Idioma / Language: Spanish

Johannesburg: I had never been treated so badly in an airplane

I started the second day in Johannesburg fully recovered from the bad experience I had with Fly Emirates during the first part of the trip. That 550gr ribeye steak I ate for dinner was the key of my recovery.

The next day, they came to pick me up an hour earlier, so I didn’t have time for breakfast. Upon arriving at the office, we had a meeting with the team there and went out to make some customer visits. Unfortunately, down there they have a habit of not eating lunch, so we make the most of the day, visiting customers and at about 4.30pm, one of the sales guys took me to Montecasino to eat.

When we arrived, Las Vegas came to my mind.The interior of this place was all of made of cardboard and the sky was projected on the ceiling, just like in some of the hotels in Sin City, in the United States. In fact, Montecasino is an shopping mall, with security controls at entrances similar to those at the airport to prevent people from entering with guns… WTF! GUNS? Yes… guns! In fact, if you had a weapon with you, they had gunsmiths so you could deposit it there until you came out of the mall. I was very impressed… According to what my colleague explained to me, in Johannesburg it is permitted to go armed on the street due to the high level of violence between gangs and neighborhoods. Now I understand why this city it is in the list of the most dangerous cities in the world…

This time they took me to Billy G. After showing them the gluten free travel card in English – though I had it in Afrikaans also, I never used it – our waitress confirmed we could eat the Biltong but not the Peri Peri sauce, also very typical of South Africa. Biltong is a type of dried meat typical from South African cuisine. It can be prepared with many types of meat, from the veal to the game meat. They brought it in the two most typical ways in which they eat it: cut into pieces or cut into thin strips, as we do in Spain with the ham. The biltong we ate that day was made of beef, and the taste was very good, with lots of spices and other ingredients that modified the taste of the meat.

When I got back to the hotel, I exchanged a few Euros to South African Rands to have some cash with me. The exchange rate they offered at the hotel was a bit expensive and there was no way to negotiate it. They were fixed rates. They told me that two blocks from the hotel there was another place where I could change the money, but given the safety of that city, I accepted their offer and went to the gym of the hotel. Although I know very little about South Africa, I think it is a place where I would never live in. I would come back as a tourist without a problem, I would love to visit the Kruger National Park, the Table Mountain and other areas of interest, but to live there… certainly not! Violence and insecurity are so extreme that have led them to live in houses surrounded by walls of three meters high with electric cables on top so that nobody jumps over them.

At dinner time, I walked again to the Nelson Mandela Square and went directly to TRUMPS to eat Gazelle. It was not bad at all. It is very similar to the deer. It is a meat with a strong flavor, a little more fibrous and hard but, they way they cook it is very tasty. This time I ordered it with roasted potatoes and another glass of wine. There was not much to do outside the restaurant, and I didn’t want to wander through the deserted corridors of that mall, where there were only security guards who watched you all time, so after dinner, I used to take a walk around the square and returned to the room.

The day after, our last visit was canceled, so we could eat lunch earlier. That day they took me to the Beast Grill at the Rock Cottage Shopping Center. I liked that restaurant too! Again, we followed the usual ritual: show them the gluten-free travel card, answer all the questions they had and decide which dish to order. We shared fried chicken wings which I took without the sauce and each ordered a pork ribs rack with two grilled cobs. Damn, that meat was so tender in comparison to some ribs that serve you in some places in Spain, where the meat of the tips is over cooked! We really enjoyed that meal!

On the way back to the hotel, I asked him to take me somewhere to buy some souvenir of the trip. He took me to a typical place that, although it seemed to be very insecure, it turned out to be just the opposite. It was a handcrafts market. As soon as we entered, 15 men came pushing each other to talk to us pulling us to their shops. It was a little uncomfortable, but following the advice of my colleague, I negotiated with the craftsmen… and finally I brought a wooden statue for my house and a carved stone for Isabel.

