Johannesburg: a mix of “deja vu” and new experiences with Indian food
That day we got up very early to arrive at the Durban airport with enough time to to take the Kulula plane to fly to Johannesburg. This time, instead of flying to OR TAMBO, the main airport, we flew to Lanseria International Airport – the international was fine for the name, but it becomes an airport similar to Lleida-Alguaire (with almost no traffic) – from where we would drive to Rustenburg, a city that is 2 hours by car northwest of Johannesburg.
We had to drive carefully, since the meadows on either side of the road were full of animals (gazelles, kudus, etc.) and could cross at any time because there were no fences to protect the road…
That day we did not eat lunch… we arrived around 4.30pm at the hotel in Sandton, one of the most “safe” areas of Johannesburg. Really hungry, we left our bags at the hotel and went to find a restaurant for dinner. I was quite disappointed with the room… it happened to me again like in Italy (to be more prices, in the Romeo House in Verona) It was horrible! That time I was able to change hotels, but in this trip there was no chance… Besides, I was starving! So I decided to bear two nights there and that’s it…
We went straight to Nelson Mandela Square to look for a restaurant. I had been in Johannesburg a year and a half ago, and I already knew where I could eat well. We would look for new restaurants at another time. I did not feel like asking questions and changing restaurants like we did in Durban. We went straight to Trumps, a restaurant specialized in meat, where this time I ordered ostrich with mashed potatoes and rice.
When we finished with dinner it was only 6pm… although we were tired, we decided to walk around the mall. I took the opportunity to ask about eating gluten free in some restaurants. There we found the Séptimo restaurant, an Italian restaurant in which, like in the Circus Circus of Durban, they indicated that they had gluten-free pasta… as expected, the sauce did have gluten!
From there, we went for a drink at the Hard Rock Café. Unlike restaurants in other cities such as Barcelona and Budapest – among other European cities – they did not have gluten-free bread there… they didn’t even know about gluten free stuf… even showing them the gluten-free travel card they could not give us a convincing answer… better like this than lying I suppose!
Even so, we had a drink there because they were doing live concerts. In fact, I took the opportunity to take a picture with one of the singers. I had no idea who she was, but she was dressed very African and I liked her hat.
When we left, we took another walk and went to the Pappas to sit a while longer. While we had another drink, I took the opportunity to ask the waiter to find out what were their gluten free options.
His response was quite reassuring: “this is in the flour right?” He returned after a few minutes with the menu and indicated that they had gluten-free pasta and that they could adapt some dishes. I also asked him about the sauces and he told me which ones I could take. It convinced me enough… the next time I go to Johannesburg I’ll go try this restaurant!
The next day we went to Centurion, a city that is between Johannesburg and Pretoria, to the north. There we had a very profitable meeting! We left with enough time, so we decided to go to Midrand, which was next to our next meeting, where we would look for a gluten free restaurant to eat. We were not so lucky!
Near the company where we would meet, there was only the Midrnad Shopping Center which, unlike Sandton, Gateway, Umhlanga or Pavillion, here there were only Chinese shops and, consequently, food for them.
I saw cross contamination everywhere! We did not enter to ask for a gluten free meal in any of the restaurants there, since I thought the risk was too high to accept a “yes we can adapt something”… when entering Midrand we had seen another shopping center called Lyfestile Center Midrand. This seemed to have more variety and we went to see what was there.
We saw a Mugg & Bean like the one in Durban and we sat directly there. Even being a franchise, the protocol was different. They had the same menu, but they did not wrap the gluten-free bread with paper when they toasted it… that was a problem! To not waste more time, we asked the waitress to call the manager.
We showed him the celiac travel card and explained how they did it at the Mugg & Bean in Durban. Once he understood the importance of controlling cross-contamination, he told us not to worry, that he would make sure they would wrap my sandwich as they did in Durban. This time I ordered the chicken with mozzarella and mayonnaise, but no salad. It was very good!
Upon returning to Sandton, we passed near the Royal India restaurant. The day before, while we were sitting at the Pappas, Rio told me about the breyani, a typical Indian meal made with rice, vegetables, meat (lamb, pork or chicken), egg and, of course, spices. As an anecdote, he told me about it when we saw a family that was a mixture of Indians and whites. The Indians call this type of families “breyani” because they say that they are like this typical dish: a mixture!
Anecdotes aside, after working a bit in the hotel, we went straight to the Royal India restaurant to see if we could eat the “breyani”. I really wanted it and, considering the ingredients, the only risk was the cross contamination that could be in the kitchen.
After talking to the waiter and showing him the gluten-free travel card, he told us there would be no problem. The only thing that he asked us was whether we wanted spicy or not. The level of spiciness that I like has nothing to do with what Rio is accustomed to. He is Indian, so we looked for an intermediate point, which for him was little and for me it was spicy. It tasted great! If you have the chance to try it, I recommend it!
The next day, I had more of my gluten free cookies for breakfast. When I met Rio downstairs, after leaving the room, we went to the Tashas, a bar-restaurant similar to the Mugg & Bean that had gluten-free cakes in its menu. The cake was made with quinoa flour. I could not eat it because it was also made with banana, and I’m allergic!
About 11 o’clock, we went for the last meeting. We met the client at the Saxon Hotel. Upon arrival we were stunned. It was like entering Beverly Hills. There was a lot of security and from the entrance door to the main building there was almost 500m of forest. The man with whom we would meet lived in one of the villas, but he met us in the restaurant… what a pitty!
