Now the Chinese are going gaga for African foods

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When he first set foot off the plane, a young Chinese boy approached him. The boy wanted to rub his finger against him to check if his black skin was genuine. Absurd as it may sound, this was the beginning of an incredible expedition that awaited Eden Gilanda.

Gilanda (29), a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been residing in Beijing for the past seven years. He initially came to the country of The Red Dragon as a talented 22-year-old football player, in search of an opportunity to boost his career.

“I didn’t find a team who could give me a chance as a professional player, so I decided to do something else. I did not really enjoy the local cuisine, hence I decided to open a restaurant that could cater for me and my fellow Africans,” says Gilanda.

These days, Eden Blessing House also attracts many Chinese customers.

Over the past few years, China has opened its doors to many foreigners from all over the world. Amongst the abundant expat community in Beijing are numerous Africans who came to China to further their studies, some to work for their country’s embassies and others are just in search of a better standard of living.

With this being said, Gilanda saw another business opportunity – opening a hair salon that mainly accommodates African males and females, but also welcoming other foreign nationals.

Today, seven years later, he is the proud owner of Eden Blessing House (a hair salon and restaurant), operated from an exclusive hotel in Beijing’s busy Dongzhimen area. “Business is all about patience and you have to stay positive, especially in a country like China. It’s of the outmost importance that you bring something unique and different. I also try to stay close to Chinese people to learn as much as possible.”

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With Gilanda being from DRC and his girlfriend from Tanzania, his restaurant mainly serves Central and Eastern African foods. “My goal is to expand my menu to an all-African menu, which will cater for people from all 54 African countries,” he promises.

He initially launched the restaurant for Africans, but ironically, the locals are now his most loyal customers.

Gilanda smiles and says: “The Chinese are getting addicted to African dishes. They are surprised that we use the same vegetables, but with different flavours. They just love it!”

Beijing residents seem to love Cassa Leaf, a popular West African dish.

What do the Chinese commonly order? Cassa Leaf, an original Liberian dish. Cassava leaves are the main ingredient of this popular dish, also known as Saka Saka and Pondo in other African countries. Liberians are quick to point out that the dish is specifically known as Cassa Leaf (and not “leaves”), based on the Liberian pronunciation.

Gilanda displays the characteristics of a typical successful entrepreneur. He is hardworking, driven and most certainly not a small dreamer. This month he will be opening a second salon in China’s largest city by population, Shanghai, whereafter the restaurant will follow. He came from humble beginnings, where he first worked at an oil company in his home country, but today he is an inspiration to many. He believes one should always try to achieve your goals on your own, because no one else will help you reach them.

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