Travelling abroad with East African Cafe

As an international student, I admit it: I miss home cooked food. Trying to replicate my mother’s cooking, and failing (ever so spectacularly), I completely empathize with those individuals who seek a taste of home in a foreign environment. This brings me to East African Cafe in Kitchener, to try a food and culture I’ve never tasted from a place I’ve never been.

East African Cafe is a home away from home for immigrants, evident as soon as you walk in the door. African patrons line the bar, playing cards and looking so obviously at home that it lent itself to the restaurant’s authenticity.

Sitting down, we were greeted by an affable server who, despite his faltering English, was friendly and willing to explain the menu to us. Off his recommendations, our trio opted to share the vegetarian combo, as well as <em>Alicha Tibs</em> (lamb and beef cubes saut&eacute;ed in tomato, onions, and spiced butter), and imported <em>Tusker </em>beer.

Grouped together onto a massive plate with the vegetarian and meat dishes convening into small mounds, it&rsquo;s clear that the meal is meant to be shared. Cutlery isn&rsquo;t even a part of the equation here, as the <em>injera</em> was our new utensil. The injera, a flatbread, is a cross between a crepe and a pancake with our versions being slightly moist and a bit sour towards the finish, presumably because of the yeast used to create it.

Next, as a self-professed carnivore, I found the vegetarian dishes surprisingly satisfying. With differing options there was enough variety to satisfy even the most meat-hardy bacon enthusiast (such as myself).

The dishes all played upon each other nicely, from the <em>Tikil Gomen</em>, a delicately spiced stew of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes that tasted somewhat sweet, to the <em>Misir brsin</em>, split red lentils served in a red pepper sauce with a little bit of a kick. The bitter <em>Hamlie </em>(chopped green kale and Swiss chard) also rounded off the flavour palate.

However, I didn&rsquo;t find the <em>Ater Alicha</em> (yellow split peas) nor the <em>Misir (</em>whole lentils) particularly memorable, but then again, three of six isn&rsquo;t too bad and I wasn&rsquo;t a huge fan of lentils to begin with.

The only bad thing I&rsquo;d say about the vegetarian combo was the house salad, which had no game on the plate against its foreign classmates. A typically overdressed garden salad, it clearly existed to placate the Canadian palate and was therefore largely ignored.

In short, the vegetarian combo in its sheer quality and variety outshone the <em>Alicha Tibs</em>, as the <em>Tibs </em>ended up as a mere supplementary protein. Not to say that it was bad at all; like its companions, it was flavourful with just enough spice, but the lamb itself proved a bit tough to eat, making it clear that vegetarian cuisine is the restaurant&rsquo;s specialty.

Washed down with <em>Tusker</em> beers (an enjoyably smooth and light brew), the meal was a success, with prices being reasonable enough: $15 before you split the combo. Whether you&rsquo;re a newly landed tourist or a returning citizen, the East African Caf&eacute; does its best to make you feel right at home.