Red Shaddock, a Beijing Union University student who would rather give strangers her net name, is fed up with Chinese food. She has been searching for exotic cuisine in Beijing, and is not disappointed.
One Friday evening, Red Shaddock and her friend went to Pilipili, an African restaurant located on the star Bar Street in eastern Beijing, not far away from the embassy quarter.
"I got to know this restaurant from a website. This is my first time to come here. I came to taste African food as well as its colorful culture," the Beijing-born girl said.
Pilipili, which means "pepper" in Swahili, a language widely spoken in eastern Africa, might not be the only African restaurant in Beijing, but it surely is the largest and best-known, with its floor space totaling 500 square meters capped with a thatched roof.
At the website (www.dianping.com) mentioned by Red Shaddock, netizens who have been to Pilipili, say they are impressed by the "intense African flavors" and "soft music" at the restaurant.
One comment, posted by "Xiangxiang Sabrina," said "it is most proper to describe the restaurant with the word 'mysterious.' African restaurant, African bands, African customers, African food: I have never been to Africa, but I can feel all these things at Pilipili."
For ordinary Chinese to have a taste of Africa was exactly what was in the mind of Lu Chunming, the chief executive of the Beijing Holley-Cotec Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd, who opened the restaurant four years ago.
Lu lived in Africa for years, as his company specializes in the anti-malaria medicine. He had been fascinated by African culture and wanted to share it with his fellow Chinese, said Zhang Lichun, Pilipili restaurant's manager.
The restaurant now provides almost 50 kinds of African food, varying from Burundi Crocodile Salad to Zimbabwe barbecued-Chicken Wing. Asked if the food is original, Zhang said, "Of course, we have to adapt the dishes to the Chinese guests, but they are originated in Africa and we do have cooks from Africa on a constant basis".
Besides food, the restaurant creates an authentic atmosphere by displaying wooden sculptures imported from Africa and organizing an "African night" once a month with performances by African singers and dancers. Recently, it managed to invite two Tinga Tinga artists from Tanzania to present their work, Zhang said.
Of his guests, the manager said, most are diplomats, businessmen, officials and tourists. Before embarking on visits to Africa, Some Chinese come to the restaurant for a cultural experience and then relive their travels by coming again after they return home.
Not only Chinese, but also foreigners, especially Africans, frequent the restaurant. One of them is Mwenebatende Kaleshi, a native from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who is now studying at Beijing Jiaotong University.
"Every time I come to Pilipili, I feel like coming back home." He said the Swahili language printed on the wall, which is his native tongue, aroused his nostalgia.
Kaleshi, who is majoring in civil engineering, said, "I came to China to learn that major because many Chinese construction companies are carrying out projects in Africa, and their technology is widely appreciated there."
Some 29,000 African students were studying in China by the end of September 2007, according to statistics from the Chinese Education Ministry.
Pilipili also serves as the venue of the biannual charity sales by the corps of wives of African ambassadors to China who bring along with them self-made African food, Zhang, the manager said.
As relations between China and Africa become closer, more and more Chinese are interested in Africa, said Xu Bo, general manager of Beijing Pilipili Culture Communication Co. Ltd.
"I think the Pilipili restaurant would serve as a platform for Chinese to better know Africa and its culture," Xu added.