Travel Food Story – Scuba Diving in Borneo

Picture this – You are on one of the most beautiful & remote islands in the world, with the best scuba diving and bio-diverse marine life you could ever experience, the clearest water and the nicest people – basically HEAVEN…. and then you find out most of the food being offered at your resort is highly processed and tainted with MSG, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and other additives, etc. This happened to me and here’s the story on how I dealt with it.

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Earlier this year my husband and I celebrated our 6th year wedding anniversary at one of the best diving spots in the world called Sipadan. Mabul island, where we stayed, is located off the east coast of Borneo in Malaysia and it took 2 days of traveling, a 1.5 hour car ride and a 1 hour boat ride to get there from Thailand. Mabul is definitely one of the most remote locations we have ever been and we knew we were going to be a captive audience at the resort and the food choices offered would be limited.

Borneo MapWe spent a week in this overwater bungalow (pictured below), in the middle of absolute paradise. It felt like we were on our honeymoon again 6 years earlier in French Polynesia. The water was just as clear and even more fish to see, it was just breathtaking! Obviously, there weren’t any french bakeries, local farmer’s markets, or restaurants nearby and basically nowhere to buy food except the resort store (which didn’t have anything but highly processed snacks, candy and soda). The best we could do on Mabul was to buy coconut water and fruit from a nearby village but that was it.

Of course I had my travel food but this was our last stop at the end of a 3 and 1/2 week journey away from home and our stash was getting limited. So to say I was a bit worried about the food and what I would be eating, is an understatement! I did manage to pick up 7 lemons in Kuala Lumpur on the way into Borneo, so I would at least have my lemon water with cayenne habit covered.

IMG 2992The first night we arrived, we took a look at what we would be eating each day. Breakfast & dinner were served buffet style and included an assortment of raw veggies and fruits (which was great). For lunch, the resort sent picnic lunches to the dive site for you to refuel between dives.

For dinner our first night, the hot food looked tasty but suspicious.  I asked the manager if she knew if MSG or other additives were used in the food and she said she was almost positively sure it didn’t. For some reason my gut reaction was not gelling with what she told me and it was written all over my face that her answer wasn’t good enough. She finally suggested after dinner that I speak to the kitchen directly and make sure my requests were answered definitively. I found it a bit odd at the time that the manager said I couldn’t speak to the kitchen until after my meal, but I just went with it…because for goodness sakes I was on vacation and didn’t want to start an argument.

That night, because my husband and I eat pretty much exclusively vegetarian (unless we can trust the meat source) when traveling, asked for a vegetarian meal which was not offered in one of the buffet choices. Out came fried tofu, covered in a thick brown sauce with vegetables and white rice.  I tried some, but filled up on raw vegetables and fruit. Seeing what kind of vegetarian option they served me, I remember sending an email to my friend Max that night saying I was going to become a raw vegan for that whole week living off my bags of trail mixes, nuts, seeds and whatever raw produce that was served. This was going to be the only way to stay clean, I thought.

After dinner, as the manager promised, I had an opportunity to go back into the kitchen and meet the chef. He was more than accommodating and showed me the packages of spices and powdered sauce mixes they used on almost all the food. Looking at list of ingredients I saw on the processed food packages, I could feel my head starting to spin. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a picture of these packages, but I figured I could probably find them on the internet instead of freaking out the chef with the request of a photo, especially at the beginning of a week long stay. (I needed him on my side!)…I still haven’t been able to find the package of “Lipton – Brown Sauce” on the internet. The package was written in Chinese, but thankfully had the ingredients listed in english. The “brown sauce” they used to make my tofu definitely included MSG, along with probably every other harmful crazy ingredient I’ve ever mentioned on here! My worst nightmare.

Luckily, after a polite request to only make our food with salt and pepper and nothing else… (including the margarine they served instead of butter)…. we didn’t have to worry any longer. Rosy, the lead cook in the kitchen made us some incredibly delicious food during our visit that didn’t include any of these additives from the sauces. She would check with us each morning and ask us if what she was making was ok. She even made special soups for us and a popular Malaysian dish called Roti Canai from scratch with vegetable curry that totally blew us way.

