by Twyla Campbell, Dan Clapson and Linda Garson
When the temperature begins to drop and drop (and drop), it’s natural for us to scramble to find a restaurant that can keep us warm. Now, all self-respecting restaurants will have the air conditioning systems set to “toasty warm” and fireplaces crackling if applicable, but finding heat on your dinner plate isn’t always so easy.
Dishes that are full of flavour and accompanied by a nice tingle of heat — be it from Thai chilies, scotch bonnet peppers or pili pili sauce — have the kind of superpower that can shake the bone-chilling cold and shivers right out of you. Here are some great places to go in Calgary and Edmonton for a spicy bite to warm you right up!
When visiting a place like the sunny Caribbean and enjoying their vibrant cuisine that’s spiked with the heat of scotch bonnet peppers, the jerk spice is technically more for cooling down (courtesy of the sweating reaction some dishes induce in a person’s body) than it is for keeping you warm.
With that said, Irie is here to comfort us Calgarians when there’s snow on the ground and we’re bundled up from head-to-toe. Pop in for lunch or dinner, and you’ll walk into a small room with the aroma of essential components of tropical cuisine like allspice, cinnamon, cloves and cumin. Sit down and find contentment in the hand-made Jamaican patties filled with anything from spiced ground beef or chicken to a medley of vegetables (these are great taken home and reheated the next day too).
Then there are the big platters of curried goat, braised oxtail and jerk chicken, of course, all with a side of hot rice and beans. Calgary may be the sunniest city in Canada during the winter (that is a fact!), but having Irie serving up made-with-love Caribbean cuisine on the corner of 17th Avenue and 14th Street makes it feel all the warmer.
1431 14 Street SW, Calgary
Yuga is all about choice – there are locations both downtown and in West Springs, and a vast array of authentic dishes to choose from. Think you know what to expect of traditional Indian cuisine? You might be surprised to find a few dishes here that you haven’t yet tried.
At lunch you don’t have to choose – you can try everything on the extensive buffet. If you’re eating at your desk, try a lunch box to go. Fill up your box from the buffet and pay by weight, and look for great value weekday specials at a set price. Eating in, you’ll receive a basket of freshly cooked naan at your table, and it’s complementary to go, too.
Dinner’s where the decisions start. With 20 choices of pakoras, samosas, seekh kababs, tikki and tikka appetizers, you may be full by the main course. But save room for a curry; as well as the meaty variations, Yuga is known for its selection of veggie and house made paneer dishes, as well as 10 rice dishes and 12 different breads!
731 6 Ave SW, Calgary 403-719-8183
120 – 8560 8A Avenue SW, Calgary 587-483-9111
Just 10 minutes east of downtown in Short Pants Plaza, you’ll be transported to the jungles of Africa to experience your own journey of exotic cuisine. You’ll find curries with flavour that, rather than heat, use coconut, tomatoes, and nuts to create the rich sauces for beef, chicken, prawns, goat, and veggies.
But those are by no means not all curries at Safari Grill. There’s a choice of eight different marinades for their tender beef short ribs (try the fusion ribs for sweet and spicy), and mishkaki – skewers of beef, chicken, or prawns marinated in African spices and barbecued – with a quartet of chutneys to cool you down or warm you more.
Don’t miss your chance to devour crispy mogo with your ribs or mishkaki – these deep fried fingers of cassava come with spiced crushed tomatoes or dipped in pili pili sauce, and are completely addictive – fries just won’t be the same again! Wear your animal print top to blend in the decor, relax, and order from a good selection of South African wines and East African beers to enjoy with your meal at Safari Grill.
#100 255 28th Street SE, Calgary
Shanghai 456’s new location in the west end may lack the quirkiness of its former location in an airplane hangar at the now-defunct Edmonton Municipal Airport, but the food still retains the Szechuan character the establishment is known for. Xia long bao fans know this is the place to get the best soup dumplings in the city. Word of advice: bite off a small portion of the dumpling’s tip in order to let the steam escape before popping the hot pork-filled bao in your mouth!
The green beans with XO sauce carry a different warning: be prepared to be addicted to this dish of perfectly cooked beans topped with the legendary umami-packed sauce. The same can be said for the beef wor tip dumplings. Place a double order for snacking later. The service slows down during busy times, but the food makes up for any shortcomings.
14456 118 Avenue NW, Edmonton
Narayanni is the name of the Hindu Goddess of Abundance, appropriate for the abundance of good food that has been served here since 2010 by Daya and Selva Naidoo.
The Naidoos are descendants of East Indian labourers brought to South Africa in the 19th century to work the cane fields. The food they serve is East Indian with South African and European influence: tomato based curries (instead of cream), cooling raita, tart and tangy chutneys, braised kale, and steaming hot roti.
All the dishes are based on the Ayurvedic food philosophy, which revolves around balance through six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. You won’t find any a la carte options here. What you will find is a bountiful buffet full of locally sourced products, conscientiously raised proteins and scores of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. The dishes are free of food colourings, preservatives and MSG, and full of Naidoo family love.
10131 81 Avenue, Edmonton
Making a trip from the city to the ‘burbs just for food isn’t the usual direction of travel when it comes to dining, but Sawaddee in Sherwood Park is definitely worth the trek. Thai food is all about fresh ingredients, intricate preparations and the fundamental pairing of sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy.
The use of fresh herbs results in the food tasting as good as it looks. Try the Chu Chee Goong, shrimp in a warming curry sauce flavoured with lime leaves, and don’t fear the heat: Thai curry is more robust than spicy. Get ready to be addicted to the Gai Hor Bai Toey: fragrant pandan leafwrapped bundles stuffed with chicken marinated in soy sauce, garlic, cilantro, sesame oil, and white pepper. The packets are first steamed, then deep fried and served with a thick soy sauce.
Need a pick-me-up? Go for the Thai version of ‘grandma’s noodle soup’, Tom Yum Goong, a generous helping of shrimp and mushroom in a beautifully balanced, spicy lemongrass broth. One sip, and all is right with the world.
190 664 Wye Road, Sherwood Park