Saturday, June 17, 2006

Afro Canadian Restaurant

There's something wonderfully comforting about the Afro Canadian Restaurant (324 Cambie St. between Hastings and Cordova, 604-682-2646). Sitting quietly in a gritty corner of Gastown, and tended by a warm, friendly owner, it's a great choice for a quick dinner before a movie at Tinseltown, especially for anyone who wants to find out if their date isn't too prissy for the Downtown East Side, for sharing food, or for eating with their hands. Crime Lab Boy and I enjoyed two meat selections served together on the same platter, the jerk chicken (chicken sauteed in spicy sauce then stewed in a red pepper, garlic and onion sauce, $8) and the East African lamb (fried boneless pieces of lamb in Ethiopian style clarified and spiced butter with onions and green peppers, $9). It came garnished with tomatoes and lettuce, and served on rice and injera bread, the fluffy, soft white flat bread of Ethiopian cuisine, that you tear off to pick up the stews with your hands. The food was tasty and satisfying and the atmosphere relaxed. It's a great quiet spot for chatting leisurely while picking away at the communal platter of hearty food. While we ate on this sunny summer evening, the familiar Vancouver smell of pot wafted by briefly from the open door, the music in the background was something pleasant and upbeat, and generally everyone in the restaurant (us, the staff, and one other table) seemed to be in good spirits and radiating a positive vibe. This might be a good spot for vegetarians too. They have lots of vegetable selections, including combinations like the Taste of Africa ($7) which is red lentils, mixed vegetables, and green vegetables served on the injera. Or try three meats for two people for $17.

To give you a little perspective, as much as I love Afro Canadian Restaurant, I might rate Nyala in Kitsilano slightly higher on food alone, but it certainly beats out Addis Cafe on Commercial Drive, based on my one visit there (I remember the meat was dried out and on the bland side at Addis). Both the chicken and the lamb were tender and flavourful at Afro Canadian, and I thoroughly enjoyed the food on my two visits there. I have yet to try Harambe on Commercial Drive. I still have fond memories of the food at Queen Sheeba, an Ethiopian restaurant in Kits that closed down years ago. I think it was there that I first encountered Ethiopian cuisine, and it appealed to me instantly. The injera soaks up all the fatty, delicious juices from the dishes, and there's always too much food. There's a wonderful intimacy to the meal, using your hands to eat off the same platter with your dinner companion(s). There's a bit of primal appeal to eating without utensils and separate plates, and it has the same sort of effect as gathering around a campfire together. It strikes me that it's a perfect meal to bond with people you really like. I've been lucky enough to have done just that many times, with different groups and individuals, and have never broken injera with anyone I didn't like. Maybe that's why Afro Canadian Restaurant has such a pleasant and upbeat vibe - maybe the style of food itself doesn't allow for anything else.

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