they gained. Me? Nope. This is the first vacation where I have lost weight. Here's what I ate and found to be safe at the international buffet:

Breakfast: Fruit, yogurt, cheese, coffee, milk and a mimosa (because...mimosa) -

 I also sometimes had the scrambled eggs BUT some days I couldn't because there are two bowls of scrambled eggs, one with sausage and one without and the cooks often only put one spoon out for both thus contaminating the plain scrambled eggs. They also had five minute eggs in the shell but they were certainly LESS than five minutes most days and the gelatinous whites gave me the willies. They have omelets everyday too BUT you can get it put in a flour tortilla, a flour tortilla that they put on the grill and use their spatula to lift and move it so that was a bust too.

Lunch: Fruit, raw veggies and cheese. See the pattern?

There were taco bars and lots of different things but when I asked a server if they were corn or flour tortillas they always said "both". Both is bad, both means cross contamination. Both means I run a risk of ruining the trip for myself and for the rest of my family. 

 I'm not going to lie here, breakfast and lunch sucked. More than once, I blinked back some tears watching everyone else enjoy their meals. It was rough.

On day three, we had the worst of it all. We decided to try the italian buffet for lunch, I only ate raw veggies anyway so the kids might as well get some pasta. Big mistake....huge. We sit down but again, there is no one to give my letter to so I grab my plate and head off to the salad bar. I load up my plate with my regulars, cheese, lettuce, beets, carrots etc. On the salad bar was some steamed green beans and so I threw some of those on too, head back to the table, don't look at the piles of italian goodness on my family plates and dig in. Two bites in, my heart stops. There is a piece of spagetti on my plate. A PIECE OF SPAGHETTI! I'm dead.

I look up at Trevor and my lip begins to quiver. This is it, I have planned this trip for almost a year, painstakenly chosen this resort from thousands of others. The weeks of lists and packing and preparations are all gone. Poof, just like that, it's over. Trevor's face darkens as he looks at my plate and he immediately jumps up and darts back to the buffet to check each item. Meanwhile, I am trying not to have a panic attack but my mind is reeling. Should I go force myself to throw up? How long do I have before it hits? Can I get back to the room before the pain starts or will Trev have to carry me part of the way? How embarrassing will that be? Could I just lay by the pool in pain? No, I'm too far from the bathroom. Will I get the rash too this time because I'm in the heat? Did I bring the cream I need for that? How are the kids going to sleep if I'm up all night sobbing in pain. What the FUCK am I going to DO?

Then I look over and the kids are both looking at me. The fear in their eyes cut me to the core. Here we are, on a family vacation that's supposed to be a no worries situation for two kids who are nothing but great kids. They get good grades, they are polite and kind and this was their reward and here I am, ruining it. They are worried about me, panicked really and that sucked. Trev comes back and says "It's the green beans, they were clearly cooked in pasta water." I hadn't eaten a green bean yet but the green beans were all mixed in with everything else so I had no idea. I insisted that we move on with our day and not worry anymore about it but who am I kidding, we spent the next three hours in terror, waiting. But, miraculously, I was okay. Just...starving so I was looking forward to the a la carte that night for dinner.

Snack Bar - There is a 24 hour snack bar at this resort which I think is brilliant. The kids loved it. BUT it was never stocked. It was so frustrating because the buffets close for a couple hours in the afternoon and this snack bar is the only thing open and then it doesn't have any food! Here is what I can eat there...nothing....nothing. Well...not nothing. I would eat the fruit in the mornings before it got cross contaminated. You could also eat the chips because they are lays but be careful because they are right beside the buns and I busted a couple people dropping a bun on the chip pile by accident or using the chip tongs for the buns. You know what I did? When I got really hungry? Like...night of the living dead hungry? I would reach down with my hand and dig some out of the bottom of the a savage. You can also have the individually wrapped cheese slices there. I brought gluten free crackers from home so one day, I ate cheese and crackers for lunch. DON'T eat the veggies because they are burger toppings and they have bread crumbs all over them.

