There’s pretty much no place where you can’t find a Chinese restaurant, it’s said. As NPR reports, al Maida Chinese restaurant remains open in Tripoli. While it once counted Seif al-Islam — Muammar el-Gaddafi’s son who, like him, now has a warrant on his head — among its customers, al Maida’s clientale has dwindled to one or two people a day, mostly foreign journalists “seeking an escape from the lackluster cuisine of the hotel they are restricted to by the Libyan government.”
All things considered, it’s quite amazing the restaurant is still operating, with rising shortages of food and fuel, not to mention NATO’s campaign of airstrikes. A regular customer is Wang Yuguo, a correspondent for China Central Television, who rates the food as “the middle, but upper, a little bit upper, so … I’m satisfied,” compared to that in China (but maybe not Hong Kong or San Francisco…).
Restaurant owner Dai Songxian is from China’s Zhejiang province on the eastern coast; she came to Tripoli in 2004 with the original intent of opening a women’s clothing store. In keeping with Muslim dietary laws, al Maida does not serve pork or alcohol. It’s probably a good thing Dai switched to the restaurant business; hard to think too many Libyan women would be able to do too much shopping these days.
Where there’s Chinese food, there’s Chinese take-out and Dai’s son, Alex, still delivers via taxi:
It’s a long trip through the many security checkpoints. The 21-year-old says the police stop him and ask him the same question every time.
“‘Where are you from?’ I say ‘China’ and they say, “OK, China. Go!” he says.
As the conflict in Libya drags on, Dai — who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate her waterfront restaurant just before the war broke out — has had to let go of six of her fifteen staff members. She’s mostly concerned that she’ll have to close al Maida’s doors if business doesn’t pick up but it doesn’t sound like that will be end of the restaurant. As reporter Wang notes:
Chinese people often operate restaurants in war zones. He says the owner of the Golden Key Chinese restaurant in Kabul told him it’s because he can make a lot of money when there is no competition.
Just hope al Maida has a good stock of rice, and soy sauce.
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