James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Thick Salvadoran Tortilla is the Only Cure for a Rainy Day in Vancouver

A Thick Salvadoran Tortilla is the Only Cure for a Rainy Day in Vancouver

Pupusas in Vancouver

My elbows are on the table and my chin is in my hands as I watch the traffic crawl bumper-to-bumper through an endless rainstorm. I’m in Duffin’s, a diner of sorts that stands on the corner of one of Vancouver’s busy suburban intersections with only the petrol station opposite to keep it company. I’ve been in Vancouver for four days and it has yet to stop raining.

Several Canadians warned me against moving to Vancouver in October.

“You know that it basically rains every day, right?” they said, eyebrows high.

“I’m from the North of England,” I said, eyebrows low. “I’ll be fine.”

I shift uncomfortably, damp jeans cold against my skin and sticking horribly to the vinyl-covered seat of the window booth I sit in. I didn’t choose this seat for the view, just like I didn’t choose this city for its weather, and I wonder now if I’ve made the wrong decision on both counts.

Duffin’s Diner doesn’t seem to quite know what it is. ‘DONUTS’, said the sign outside but also, ‘TORTA SUBS’, ‘CHINESE FOOD’ and ‘FRITOS’. Laminated photographs of plates of food faded into sepia tones line the walls. With the idea of ordering some kind of safe sandwich and a black coffee, I approach the till and see a handwritten sign taped to the counter. ‘Pupusas,’ it reads. “$2.85 (minimum order two).”

Back at my table I listen to a nearby group of Chinese men argue happily over something and nothing, paper cups of milky coffee and sugar-dusted donuts covering their table. Two police officers come in, awkward in their street armor, and disappointingly ignore the donuts to order two turkey subs. I twist in my seat to glance at the table behind me, where a large Spanish-speaking family tuck into a feast of fried things on paper plates and soft things wrapped in banana leaves.

When my breakfast arrives, I realize I’ve chosen well. A pupusa is a thick tortilla of fried corn batter filled with beans, cheese, and shredded pork. The crispy fried coating of the pupusa splits under the pressure of my plastic knife and piping-hot dough inside bursts out. I scoop some of the surprise side dish of cool, crunchy coleslaw onto my pupusa and add a splash of salsa. It’s not salsa from a jar, the sort you dip Doritos into that always tastes a bit like vinegar; no, this is real salsa, made with sweet tomatoes and smoky chili. I take one bite and I’m the world’s biggest pupusa fan.

I sit back, stuffed at a total cost of $5.70 (Canadian) and look out of the window again. The rain is still going strong but in the morning gloom I can see the reflection of everything happening behind me in the fluorescent strip-lit diner. I might be eating alone but I’m not by myself, and I feel a warmth inside me that isn’t just the heat of that great salsa. Vancouver is going to be great and, no matter what they say, it can’t rain every day. Can it?

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