Wahaca & gluten-free Mexican food

May 9, 2010

While I was in Australia the weather in the UK was glorious by all accounts. Since I’ve been back it has barely been over 10 degrees C and it has been cloudy everyday. Come on, it’s supposed to be Spring! Last weekend, to spice things up a bit a friend took me on a trip to Thomasina Mier’s Wahaca in Covent Garden. Wahaca serve Mexican market-style foods. As I munched my way through pork pibil tacos I wished that the food at Wahaca was gluten-free so English Boy could taste the delicious soft, juicy pork as well.

I used to think that I hated Mexican food but I was wrong. I hate Old El Paso kits. Authentic Mexican food is the most delicious thing I have discovered in ages. Pork pibil is slow-cooked for hours and is melt-in-your-mouth tender.

I pinched the menu from Wahaca and came home to start googling recipes. The first thing I discovered was this tasty looking recipe from Food.People.Want. The recipe contains things I’ve never heard of like achiote seeds. Further investigation led to some online Mexican food stores that stock Mexican chillies and seeds. At that point I discovered that real corn tortillas don’t contain any wheat flour, unlike the rubbish cardboard tortillas you buy from the supermarket. All of the sudden it started to dawn on me that a lot of Mexican food must be gluten-free.

I emailed Wahaca to ask which menu items are gluten-free. I thought there would be hardly anything but I received an full A4 page reply starting with, “Wahaca is actually a pretty good place for those with an allergy to gluten and we get a lot of enquiries from coeliacs. I have previously gone through the menu with our head chef to identify what is suitable.” This is the most thorough response to a question about gluten-free food I have ever received.

Of course, wheat tortillas contain wheat so there is the risk that the gluten-free items may be cross-contaminated in the kitchen. However, if you’re willing to take a gamble on the gluten-free menu items, this is what they suggest.

  • The corn tortillas are made with ground masa corn and are wheat-free but not guaranteed to be free of gluten traces. These are used in tacos, taquitoes and tostadas.
  • The kitchen-staff recommend that coeliacs go for grilled items as these are less likely to be cross-contaminated with wheat, which could happen with some deep-fried items. Try dishes like fish a la Veracruzana (cooked in an aluminium parcel on the grill), chicken achiote and grilled steak.
  • Other options include pork pibil, vegetable pipian, Winter Fuerza Salad (with fried topotos which are pure corn tortillas), black bean soup (with or without chicken and topotos), tortillas soup (with or without chicken and topotos again).
  • Sides: Safe side dishes include green rice, frijoles, frijoles with chorizo, sauteed greens, wahaca slaw, green salad, salsa fresca, guacamole.
  • Tacos: if you follow a wheat-free but not gluten-free diet, or are willing to take a gamble, the recommended wheat-free tacos are chicken tinga taco, pork taco, seasonal vegetable taco, steak taco and steak cheese taco. Personally, I would ask for the pork pibil taco without the tortilla and eat it with a knife and fork if I couldn’t eat the tortilla.
  • Taquitoes: Again, if you’re willing to try the corn tortillas, taquitoes are fried in their own deep fat fryer therefore should be gluten-free. Options include tender marinated chicken taquito and Huitlacoche taquito.
  • Tostadas: Tostadas have a corn shell, but these are fried in a deep fat fryer with wheat tortillas so run the risk of some cross-contamination with wheat products. So the foolhardy can try beef salpicon tostada, black bean tostada, or MSC smoked herring tostada.
  • Salads: Wahaca’s salads are served in a wheat tortilla so you must remember to order these without the basket, and in some salads, without spelt.
  • Desserts: All ice creams and sorbets are gluten-free.

The conclusion from Wahaca is “some of the dishes above contain no gluten. Because of the nature of the busy kitchen,we can’t guarantee that anything is strictly gluten-free or doesn’t contain at least trace amounts. Hopefully you will find something for yourself that you feel confident eating.” So eating at Wahaca comes with that caveat but I think we would brave it as least once as an experiment.

If that fails, I’ll buy some gluten-free corn tortillas and some masa corn flour and make tortillas and tacos at home. We think these will probably be useful for wraps  for lunches as well as for Mexican food.

I am so excited about a new cuisine and a new eatery we can go to. The full Wahaca menu is available here.



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