That night, the General Manager invited me to take dinner at his house. That day we would “braai” together or what we commonly know in Spain as “barbecue”, although some details such as the use of wood or charcoal, and some rules and processes are a bit different. While we drank a glass of Spanish wine, we prepared the meat: chicken, lamb chops and veal. In parallel, inside the house, his wife prepared the salad and some potatoes that I fell in love with: first she boiled them and then, with the oil very hot, fried them, so that they were fried on the outside and boiled inside. Great! That night I met his family and his father, former Manager and they explained to me the history of their company, how they started working with us and so on. At 10:30 pm, they took me back to the hotel. There was only one day there.

On the last day, we just had one visit left to do. When we finished, we went back to their offices and held a summary meeting of the trip and defined the next steps. After saying goodbye to everyone, they took me to eat at a restaurant near the airport where I ate a kudu carpaccio (an animal I had never heard of before) and a beef fillet of 500gr. In that restaurant I could not eat anything else so I took the largest plates I could eat to go prepared for the return trip, since I did not trust at all what I would find on flights with Fly Emirates.

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Again, during the first flight they brought me a smoked salmon salad with crab sticks and a fruit… this time I was got really angry because I had already filled out the customer profile more than 3 times (one with the travel agency, Another at the customer service desk in Madrid, another on the first flight and another on the second flight to Johannesburg), and now, again, the profile was empty. Awesome! I cannot believe that this airline has such a good reputation…

During the second flight, they brought me hake again. After talking to the flight service chief and writing an official complaint to the airline, since I had nothing left to eat from what I brought with me from Madrid five days earlier, they brought me a few snacks. I asked them if they were gluten free and they said yes. Obviously, I checked the list of ingredients of each piece. I couldn’t read the ingredients of those in the big bags as they were in Arabic… and regarding the other snacks, I could only eat the Toblerone because in the other two it was indicated that there could be traces of gluten… pathetic!

But the worst of all was not the bad service I received during the four flights I did with Fly Emirates… the worst of all was the answer I got when I contacted them to complain that I had been over 19h without being able to eat because of their poor organization and the lack of communication with their customers. In the last mail they sent me they told me that I could only order the special menus from their list, and that any change was not possible, so I should have brought it from home. Are you kidding me? What surprised me about this response is that, although the travel agency duly completed my client profile, they never informed us that it was not possible to serve a menu according to my gluten-free diet, without fish and without fruit and, in addition, the service responsible for each of the four flights told me “they were very sorry, that there had been a computer error with my profile and that what was happening was not normal as they served a lot of special menus according to diets like mine”.

Luckily, when I got back to Madrid, I happily got back to the gastronomic traditions with Isabel, enjoying the delicious gluten-free food served in Mas que Bocados Sin Gluten, La Celiacoteca and Tommy Mel’s.

Regarding to what happened with Fly Emirates, it is the first time that something like this happened to me with an airline, and I have been in many long flights… but there is always a first time, and I hope it will be the last. If you ever have to fly with this airline and the menus on their list do not meet 100% with your diet, make sure you bring enough food to cover the flights back and forth or, if you have the possibility, look for an alternative airline. The next time I go to South Africa, I’m sure I will not choose them. Probably I will fly with Iberia from Madrid, that takes only 10h and is a direct flight, saving 9h traveling.

You can see the pictures of this trip here.




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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Me llamo Santi y actualmente vivo en la provincia de Barcelona. En 2001, me diagnosticaron de enfermedad celíaca… ¡por fin! Además, soy intolerante a la lactosa, la alergia al pescado me mata, ¡literalmente!, y también algunas frutas... Viajar sin gluten se ha convertido en mi mayor hobby y creé Gluten Free Adventures por esta razón. Desde los 8 años, he viajado y vivido en distintos países… ¡aquí comparto mis experiencias viajando para descubrir restaurantes sin gluten, pastelerías sin gluten y heladerías sin gluten por todo el mundo! ¡Espero que os gusten nuestros viajes sin gluten!