Love at first sight. Some believe in it. Some don’t. I didn’t, and now I do.
In 1999, I started dating the woman who is now my wife. Actually, it wasn’t so much dating as a roving pack of single friends, a loose coalition whose numbers ranged from four to six people. We would get together for food and drink, and invariably end up in some living room with the guitars out for a well-oiled sing-a-long. The actual dating came later.
On one of those food and drink outings, we all met up at the Queen of Sheba, a now-defunct Ethiopian restaurant at Broadway and Cambie streets in Vancouver.
This was a cuisine I had never sampled before and, truth be told, my arm had to be twisted just a little to check it out. I suppose I was trying to impress my future wife with my ability to compromise. Laurel had eaten there several times, so she did the ordering for all of us. I was very pleasantly surprised when the food came.
What was this glorious thing?
For those of us raised on a steady diet of tearful Sally Struthers late night commercials, the notion of a rich and varied Ethiopian cuisine might seem somewhat incongruous.
How could there be such wonderful food coming from a place so rife with famine that even the flies looked hungry?
Trust me, Ethiopian food is wonderful. Vegetarians and carnivores alike will swoon at the sight of a steaming two-foot diameter plate being delivered to the middle of the table.
The plate is lined with a dark, spongy, slightly sour flatbread called injera made from teff, an ancient grain that is exceedingly good for you. Sitting on top of this in neat little piles is a collection of legumes, vegetable preparations, salads and, if you like, meat or fish dishes. The meat or fish comes in a couple of different forms: Tibs sees the proteins sautéed with butter and spices in various gradations of chilli heat, and Wat is more of a stewed style of preparation. A side platter of extra rolls of injera always accompanies this huge platter.
What starts out as neat little piles soon becomes an integrated amalgam of saucy goodness.
Did I mention that this meal is always eaten with the hands?
You tear off a little injera from a roll and reach in and scoop up little bits of this and that. The best part is that towards the end of your co-operative feeding frenzy, all of the sauces blend together and soak into the layer of injera that lines the serving pan. At some point, one tends to abandon the little rolled up bits of injera in favour of consuming the actual serving dish itself.
While the venerable Queen of Sheba is but a misty memory now, a new favourite has emerged: Addis Café at 2017 Commercial Dr.
Like most of our favourite eateries, this is another little family run hole-in-the-wall. Small number of tables, check; relatives in the kitchen, check, etc. We go there every few weeks, and we’ve never been let down. Of course, the “we” is no longer that group of single friends, it’s our little family of four.
What we usually end up doing is ordering a vegetarian plate and a couple of meat or fish dishes. We’re particularly fond of the chicken Tibs and the fish Tibs.
They also do a mean lamb, and nobody cooks lentils and other legumes better.
Whatever you order up is always served family style on one big platter, and it’s always really, really good. I had to laugh at one review that I read that expressed absolute horror at being served “raw meat.” Yes, it’s true. One of the traditional Ethiopian dishes that you can order is a spiced raw beef dish. It’s fantastic but, understandably, not for everyone. You’d think that the word “raw” in the menu description would have been a viable clue for those people.
There is no liquor licence, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s about the food and the sharing. The four of us can usually waddle out of the restaurant for around $40, and that includes tip. Great value, I say. It is a truly wonderful and leisurely way for friends and family to share a meal. It’s very difficult to remain a stranger after you have shared a meal like this.
Strongly recommended, and after eating here, you might believe in love at first bite. Heck, you might even end up married!