As the summer is coming to an end in the Netherlands, I decided to seize the final warm days and visit my friend Lu in Rotterdam. As a newbie in the Netherlands majoring in African Studies, I was astonished by how many Africa-related stores, restaurants and events are going on in this country. Although my friend Lu has lived in this country for more than two years but he had no idea that there are even restaurants that serve African cuisines. It has been 3 years since I visited Africa last time, so I was more than happy to explore some African places in Rotterdam and share my stories with Lu.
As we were following the GPS navigation leading us to the well-rated (4.5/5 stars on Google maps with 359 comments) Ethiopian restaurant called Viva Afrika, we were kind of surprised to notice how diverse the races and cultures are seen in West-Kruiskade, the so-called “China Town”. The beginning of the street didn’t make me doubt about its reputation of “China Town” however as we walked further down in the street, an overwhelming number of “exotic” shops started popping out. A fancy Indian saree wedding store, countless hair products stores for their targeted Afro customers and many other restaurants and shops serving African or Middle-Eastern food and groceries. “This is so cool!”, Lu and I said with one voice. “I never knew there is an area like that in the Netherlands”, Lu was truly fascinated by the overwhelming diversity and exoticness which he had never seen before. The area certainly gave me a Dubai vibe, intensely feeding all your senses with cultures from outside “the west”. Many great memories of mine came to my mind as I was sharing with Lu my fantastic trips and living experience in Africa, Middle East and South Asia.
It was arounds 7pm when we finally arrived at Viva Afrika, where the interior decorations look fabulous. The vibrant smashing of colours and traditional Ethiopian Tizita music immediately drowned us into a different world. The only staff we saw working there came to us and asked us to place the meal order by scanning the QR code on the table, as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We ordered the recommended platter for sharing and it took almost one hour for the meal to be ready on our table, even though there were only another table of customers besides us two. The waiting together with the growing hunger consequently raised my expectations of the food.
Although it was a pity that they don’t make the traditional Ethiopian coffee there, the presentation of the feast platter was very satisfying for us. Lu tasted his first Injera bread in his life at that moment with a surprising but accepting face while I had my nostalgic bite of the beautiful subtle sourness. I was really happy that my friend easily accepted and adapted to the brand new taste, eating with his hand. However I couldn’t help with my doubtful face when I tried an over-salted beef dish and a bland chicken leg which is the most complicated dish to make as it takes a long time to slow cook the chicken curry as I learnt before. My wonderful memories with Ethiopian dining in Africa and even in Istanbul suddenly flushed back as I truly wished for a similar satisfaction to happen in Rotterdam.
Looking at the not the friendliest waitress who doesn’t look like an Ethiopian girl to me (excuse me if I am biased), I told myself to feel happy and blessed about having African food accessible in the country that I am living in now, which used to be an impossible luxury for me as I worked and lived in Shanghai. The music and the visuals made me feel so so close to the wonderful continent Africa, yet the details knocked my awake telling me I am still physically far away from there. So I said to my friend Lu something I have said to many other people for thousands of times, “I really recommend you to make Africa your next travel destination and I promise that it will be one of the highlights of a lifetime!”
Africa can be so close yet so far away, especially during current pandemic days. I would still love to keep exploring Africa in the Netherlands and I wish whoever wishes to visit Africa as much as I do would have the wish come true very soon!