Chinese cuisine gains popularity in Ethiopia

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Zhou Tao, 34 and a native of Beijing, runs a Chinese restaurant in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, offering a variety of Chinese cuisine to fellow Chinese expatriates and a growing number of non-Chinese customers.

Hermela Fanna has a meal at a restaurant named "Xinjiang Restaurant Zhua Fun" in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 11, 2021. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)

The restaurant, named "Xinjiang Restaurant Zhua Fun," is considered as one of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in Addis Ababa, situated in close proximity to the East African country's main airport -- the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

"Recognizing the increasing demand for Chinese dishes from the rising number of Chinese people in the city, I, in consultation with my wife, decided to open a Chinese restaurant here 10 years ago," said Zhou in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Zhou's restaurant offers about 200 varieties of Chinese dishes with special focus on Xinjiang cuisine, including fresh noodles, Chinese-style barbecue, poached sliced beef with hot chili oil, kung pao chicken, fried fishes, among others.

"We know which dishes are most favorite to our Chinese customers depending on the provinces they came from and their eating habits," said Zhou, who claimed that the Chinese dishes are also gaining popularity among Ethiopians. "About 70 percent of our customers are Chinese nationals while foreigners and local customers make up the balance."

Wang Xianjun, another Chinese expatriate and regular customer in Zhou's restaurant, said Chinese dishes, with all their flavors and tastes, helped him and his colleagues working in the Eastern Industrial Park on the outskirts of Addis Ababa ease their homesickness.

"I had been eating Ethiopian dishes including raw meat in local restaurants until I came across Chinese restaurants which are now flourishing in different parts of the city," said Wang, while enjoying the fresh noodles in his long-time friend's restaurant.

Hermela Fanna is one of the growing number of Ethiopians with a love for the taste of Chinese cuisine.

"It is my first time eating Chinese food and contrary to my perception, I found it very tasty," said Fanna, as she was having a spicy chicken dish at the restaurant along with her colleagues.

Fanna drew similarities between some Chinese and Ethiopian dishes, maintaining that both cuisines have a spicy taste and similar ingredients.

Amid the growing interest for Chinese cuisine, savvy Ethiopian entrepreneurs are now engaging in Chinese restaurant business, largely serving foreigners and local people.

Rediet Mekete opened her Chinese restaurant named 'Little China' five years ago and currently runs four branches under the same logo in different parts of Addis Ababa.

Mekete said her ambition of opening a Chinese restaurant in Ethiopia came true following her travel to central China's Hunan Province where food is spicy and she enjoyed it.

"I had to return to Hunan for the second time to learn Chinese food catering" Mekete recalled. "I found Chinese dishes very tasty the first time I went to China. I learned about Chinese food catering from my Chinese friends who own restaurants there."

"Some of Chinese foods are easily cooked as fast foods. Since some Chinese foods are spicy and salty, Ethiopians like them most," she added.

With the number of local customers increasing over time, Mekete is looking to open new branches in other parts of the East African country.

"My plan is to deliver local and other customers with affordable Chinese dishes," said Mekete, who offers up to 20 varieties of Chinese dishes across her four 'Little China' restaurants.

According to Mekete, foreigners and local people who have overseas experiences are her main customers.

Chinese cuisine is gaining popularity in Ethiopia's hospitality sector too.

Amid its vision of becoming Chinese travelers' favorite carrier, the Ethiopian Airlines, the fastest growing aviation group in Africa, in 2019 opened the largest Chinese restaurant in Africa at the Chinese-built Ethiopian Skylight Hotel close to the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The restaurant has six private dining rooms, offering additional comfort to Chinese passengers who are either traveling to Ethiopia or in transit from elsewhere in Africa.

The brunt of COVID-19 has been borne by the hospitality sector and the Chinese restaurant owners, with the hospitality sector in general struggling to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Zhou said his restaurant business has experienced a reduced number of customers since the outbreak of COVID-19, forcing him to cut his 40 staff size by half.

"We had about 300 customers a day but their number has declined by about 90 percent due to the pandemic," said Zhou, expecting a better future after the pandemic is brought under control.

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