The meeting went very well and, once finished, we only had to eat and say goodbye. I was going back to Barcelona. Although I had yet to try the Pappas restaurant, I preferred to go back to Trumps for a springbok plate. We can find gluten-free pasta everywhere… the springbok is a more exotic delicacy for Europeans.
After lunch, I still had an adventure left… going from Sandton to OR Tambo airport in a South African taxi… I did not like the idea!
When I got into the taxi, a guy came running and took out the “Taxi” sign from the roof… then, the driver told me he would stop for filling the tank, so we stopped at a gas station outside of Sandton, where It was not such a safe area… and then, he explained that we would go on the highway instead of crossing Johannesburg because there were many traffic lights and, if they saw a white guy with a black driver, they would believe that I was his boss and they would hijack us pointing us with a gun… once on the highway, he began to tell me about him… he used to have alcohol problems and he had lost his family because of that and a long enough etcetera… come on, that is not the most comfortable trip I’ve ever had in a taxi!
Although I arrived at the airport very early, it took me almost an hour and a half to enter due to the bottleneck that is generated in the passport control… it is difficult to understand them and they work at a very African rhythm… Even so, I had almost an hour and a half more until boarding time for the Swiss Air airplane to Switzerland. To take advantage of the time, I did some shopping and then I went around looking for a gluten free restaurants in OR Tambo. I found a Mugg & Bean. Now you know: if you ever have to eat gluten-free at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, you will find a Mugg & Bean. Of course, make it very clear about cross-contamination so that you do not feel bad during the flight or the first day of your trip to South Africa.
Shortly after takeoff, they handed out the typical snacks. This time they gave us cookies. I went turned the packaging and it was clearly indicated “with gluten”. When they finished distributing to everyone, I called the stewardess and asked if they had anything gluten free. He told me they had a special drawer and that she would go see. He came back with the same snack they gave me when I traveled to USA: a bar of almonds with dates.
The dinner was great! I think it was the best gluten-free dinner I’ve eaten on a plane… it was really delicious! They served me a tray with salad, several cheeses, fruit, some rice pancakes and a plate of veal brochettes with potatoes and bechamel sauce. Wow! Although I could not eat the salad and the fruit because I am allergic to profilin, I enjoyed the rest very much.
Although I was seated at the end of the plane, this time I did not get as cold as when I traveled from Zurich to Johannesburg. As I recommended in the Durban post, try to be seated in the middle rows of the plane, since the back is usually very cold. This time I was able to get some sleep, so the flight went by quite quickly.
For breakfast they distributed small boxes. Mine did not have the “GMFL” label that usually contain all gluten-free meals served on airplanes, so I asked the stewardess and she told me they had made a mistake. She took that box away came back with the real gluten-free breakfast they had for me. There was an orange juice, a granadilla yogurt, more Swiss cheese and rice pancakes.
When I arrived in Switzerland, I had a very short connection so I had to run a bit because we landed late. Same than in Madrid airport, I had to take a train to the other terminals. Luckily, there was not much line to pass passport control. Even so, I was the last to arrive to the plane to Barcelona. Luckily, they were waiting for me!
Although it was a short flight, they gave breakfast to everyone. A croissant. When the stewardess came to me, I told her that I was celiac and that I could not eat that croissant. She told me that she would look if they had something gluten free. After a while, she came back with a chocolate muffin like the one I had been given on the first flight.
As you can see, flying gluten-free with Swiss Air is very good! To me, it is the best airline to travel gluten free.
You can see the pictures of the trip here.
UPDATE (September 2018): I wanted to eat something more than grilled meat in that restaurant! Back in Johannesburg, we were at the Trumps Restaurant of Nelson Mandela Square. They had told me about how good was the ox tail they cooked there, so I wanted to order for that dish.
For a change, the problem was not the meat… the problem was the sauce! Well, this time it was not a problem, since they did not use flour to thicken the sauce. I made the waiter ask three times to the cook. I wanted to be sure that none of the ingredients in that dish had gluten, and also that there was no risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen. After three answers in favor of gluten-free, I decided to order the dish. Overall, I was just going to take another risk in South Africa…
When he brought me the food, he told me that the mashed potatoes would take a little longer, since he had asked the cook to prepare a separate one, based only on natural potato. It was a great meal! I really enjoyed that ox tail… and I was delighted with the attention and good care with which the waiter had treated me.
UPDATE (March 2019): Taking advantage of the fact that I had returned to Johannesburg, I decided to try the Septimo Restaurant, in Nelson Mandela Square, just at the opposite corner of the Trumps!
As its name suggests, it is an Italian restaurant. In the menu, they have very well indicated gluten-free dishes (acronym GF), but even so, we have to be careful with sauces. Some contain gluten.
I insisted several times to the waiter to make sure they cooked my gluten-free pasta apart. I ordered spaghetti bolognese that were really good. I must admit that at first I was a bit nervous, just like when I first ate the gluten-free sandwich at the Mugg & Bean in Durban.
All went well. In addition, it has been one of the best Bolognese I have ever eaten! Highly recommended ¡Remember: insist on the cross contamination issue in order to make sure they serve you safe food!.
BY CLICKING ON THE MAP OF GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANTS YOU FILL SEE ALL RESTAURANTS WE DESCRIBED IN THIS POST LOCATED IN THE MAP OF GLUTEN-FREE PLACES:
AND HERE WE LEAVE THE CELIAC TRAVEL CARD IN AFRIKAANS:
AND HERE WE LEAVE THE CELIAC TRAVEL CARD IN ENGLISH:
P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists. I kindly ask you to also take into account that the list of references can change. Please, always double check before eating in the restaurants we recommend. Thank you very much!
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