Meanwhile, all the new friends and other guests we met ate the food loaded with these additives and I bet probably wondered why we were getting such special treatment. I have to be honest here, it was so sad for me to watch all of these people on their vacation eating this food, not knowing and really not caring enough to ask. To think we could have been eating potentially toxic food for a week, is a horrific situation that thank goodness I know now how to avoid. You just have to ask. But most people simply won’t do this and that’s why food companies continue to make profits on selling us chemicals instead of real food and even in far off places like Borneo!

In the future whenever I travel and know my food options could be limited, I will always send an email ahead of time to the hotel listing out the ingredients I would like to avoid and confirm with the kitchen staff upon arrival.

This tip came really useful in my recent trip to Charleston, SC too… which you will hear about soon.

So if you take one thing away from this blog post, it’s this. Ask about what is in your food!  It’s worth the extra effort. And don’t be shy!

And the best part… You’ll save a lot of time from having to do a detox when you come back home :)

Here’s a snapshot some of the eats during our time in Borneo…click on the + to read the description.

I filled up my plate with as many fresh vegetables and fruits I could eat each day.

For lunch while diving, I usually resorted to having Suzie’s Thin Crisps with Raw Almond Butter Packs.

Believe it or not, I had just enough oatmeal, raisins, dates and walnuts to make breakfast for me and my husband every morning before long days of diving. I used the last portion on the last day just before we left for home.

I ate more watermelon than I ever have in my entire life. Watermelon is on the “Clean 15″ list and is considered less risky to eat non-organic.

Rosy’s daily soup for us, included this simple broth based vegetable soup with tofu. 

I really liked the stir fried noodles with cabbage that Rosy made for us more than once.

These Navitas Naturals Power Snacks were a godsend between dives. Did you know you can burn up to 500 calories for every 45 mins of diving?

There was no shortage of fresh fish and white rice. Of course I didn’t eat much of the rice, but at least I knew it didn’t have additives.

This was our picnic meal one day while we were Scuba Diving, needless to say, we didn’t eat it – it definitely wasn’t vegetarian!

Steam veggies were a staple every night and something we could rely on and trust.

I enjoyed the assortment of raw vegetables, I filled my plate full of them any chance I got.

Homemade Roti Canai with vegetable curry. This doesn’t look like much, but it was to DIE for.

Pistachios and oranges, made good supplements to what they offered for lunch during diving.

The best treat after diving. Fresh coconut, pineapple, and a little coconut palm sugar blended with ice!

One of my hobbies I wish I could spend more time on is underwater photography. Here’s a look at some of my favorite moments taken from the waters of Borneo. Enjoy!

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Got any interesting travel food stories to share? I’d love to hear them, as I bet other readers would too.

Thanks for reading and going along on this journey with me.

Food Babe

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106 Responses to “Why You Should Avoid GMOs at Mexican Restaurants + Recipe”

  1. Sully

    I love Mexican food. Mexico is in the list of countries around the world that banned or put restrictions on the use of GMO’s ( List provided by this site).
    Too bad I don’t live closer to the border or TJ or I would go every weekend to get my Mexican food fix.

    • Eric (to Sully)

      Mexico began using GMO’s about two years ago.

      • Graham (to Eric)

        Actually, the world started GMOs about 10 000 years ago in the Neolithic era.

      • dawn (to Eric)

        Hybrid and genetically modified are not the same. Genetic modification takes a technology that wasn’t available 10000 years ago. Hybid can happen in nature and that is what they did 10000 years ago!!!

  2. Lori Aronica

    I’ve put a lot of trust in Trader Joes products when I can’t find certain organic products or organic is to expensive. Am I delusional or do you think their products could be GMO? They claim they are not but are hard to research because they always say Monrovia, CA. Also a lot of Costco products say no conflict on Buycott yet they contain canola, soy or corn so I don’t buy them. Your recipe looks yummy.

