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Food allergies abroad

A review of Karisma's Gourmet Inclusive® experience

When I was in Mexico late last month, I had the opportunity to eat at Kampai, a Pacific Rim and Asian restaurant at El Dorado Casitas Royale.

This may not seem like groundbreaking news, but, for me, it was huge.

As someone with celiac disease, I have rarely ordered an Asian-influenced dish since being diagnosed nearly nine years ago—not because I don’t enjoy the food, but because many soy sauces and thickening agents contain wheat. Asian foods have been some of the hardest for me to find gluten free in the Midwest, surprisingly even more so than Italian. (Thankfully, Mr. Smitten and I have perfected some of our favorites sans gluten at home.)

In other words, I was in heaven at Kampai—and during the remaining dinners at the Karisma Hotel & Resorts I spent time at during my trip.

Gourmet Inclusive®

The Karisma brand offers guests what it calls its Gourmet-Inclusive® Experience, which means that visitors to any Karisma properties are supposed to have access to gourmet cuisine, premium drinks, and personalized services regardless of any dietary restrictions. Having had mixed food experiences in the past at other properties billed as being friendly to travelers with food allergies and intolerances, I loved this concept but was a little skeptical. Would this just mean that I’d have an option between a garden salad or a Caesar salad—hold the croutons, please?

Wrong.

The dinners I had under the Gourmet Inclusive Experience exceeded my expectations, both in terms of the quality of food (most of the produce is grown in a 70,000 square-foot greenhouse at El Dorado Royale) and in terms of service. (Have you ever tried asparagus cappuccino and basil foam? You SHOULD!)

Even better, I never once had to worry about being served something that contained gluten. This was partly because prior to my arrival, the resorts had been informed about my dietary restrictions, and about those of several of the people I was traveling with (cilantro and shellfish). At every dinner, someone made sure to touch base with us to confirm our allergies and intolerances. When the food was brought out, an employee then explained what modifications were made to our serving to make it safe for us to eat. For example, while the starters at Kampai were served family style, I was brought out a dedicated portion of gluten-free sushi with my own dish of gluten-free soy sauce.

The coordination was impressive, especially considering that the Karisma properties are not boutique—the majority are large with many guests frequenting their restaurants.

Club 82 Wine Bar

While all of the dinners we had were fantastic, my favorite was by far at Karisma’s Azul Beach Resort The Fives in Playa del Carmen. Here my group enjoyed a private dinner in the resort’s Club 82 Wine Bar, where guests can wine taste or reserve the space for special events.

Our menu consisted of the following, with gluten free and shellfish- and cilantro-free options for the group members who required them:

Starter

Fresh fish Tataqui in crust of dried chile and mousse of avocado

Main Course

Tenderloin steak in creamy cauliflower sauce and chipotle sauce

(and)

Fillet of sea bass in green sauce with parsley and white wine

Dessert

Traditional capirotada with cinnamon ice cream

Each course was paired with a different wine, with both the wine and dish introduced to us by the chef and resort’s sommelier.

The meal truly was a gourmet experience.

All this said about the food at the Karisma resorts that I experienced, it’s worth noting that if you glance at the menus in any of the restaurants, the gluten-free options do appear to be limited. I recommend working with your travel consultant prior to traveling to notify your resort of any dietary restrictions, and/or asking at the restaurants if another option on the menu not marked gluten-free can be prepared safely for you. (Only gluten-free and vegetarian options are marked on menus, so this advice is doubly applicable if you have an alternate allergy.)

Lastly, while I greatly enjoyed the dinners, I would be remiss not to mention that I found the breakfasts lackluster in comparison. This could be because I stuck with omelets and eggs due to them being gluten free, so it’s possible that other options were more satisfying.

Travel tip: Karisma Hotels & Resorts offers the Gourmet Inclusive Experience in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The brand’s resorts vary between kid-friendly, adult-only, and even one that is au naturel (clothing optional), so if you’re desiring to try the Gourmet Inclusive Experience on your honeymoon, work with your professional travel consultant to find the resort that is the best fit for you and your hubby or wife.

(Photos: Kampai (top photo courtesy of Karisma Hotels & Resorts) at El Dorado Casitas Royale; Club 82 Wine Bar (bottom four photos mine) at Azul Beach Resort The Fives)

What is one of the best meals you’ve had on vacation?