Open up Google (or if you’re a paranoid psychopath like me, DuckDuckGo) and search for Tian Tian Chinese restaurant. All the hits refer to establishments outside Ethiopia. Don’t let that discourage you. It’s an adorable baby business still figuring out its place in the big wide internet. A smug friend who spent 5 years in China informs me there are four different meanings to the word Tian. Urban dictionary provides the following colorful definition: a word for a well-mannered boy- He’s a good Tian. I’ll leave the saucier definitions for you to discover. The most likely definition refers to ‘a dish of sliced vegetables cooked in olive oil and then layered in a dish and baked in au gratin.’ What does au gratin mean? I am not willing to go down that rabbit hole.
In all honesty you can simply ask the proprietor of the establishment about the meaning and reason behind the name. I guess you will definitely have to ask him because I didn’t. It’s not all about names you know. Speaking of names, Wonde isn’t a name I would have expected from someone who runs a Chinese eatery. Most Chinese owners, based on my adequate experience, happen to be severe Chinese women who prowl around their establishments murderously clutching a communist-style ladle. And I grew even more skeptical about the place after he informed me that he hadn’t even lived in China, merely had numerous colleagues and friends right here in Addis. However, once the food started flowing, all my misgivings went out the window.
Tian Tian is located right next to MK’s around Bole Medhanialem. The unit used to house a quaint Mediterranean restaurant. Perhaps there is some symbolism in that. It remains quaint and homely, with an aesthetics that harkens back to restaurants from Chinatowns around the globe. And yes, you’ve guessed right, there’s an image of the Chinese Premier smiling benevolently from a plate above the bar. Not enough for you? There’s a gorgeous HD TV at one end playing CCTV4. The setting is complete.
The menu is very extensive. The owner states they have around 300 options for customers. Granted, most options will not be available for locals unless specifically requested. I tip my hat for the consideration offered to the fragile Ethiopian sensibility. I was comforted. The banquet the kitchen prepared that day was nothing short of magical. Slowly braised fish in a rich tomato sauce formed the center of the feast- warning though, it will trigger some pathological salivation. Perfectly steamed and criminally aesthetic vegetarian dumplings and golden-brown tofu (soft, yummy, and beautiful to behold) in spicy sauce delivered the next shot, leaving us writhing in ecstasy. Point to be made here, Chinese cuisine contains a veritable selection of vegetarian alternatives, setting it up as a very strong option for healthy eating and fasting.
There was a further contingent of plates – stir fried noodles with vegetables; viridescent broccoli next to a hot steaming bowl of noodle soup; and an endless fountain of soy sauce coupled with hot sauce. His Excellency Ping would be clucking like a proud Premier Hen.