    • Angela (to Lori Aronica)

      Trader Joes, Aldi, and Costco are owned by the same family. So I say it would be fair to assume that the apples don’t fall very far from the money tree.

      • Mike (to Angela)

        not true. Costco is not affiliated with Trader Joes or Aldi.

        Trader Joes and Aldi do have the same german parent company.

    • Brenda (to Lori Aronica)

      Trader Joes absolutely cannot be trusted. They adamantly deny full discloser. If you ask about GMOs or antibiotic fed animals. They out source there foods more than traditional food stores. Check out all the research on them – not good

      • Omroot (to Brenda)

        I second this reply. They not only refuse to disclose their supply line, but they also fought in collusion with Whole Foods to kill the California proposition that would have required GMO labeling. You really think they can be trusted to have your best interest in mind? Shop non-GMO somewhere else.

      • Dawn (to Brenda)

        And just last year I picked up a pamphlet in their store that promised that anything with a “Trader Joe” label on it was non-GMO…..

  3. Ang79

    That’s weird… I read that somewhere a while ago from a reliable source but now i can’t find the page. I stand corrected – Thanks.

  4. Melanie

    These are so good! I have made these Mexican pizzas twice recently. The only things different i do is mix all the ingredients in a large bowl while the tortillas are warming in the oven. then i put down a bed of spinach on the tortillas and spoon the veggie/bean/cheese mixture on top. my husband and i fold them and eat them like tacos! So Good- Thanks Vani!

  5. Anne Marie

    Just wanted to let y’all know that if you are ever in Seattle, there is a wonderful mexican restaurant that uses only organic corn and naturally raised meats. It’s called Agua Verde and it’s wonderful!

  6. Amanda Hubatsch

    We sell Hand made tortillas in Germany. We make them from Organic corn that is grown in Germany. I am from Michigan, but lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for 6 years. I studied how to make tortillas from Nixtamal while I lived there. I am now living in Germany and have just started to sell my tortillas from our web shop. The only ingredients are organic corn, water, and calk. The corn is cooked, washed, and stone ground. Then the tortilla is cooked over a calk covered comal. We ship to all Germany, next day. And to its neighboring countries. You can find us at our web shop ( it is so far only in German ) You can write to us under Kontakt in German, English or Spanish if you have any questions.

  7. Volio

    Surprise, surprise, glyphosate is also the most common herbicide sprayed on non-GMO foods as well. As such, the research you cite is a good argument for going organic, but suggests little about GMOs. You do your readers a disservice when you confuse the two issues. There is little to no evidence to suggest that GMOs are dangerous to health per se, but pesticides are a different story.

    • cyt (to Volio)

      Hmmm. I beg to differ that “there is little to no evidence to suggest that GMOs are dangerous to health”. Check out Dr Adrian den Boer’s video on youtube: The Truth about Gluten. He can provide you with a host of documented information and physician peer reviewed reports on GMO food (namely wheat) to which he refers to as “Franken-wheat”.

  8. Susy

    But isn’t corn GMO….. OR at least should we not be eating too much corn products? Recipe looks good but not sure about the corn tortilla. Could I use ezikiel sprouted wraps ??

  9. Emma

    Any recommendations for safe enchilada sauce, or a replacement for it? Thank you!!

    • Rick (to Emma)

      Yes, make it yourself. Very easy to do and taste extra good when you use your own home grown green maters. I do this every fall with all the maters that fail to ripen. In fact, I count on it :-)

  10. Mary Bissell

    For those in SoCal, I just found a Mexican chain, Sharky’s that looks delicious. They have some organic food, including their tortillas. I think their cheese is organic. Their meat isn’t, as far as I know, but they do have wild seafood.

  11. Athena Emmanouilidis

    Just so you all know I read a news story today about a small town in Nicaragua where 20,000 farm workers have died of kidney failure and cancer.I wonder if them spraying RoundUp on the sugarcane did it.Yes on sugarcane

  12. Mary Bissell

    I made this and it was so good that it even tempted my dad away from his Mexican takeout. Thanks! I used an Ezekiel tortilla, arrabiata sauce, black beans, chili powder, green onions, and Monterey jack cheese.

