Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mad Search for Berbere

It seemed easy enough to find berbere, the essential spice for our Ethiopian dinner. I'd checked out the Ethiopian Spice Market in Kensington Market in preparation for just such an occasion, delighted to find not only berbere but many of the other ingredients we'd need (turmeric, cardamom, freshly made injera). But alas, on the day I actually needed it, they were sold out. The reason, I was told? An unexpected boost in sales since the last shipment arrived. Apparently they hadn't calculated that with the popularity of Ethiopian food, non-Africans like nodrog would try to make it at home.

What to do?

I quickly moved into "problem solving" mode and started dialing Ethiopian restaurants. "Do you have any berbere?" I asked. Would you sell some to me?" Success on the first try - the woman who answered the phone at Dukem told me she'd set some aside and I could pick it up that evening.

When I walked into the restaurant, I discovered a candle-lit oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Danforth. The woman was nowhere to be found, but her husband seemed familiar with my request and told me he'd sell me some. It felt like a clandestine drug deal, as he handed over a plastic baggy with the bright red powder and I handed over my $10. Within seconds, I was out the door, the goods stashed in my handbag, and boarding the TTC at Donlands.

It all seemed to have gone off without hitch - until nodrog tested a dish with the stuff. "It's been cut with too much salt," he exclaimed, as he sampled a sauce that looked and smelled just right but was way too salty to eat. Back to square one - what to do now?

Well, it turns out that the Ethiopian Spice Market isn't the only place to buy berbere in Kensington Market. Just around the corner, I found dozens of packets of the stuff at the House of Spice...

Crisis averted!

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