There is nothing more satisfying than stumbling upon a little restaurant in an unexpected location that ends up blowing your socks off. We are lucky in Calgary to have so many great Asian restaurants, from the big to the small, the well known to the lesser-so.
If you can’t quite get enough robust, exotic flavours and are always up for discovering something new, take our little quiz below to find out which Asian eatery you should try out for lunch or dinner this month.
1. When it comes to heat levels, I like my food…
a) nice and spicy. Bring on the burn!
b) nice and hot, but I hope you mean temperature. No chillies for me!
c) with a little kick to it. Nothing too crazy though.
2. I find myself craving Asian food…
a) after a long day at work.
b) when I want something comforting, but different.
c) all day, every day. Especially Korean!
3. If I had to pick one dish to eat for the rest of my life, it would be…
a) anything with chilli peppers.
b) momo for me!
4. When I’m eating Asian cuisine, it’s typically…
a) out at a restaurant with some friends.
b) at home, I usually order to go.
c) depends on the time of day and what I’m craving.
5. The location of a restaurant in proximity to where I live is…
a) irrelevant. I am willing to drive anywhere for good food.
b) somewhat important, and parking would be nice.
c) I live in the Beltline and don’t like to drive, so somewhere close is better.
6. If there isn’t a noodle bowl or similar facsimile on the menu, I feel…
a) happy. Those aren’t always overly exciting.
b) indifferent. Rice will do!
c) so, so sad. I always pray it doesn’t happen.
7. How many people do you usually go out to eat with?
a) 6 or more.
b) no more than 4.
c) I usually eat alone. It’s not as lonely as it sounds though.
8. After looking at the menu, I typically go for…
a) a mix of dishes with a couple things I haven’t tried before.
b) anything that sounds delicious, I don’t play favourites.
c) I like the classics or menu items that are tried and true to my tastebuds.
“I’ll have the stir-fried rice noodles with beef,” you say with confidence. You go for Chinese food all the time, and you may even go for dim sum once in awhile; so surely, you know what you’re doing when faced with the menu at a Chinese restaurant. Well, this isn’t just a Chinese restaurant; this is a Szechuan (or Sichuan) restaurant, aptly named Szechuan Restaurant.
Most of what people understand as Chinese food – wor wonton with noodles, chow mein, roasted meats – is Cantonese cuisine that originated from the Guangdong region of China. Szechuan cuisine, unsurprisingly, hails from the Sichuan province and is markedly bolder, and sometimes even painfully spicy in flavour, with extensive use of garlic, peppercorns, chillies, and other pungent spices.
If you can take the heat, start the meal with the cold spicy bean jelly curd, then move onto spicy boiled basa, and the fried chicken with dried chilli peppers. If not, opt for the tea-smoked duck, eggplant in sour-sweet sauce with ground pork, and the mapo tofu. It’s usually a good idea to have one or two spicy dishes and have keep the rest mild. You’ll also want to order rice to neutralize the big flavours and to tame the fires of hell on your palate.
320 16 Ave NW, 403-276-8876, szechuanrestaurant.ca
Everything about the Himalayan is warm – the décor and ambience; the welcome (be sure to make reservations, or you might not get a table!); the service (if you’re lucky and they’re not rushed off their feet, a little surprise arrives of poppadom with mango-ginger and mint-yogurt dipping sauces.) And of course the food is warming too, but not particularly spicy-hot unless you choose it to be – just about every dish has a choice of mild, medium or hot.
Nepalese dishes are healthy, maybe more than some other South Asian cuisines, as they rely less on fats and more on lean meats, vegetables, lentils, rice (and rice flour for noodles), and if you’re vegetarian or eat a gluten-free cadiet, The Himalayan is a godsend, as you’ll have a ton of choices from the regular menu! The staple diet is Dal, Bhat and Tarkari – lentils, rice and curried vegetables to you and me.
Be sure to start with a Momo, hands-down a Nepalese favourite. They’re filled, steamed chicken, pork or veggie dumplings, accompanied by a delicious tomato garlic dipping sauce. Mains come with saffron rice, grilled bread and a side, so you won’t leave here hungry – and you won’t have had to climb Everest to enjoy it!
3218 17 Ave SW, 403-984-3384 himalayancuisine.ca
Bow Bulgogi House
It’s almost a given that you’ll be waiting for a table any time you visit Bow Bulgogi’s small and unassuming location in Killarney. This popular family-run restaurant has been a long-time favourite for Calgarians to eat in or take out traditional Korean dishes like bulgogi (marinated meat), jap chae (sweet potato noodles), and bibimbap (rice, meat and vegetable bowl).
Known for its value and friendly service, Bow Bulgogi is a no-frills place where the Korean-style barbecue dishes are expertly done in the back kitchen and brought out, rather than cooked tableside. Arguably the most popular dish on the menu here is the classic beef bulgogi — sweet, juicy thinly sliced beef marinated in soy, sesame, oil, garlic and ginger and served on a hot cast-iron plate with lettuce, rice, mushrooms and a red soybean sauce.
Don’t miss the pha jeon, a light and perfectly crispy fried seafood and green onion pancake packed with shrimp, scallops, octopus and green onions. You also can’t go wrong with the melt-in-your mouth and off-the-bone short ribs of the L.A. bulgalbi dish. Add in the plentiful portions of banchan (side dishes) of pickled daikon, fried tofu, bean sprouts, and homemade kimchi and you have the makings of a small feast. Open for lunch and dinner weekly, closed Tuesdays.
3515A 17 Ave. SW, 403-686-6826
(mix of As, Bs and Cs)
It’s been quite some time since I’ve been as charmed by a little restaurant as much as I have by Tamarind. You’ll find this true culinary gem in the southwest corner of Calgary’s downtown. It brands itself as a Vietnamese restaurant, but its menu offers much more than that. There’s truly a nice mix of Southeast Asian cuisine.
From the fresh paradise rolls that are loaded (and I mean loaded) with fresh herbs, noodles, shredded tofu, toasted rice, carrots and lettuce served with a chilli lime vinaigrette for dipping, to their big bowls of soup like the laksa with it’s rich and fragrant lemongrass coconut broth, or the stir-fries starring ingredients like juicy black pepper eggplant, or sizzling, crispy patties of sticky rice, you may be shocked to find out that the restaurant is completely vegan.
The space itself is very small, seating about 18 people, so it can fill up quickly for lunch, but it’s a little slower in the evenings, and naturally, Tamarind will happily take to-go orders. Leave whatever pretences you have about vegan cuisine at the door before walking in here because there’s no way you’re going to walk out after your meal feeling anything, but impressed and happily full.
1111 6 Ave SW, 403-262-6644 tamarindyyc.com