  13. Nicole b

    I would love to have a recommendation for thawing/using/cooking the frozen Ezekiel tortillas. When I try to remove one or two from the package, they always break off. And when I cook them to prepare for a recipe, they are always hard. Any help would be appreciated. I would love to make this recipe!

    • Assistant to Food Babe (Pam) (to Nicole b)

      Hi Nicole – I buy them frozen, and then thaw and store them in the fridge. I usually bring them up to room temp on the counter before removing one from the package, if they are sticking together. Then I just heat them up individually in a saute pan to soften them up before folding. I hope that helps :)

  14. Dawn

    Where do you get the raw goat cheese?

    • Amy Morgan (to Dawn)

      I found some at Whole Foods. It is actually really good and melts just like regular cheese.

  15. Lisa

    Thanks for the recipe! Will definitely be trying it soon.

    I’ve been missing my Mexican food as well, but a friend recently turned me on to a couple of recipes that I’ve been able to make completely GMO-free. Look up “Refried beans without the refry” online – absolutely phenomenal, and the only ingredients are beans, water, black pepper, garlic, onion, jalapeno, and oregano (off the top of my head) and once I tried them, I was hooked!

    Another recipe involved cooking rice in chicken stock, cumin, garlic and (organic) tomato sauce, then adding some chopped cilantro at the end.

    With the addition of this recipe, my Mexican food is slowly starting to come back, which is great because it’s one of my family’s favorites. Thanks for the new recipe!

  16. Amy Morgan

    I made this recipe last night. I did not have black beans so I used Kidney beans. I also added some organic beef taco meat to it. It was delicious and really easy and quick to make. I will definitely be making this one again.

  17. steve mays

    No dangers of GMO were discussed, only pesticides.

    What are is dangerous about genetically modified foods ???

    I would love to see an article that truly discusses the science behind the opinion that GMO’s are dangerous.

    • Izzie (to steve mays)

      Hi, I get really annoyed at this hatred for GMO food. So firstly, YES you can have ORGANIC GMO food. Organic means grown without chemicals added. GMO means that the organism has had its gene’s modified so that it either over-produces some specific protein that it already naturally produced, or it has had the protein from a closely related species inserted into it (they must be very closely related or it won’t be properly integrated into the crop’s DNA).

      Secondly, google the history of corn. Im not joking. When corn was first domesticated, that is WILD NATURAL CORN, it is about the size of your finger. Now corn is about the size of your forearm. This is not due to GM but to SELECTIVE BREEDING. Selective breeding has been going on for 10,000 years and basically means we breed plant lines with favourable traits together. However, when this happens, yes the offspring inherits the good traits, but it will also inherit a tonne of other genes that we have no idea what they are or what they do. With GMO, we know EXACTLY what is being inherited. We know EXACTLY what it does. And most importantly, these crops are clones and so they are ALL THE SAME. Whilst the monopoly that GM companies have on these GM crops is unethical, can we really say that they are any worse than any other food company? No, we can’t. And GM food is super regulated unlike all the other crap you put in your body. Also, what people fail to understand is that creating GM is bloody hard work! Only after LOTS of time and research will a gene be successfully integrated into a new species.

      Most importantly, the genes that are put into these GM crops are not scary nasty Frankenstein genes. They are genes that help the crop resist herbicides, allowing farmers to reduce the amount of herbicide they apply to their crops to kill of nasty weeds, and allowing the crops to thrive.

      Also, if all food was grown organically we would only have 30% of the food we have now. Organic is unsustainable regardless of how much you might like the idea. People are already starving in this world, giving them access to fertilisers will help solve this crisis.

  18. steve mays

    A beautifully articulated summation. Thank you Izzie.

  19. Jeana

    This was amazingly fantastic!!!! We enjoyed this so much here at my home. It felt great knowing that I was eating great REAL food. Seemed sinful that it tasted that good. Repeat dish for this one too. Thanks food babe!!


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