A La Cartes:

Brazillian - This is one of those 'meat on swords' places that has all the side dishes lined up buffet style. It was awesome. This was the only place that I got to speak to the chef. This was the place that 'got it'. We showed the letter to the server who then took it to the chef. The server then came back to get me and the chef walked me down the buffet to tell me what I could or could not have. It was awesome. I could have any of the meats except for the sausage and the food there was delicious.

Japanese: This one was great too. It was one of those places where you all sit around the grill and the chef performs for you. It was awesome. The letter again was given to our server and she handled the whole thing. The chef made my food first on the super hot grill, dished it out, then poured soya sauce over everything else to serve the table. My protein was made in the back by a separate chef and was just plain chicken. That was okay though. It was a good meal. 

Steak House: This one was just okay. They took the letter no problem. We ate there the day of the green beans so I had LITERALLY not eaten that day so when they put those lamb chops in front of me, I went at them like an angry lioness. Trev said they were actually horrible and overdone, honestly, I didn't notice. My plate also only had raw veggies and the plain meat. Trev's lamb chops had a sauce, cooked veg and mashed potatoes.

Italian: We went back here for the a la carte dinner because I have had good experiences at the Italian place at other resorts. This was by far the worst meal. I gave the hostess the letter and a manager came to talk to me. I originally thought I would have a beef meal but decided on shrimp risotto instead. I have always been able to have risotto and was excited about it. I so wish I had taken a picture of my plate because it was honestly, kind of funny. It was a pile of plain white rice with four tiny cold shrimp around it. I'm not kidding. It was sad.

And here's the thing. I appreciate the chefs making my food specially for me. I really really do and at the end of the day, I didn't get sick, not once. However, I think the problem is the chefs at the Sandos Caracol don't actually KNOW what gluten is so they just took everything out. Everything everything. This resulted in terribly bland, tough to enjoy meal. The Sandos team has to train these guys because I think they are all great chefs, I just don't think they understand that just because I can't have flour, doesn't mean I can't have anything else. It's like someone reporting their peanut allergy and being served water only. Why? 

I also met a lady who was in the "Royal" section of the resort and her son had Celiacs. Now, she had a VERY different experience than I did. She had the manager calling her to see where she was eating that night so they could prepare for her, she talked to the chef at every single place, and felt very comfortable with her experience. I really, really hope that this was just luck and NOT that because she was in a higher level room than me that they took her allergy more seriously. I really hope that the level of room has nothing to do with the level of my safety.

This is an eco resort that I think is trying to appeal to a healthier, more broad minded individual and I think they are going to have to step up their food game if that's the case. Almost every item on the buffet has a little label above it, why not throw a 'gluten free' symbol on there if it applies? Put a Gluten free symbol on your menu items that apply. You could do 'lactose free' or 'peanut free' for those that need it. Then the line chefs don't have to worry about knowing every ingredient or being asked questions about something called 'gluten' in another language by a starving, annoying chick from Canada.

I'm sure there are lots of sauces and sides that I COULD have eaten at the Sandos Caracol but the chefs didn't know which ones, either because they didn't prepare them or because they came from a package that has since been thrown out. I don't know what it is but it should really get fixed because at this point, I would book back there in a heartbeat if I knew I would be able to eat there. 

Overall though, we had an amazing vacation. The resort is beautiful and a great deal of fun. The poor food was overshadowed by the fantastic service and gorgeous environment. 


  1. Thanks so much for this post. I am travelling to Sandos Playacar in May and now know to bring a suitcase full of food with me. I am a gluten free blogger too, and will be attending the Edmonton Conference. Can we meet up maybe?

    1. Awesome! I was wondering about the Playacar and if the selection would be better. Find me at the conference and we can talk all about it!

    2. Hi there! I was wondering how your experience at sandos playacar was for celiac? I'm looking to go there within the next few months. Thank you in advance!