Living in Vancouver comes at a price. We don’t think about it during the early days of Spring, while the rest of the country shivers, and we certainly don’t think about it during those perfect summer days as we relax on a beach patio as the sun melts behind the island. But as Persephone must return to Hades, we too must eventually return to November.
We live in a rain forest, and from about mid-October to sometime in March we suffer through some of the darkest, wettest weather in the country. Streetlights stay on all day. Doors swell shut with moisture. Our will to live slowly drains as we struggle to stay awake in the soaking, shivering gloom. In a perfect world I would retreat to California about now, as it is 25 degrees in Berkeley and the farmer’s market there just got in some nice fresh Meyer lemons. But alas instead I have to struggle on, kept afloat by rainy winter comfort food.
My number one rainy evening pick me up is Ethiopian. I love the slow heat, the commensality of sharing food from a central plate, and yes, I enjoy eating with my hands. For those who haven’t tried it, Ethiopian cuisine consists primarily of various stews placed on top of injera, a spongy flatbread made at least in part from the ancient grain, teff. This grain is both iron rich and celiac friendly, though some restaurants mix in other flours as well. More injera is used to scoop up the various stews. Our hole in the wall Ethiopian meal of choice is that made at Red Sea, a wonderful quiet place located at the corner of Broadway and Fraser, which is also one of the last tiny islands of non-gentrified urban fabric in the city. Red Sea is a simple place, but they win out for me as they make the best ful in the city. This spicy bean dish is usually served for breakfast in Africa, but Red Sea makes a beautiful, fresh spicy ful that can take the edge off of any rainy night. It is served with a simple bread roll which I tear up into pieces and dip in the ful. It’s an excellent starter to their stews, which include a smoky ground pea dish, a great cabbage dish, and an excellent okra dish, though the quality of raw okra available in Vancouver varies sharply.
What I love about Ethiopian is the slow heat from the central spice mix, berbere. This mix provides a long burn that isn’t too hot but lingers in a very pleasant way. I make regular trips to Pike’s Place in Seattle to pick up freshly ground berbere mix so that I can make the occasional stew myself, though I don’t recommend attempting to make injera or buying premade ones; it is really best made by an expert. After an Ethiopian stew the rain seems a little less crushing, the mist a little more magical. Only three more months, and hey, at least it isn’t 30 below.