One of my favourite meals in Calgary was an assorted sub and an avocado bubble tea. Vietnamese sub shops are everywhere in Calgary, and Viet subs are the perfect street food, especially when accompanied by a bubble tea. When I was introduced to this most excellent sandwich, I figured it was to Calgary what donairs are to Halifax, i.e. the omnipresent quintessence of local identity. But Vietnamese subs, or banh mi (pronounced bin-mee), are not unique to Calgary. They are the result of French colonialism in Vietnam, where baguettes, crepes, and pate are now common foods. It was only a matter of time before people started stuffing Vietnamese ingredients, like cilantro and pickled carrots, into personal sized baguette rolls. Popular Calgary varieties include sate beef, pepper chicken, and assorted Vietnamese cold cut. While banh mi are abundantly popular in Calgary, they can be found in any major city.
Except Halifax – Or so I thought. I was preparing myself to move back to a city that had never known the joys of Vietnamese subs. I was all set to settle for shwarma, to fall for falafel, and daringly eat donair – when Lo and Behold! A Vietnamese sub shop opened in Halifax, fully equipped with bubble tea!
Indochine is Halifax’s only Viet sub shop, which also serves up fusion tacos and bubble tea smoothies. The food is made from scratch, and local ingredients are emphasized. The baguettes are sourced from Local Source bakery, and the pate is from Ratinaud French Cuisine. In true Haligonian style, there is a multigrain option as well as several vegetarian options like buddha (tofu) and veggie meatball. There is even a vegetarian pate. You won’t find that in Calgary! While I don’t find these subs to be precisely authentic, they do hit the spot with local flare and gourmet pizazz. They are adorned with fresh cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon radish, and a signature citrus mayo. Make sure to ask for extra chiles!
My favourite sub from Indochine is the pork meatball, with Ratinaud’s pate. The spiciness of the meatball, the depth of the pate and the crispy tang of the veggies was a flavour explosion. The baguette in the above photo is the organic Local Source baguette that Indochine started using this past January, whereas previously they sourced their bread from 24 Carrots Bakery. The baguettes may not be authentic banh mi, but they still make for a great sandwich. My only complaint is that Indochine doesn’t offer my favourite type of Viet sub: assorted cold cut. Since Indochine takes pride in offering fresh, non-processed product, they do not offer the mystery meat that captured my heart in Calgary.
I got to wondering if there was anywhere else to find banh mi in Halifax…
Then one day I got a tip that there was a Vietnamese sub at the Dartmouth flea market, of all places. Truy Vietnamese Cuisine is an unlikely vendor in the shanty town that is the Harbourview Weekend Market. The subs are not freshly toasted, or even fabulously flavoured. But they are authentic, and they are totally full of assorted cold cuts! The friendly Vietnamese couple behind the operation told me that the wife makes the cold cuts from scratch, as she used to do in Vietnam.
Home-made cold cuts, you say?!
I was very pleased to find this sub, so that I can now fill that banh mi craving when it must be authentic and simple. In fact, this sub is so simple it begs of you to add lots of the provided sriracha and soy sauce. It is otherwise topped with butter and pate.
I continued my search for local banh mi by scouring the menus of Vietnamese restaurants for the off chance that one of them serves the sandwich of my dreams. I found out that Gingergrass serves a banh mi on their weekday lunch menu (M-F, 11:30am-2pm), with a bowl of wonton soup ($7.95). There is only one variety of sub, which is a basic chicken sub with a tasty citrus hoisin sauce. I ordered it spicy and spicy is what I got! Yum! It was almost challenging to eat my soup with my burning tongue. The soup, by the way, was really nice. The sub itself was a little on the small side, but I left satisfied.
I have heard tell that Brooklyn Warehouse and Fid have served their own renditions of banh mi in the past, but as of now this is only a legend. Just for fun, I’ll talk about the banh mi at the Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg, just to show an example of what a gourmet banh mi might look like were one to reappear in Halifax. Salt Shaker Deli has a pork meatball sub with julienne vegetables and sriracha mayo in a split and grilled baguette. As you can see, this is a far cry from the Vietnamese subs I used to enjoy in Calgary. However, it was a very tasty sandwich and gives me hope that Vietnamese subs will one day be more visible in the Halifax sandwich scene. Rumour has it that the chef from Brooklyn Warehouse responsible for their former banh mi menu item is now aboard the Nomad Gourmet food truck… *wink wink, nudge nudge*
In the meantime, I’m a big fan of Indochine and will make occasional trips to the Dartmouth flea market. If anyone out there finds a Viet sub I haven’t discovered, please do bring it to my attention!
My Calgary Vietnamese Sub Recommendations for the Hungry Traveller:
209 1 St SE, (Chinatown), Calgary, AB
4527 8 Ave SE (Forrest Lawn), Calgary, AB
626 17 Avenue SW (Uptown 17th Ave), Calgary, AB
Halifax Banh Mi:
Indochine Banh Mi
1551 South Park St.
Harbourview Weekend Market
42 Canal St.
Gingergrass Thai & Vietnamese Cuisine
1284 Barrington Street
Salt Shaker Deli
124 Montague St