Calgary’s Chinatown – Thi-Thi Vietnamese Submarine, Diamond Bakery, & Pho Pasteur Saigon
After our lunch at Shikiji, we checked into the Delta in downtown and started our walking adventure. A few tasks were at hand: to get the prized Vietnamese submarines (bánh mì) from Thi-Thi to bring back home to my parents as requested and to try the best egg tarts in Calgary, aptly named and recommended by my coworker, a well-seasoned eater, especially in Chinese cuisine. We even managed to squeeze in an early dinner at Pho Pasteur Saigon! All within a 3-block radius, Calgary’s Chinatown in the downtown area is a snacking haven. That is, if you can find parking. And can afford it. With Calgary’s ridiculous parking rates, it would be wise to book a hotel in downtown and walk to your destinations.
Now, the problem with Thi-Thi is that it is never open on Sunday. This poses difficult when I want fresh Vietnamese submarines to bring back home and the end of the weekend is always… Sunday. Feeling determined to get the glorified sandwiches, I picked them up that Saturday and stuck them in the fridge at our hotel. Something about their subs attracts Viet sub lovers far and wide. (There was a B.C. couple behind us looking curiously at the menu). Perhaps it’s the spicy beef or chicken saté that makes the place thrive, something a little different from the usual cold cut sandwich. While waiting, we overheard many phone orders of 10+ subs, not to mention a line waiting right out the door. I can’t even imagine what this place pushes out during a lunch on business days. If ordering in large quantities, I highly recommend calling in advance to avoid waiting. Our order of 3 beef satés and 2 assorted cold cuts took some time to make but they made each sandwich with as much quality as the first and last of the day. They also placed large amounts of vegetables on the side for us to add on and the baguettes were left un-toasted for take out. Banh Mi Thi Thi is a family owned shop and it was nice to see them run the small interior like a well-oiled machine, calling orders to each other in rapid Vietnamese. At roughly $6.50 a pop (standard fare is $3.50 – $5 usually), these sandwiches are well worth it!
Here are the sandwiches (or my portion, really… I had to fight for my third of the sandwich with my parents) with the added vegetables once I got back home! The beef saté is spicy so watch out! I liked the slice of cheese added to it, something that isn’t typically done on a Vietnamese sub. Their cold cut sandwich isn’t anything unique to what we have here in Edmonton but delicious nevertheless!Thi Thi Vietnamese Submarine
209 1 St SE
Sometimes it’s hard to discover new places to try, especially hole-in-the-wall places, unless you hear it from locals. My co-worker, who frequents Calgary quite regularly, recommended us to go to Diamond Bakery, a Chinese pastry shop, in the basement of the HSBC strip mall. Underground, you’ll find shops selling Chinese herbs and teas, travel agencies, and jewelry shops. Nestled in the corner unit, Diamond Bakery stood out like a gold gem.
Lined up in the back are assorted buns, each looking fluffy and fresh. Waiting to be eaten, the egg tarts and almond cookies line the glass display cases. After ordering an egg tart, the kind shop owner yelled out in broken English, “Number 1!” I would have agreed, except he was pointing to the tray of coconut buns behind him. I replied, “I thought the egg tarts were number 1?” to which he laughed and said, “Those too! Number 1!” With such enthusiasm for his #1 products, we bought a coconut bun as well. The egg tarts were very light, not as greasy as the dim sum ones, and the tart itself was nice and flaky. I prefer the Portuguese styled egg tarts personally, but I can see why my co-worker called these the best egg tarts in Calgary. The coconut bun was a winner in my books. #1 indeed! The dough was fluffy and the coconut filling was just right, not overly sweetened. It’ll be hard to go back to the T&T Supermarket buns after this but I will have no choice. If you’re looking for Chinese pastries in Calgary, be sure to visit Diamond Bakery!Diamond Bakery
111 3 Ave SE
After some shopping in the downtown area and a quick nap, we were hungry for our first dinner of the night (explanation to come in the next post!). Joe’s love for all things in soup form led him craving a bowl of “bún bò Huế”, a spicy beef noodle soup from the central region of Vietnam. With Pho Pasteur Saigon right next to Banh Mi Thi-Thi, we figured to go there. I had been to Phở Pasteur before with my parents on day trips to Calgary as a child. As one of the better phở restaurants to eat, I was excited to share it with Joe. We arrived only 30 minutes before closing but this was fine, as sometimes phở can be served quicker than a McDonald’s burger! Unfortunately, they did not have bún bò Huế, and Joe had to make do with a phở dish.
I like phở better than bún bò Huế and happily ordered a small bowl of phở tái nạm (rare eye round steak and well-done flank steak). I’ll have to do a post purely on phở one day to elaborate on the different types of meat cuts you can order. Being Vietnamese, I would like to think that I know what makes a good broth: clear, rich in flavor with a nice balance of fat and salt. Noodles need to be fresh, not dried (think of fresh pasta vs. dry pasta), lots of thinly sliced cuts of beef garnished with green and white onions (no cilantro please!), and a fresh plate of assorted vegetables (traditionally, bean sprouts, mint leaves, and chilies). With all criteria met, my stomach was happily filled. With such a great location, if you’re ever in Calgary’s Chinatown during the cold months, be sure to make a stop here for lunch and order a bowl of hot soup!Pho Pasteur Saigon
207 1St SE