Restaurant: Cafe D’Afrique – Part 1/2
Last visited: May 23, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Mount Pleasant/Main Street)
Address: 363 East Broadway
Transit: WB E Broadway FS Prince Edward St
Phone: (604) 876-9919
Price range: $10-20
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 2012
- Chef/owner Kidist Gebremariam
- Ethiopian owned/operated
- Family owned
- African cuisine
- Good for groups/sharing
- Good value
- Vegetarian friendly
- Vegan friendly
- Limited wine/beer list
- Live music on some nights
- Dine in/Take out/Delivery
- 7 days a week 11 am – 12 am
- Mondays open after 5 pm
- Cafe D’Afrique – Part 2/2 (Full post)
**Recommendations: Lamb Stew, Goat Stew, Split Pea Stew. I suggest pre-ordering the off-the-menu “Doro Watt” – Ethiopian spicy chicken stew made with Korerima (Ethiopian black cardamom powder) and topped with hard boiled eggs. I was only notified it was an option after dinner and I would go back to try it.
It is embarrassing how few posts I have for African food, let alone African food in Vancouver. There isn’t much of it to begin with and I have little to compare to. I haven’t been to Africa yet, and I don’t need to to appreciate African cuisine, but it would be nice to have an original reference point. Nonetheless I take for granted living in Vancouver and having the option of even exploring it.
I discovered Cafe D’Afrique back in May when I was trying to find an off-the-beaten-path family owned restaurant rarely talked about. I’ve tried the old Nyala African Cuisine (now closed) and Simba’s Grill, which is African fusion, but in Vancouver I haven’t gone beyond those. I’ve tried African food in other cities, but not enough to feel as though I have a solid understanding of it.
Similar to how Middle Eastern cuisine is given one category in Vancouver, so is African food. Despite there being culinary differences in different regions of Africa, it tends to be all grouped together and put under the same umbrella of “African cuisine”.
Cafe d’Afrique offers food from various parts of Africa including Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa, and they try to stay close to authentic recipes. I wrote about the politics of “authenticity” here, but basically, in the context of Vancouver, this would be considered “authentic” African cuisine.
I am not familiar enough with African food to judge its level of authenticity, but the chef and owner, Kidist Gebremariam, worked for over fifteen years at Nyala African Cuisine before opening Cafe D’Afrique March last year. Nyala was a long standing favourite for African cuisine, but after 20 years it closed late 2011. I went a couple times over 8 years ago and had hit and miss food and poor service, but from what I can recall, it was a more refined and upscale version of Cafe D’Afrique. There are a lot of borrowed items from the Nyala menu, but it is more affordable now, although I can’t speak for any possible changes in quality, portion and flavour.
Cafe D’Afrique is a very casual neighbourhood restaurant. Most people in the area know and love it, but many still have not discovered it, and it blends in on the strip. Besides some African decor, there wasn’t much of an ambiance and it wasn’t busy either, but the family and service was friendly. They have live African music and performers on some nights, so I recommend calling in advance for the entertainment schedule if ambiance is important. I really hope they get busier because the slower business seems to be limiting the potential of their food. I’m no expert in African cuisine, but sometimes you can just tell when things can get better.
It is a small family owned and operated business, and there is only one cook in the kitchen. I don’t doubt their hard work, but it just lacked a bit of passion. I felt for them and I think if it was busier, they could hire more staff and invest more in their menu. Their current standard is good enough to get some repeat customers, but they have more to bring to the table to get the word-of-mouth and line up at the door.
The menu looked extensive with meat, seafood, and lots of vegetarian options, but it actually wasn’t really because most of it was “mix and match” (same sauce, different protein). The variety was limited which usually makes for a more promising menu, but the dishes were quite hit and miss. The subtle flavours and spices could have been intentional, or catered for the clientele, but I considered it mild African food. The desserts were almost all American/Western so I wished they committed more to their African concept, but the rest looked pretty legit.
I still enjoyed the food and it offered excellent value, so mediocre dishes were easily overlooked, but it was the cultural experience that really made it. I strongly recommend coming with a group (minimum 4) because African food is best shared and meant to be enjoyed family style. Without a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes (even the mediocre ones) the meal is unbalanced and a bit flat or repetitive, so I suggest going all out and coming with an adventurous group of eaters. It was something culturally different, fun and unique dining, and with so few African restaurants in the city, I can’t help but to root for them.
On the table:
- Delectable beef or lentil sautéed in spiced butter with onions and green peppers. Lentil $5 Beef $5.50
- Sambussa is an Ethiopian samosa which are traditional during Ramadan and special occasions, although they can be eaten all year as an appetizer.
- In Vancouver we often associate samosas with Indian cuisine, but they exist in many cuisines such as Southeast and Central Asian, Middle Eastern (their supposed origin), Arabian and of course African.
- The sambussas were house made, but I found them pricey considering they were quite small (1-2 bites).
- It was a thin crispy filo, or wonton wrapper, stuffed with a sauteed mix of mainly lentils, and some minced onions and green peppers.
- I don’t think the green peppers are traditional to the recipe and I’m not keen on them in general, but they didn’t play a significant role in these.
- It tasted like lentils wrapped in filo and I was expecting more spices like cumin and perhaps cinnamon and cardamom which can be used in Sambussa recipes.
- Authentically they are quite spicy, but these ones weren’t and the spices were played down and too subtle.
- They served these with a hot chili chutney and a mango (?) chutney that tasted like plum sauce.
- The chutnies seemed pre-made and I was hoping for mint or traditional tamarind chutney, but there could have been more effort in this dish overall.
- Spiced South African sausage sauteed, skewered and grilled with some vegetable friends – a robust mouthful. $5.75
- This is borrowed from the Nyala menu and I’m guessing they are house made, but I’m not sure.
- I found this a bit pricey too, but it was also because it was not very enjoyable.
- The sausage was a bit dry and mildly spiced with cumin and other spices.
- It wasn’t spicy and I found it quite ordinary and it didn’t have char-grilled aroma or flavour.
- They served these with the same chutnies – hot chili chutney and a mango (?) chutney that tasted like plum sauce.
- The chutnies seemed pre-made and I was hoping for a house made condiment to complement.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…
This is how Ethiopian food is traditionally enjoyed and everyone eats from one platter. It was so much more fun to eat with a big group and having 2-3 dishes would not have done the experience justice. Each item was split into two portions with the exception of the Goat Stew in the centre.
The meat and veggie stews were served on top of layers of injera (a spongey sourdough crepe-pancake made from teff flour). The meal is eaten with hands and the injera acts as the utensil to scoop with, much like roti or naan in Indian cuisine. See what everything was in Cafe d’Afrique – Part 2/2!