Calgary Noodle Guide: Which Noodle is Which and Where to Get the Best Bowl of It
Consider this is your Asian-noodle primer: a brief taxonomy of what you’re plunging your chopsticks into, along with our picks on where to find the best examples of different noodles.
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What’s that slurping noise? Why, it’s the sound of Calgarians lapping up the latest Asian noodle craze. Last year’s obsession was ramen. Before that it was pho. Even chow mein was the hot new thing in its day, while udon and soba have a quiet, but loyal following. What’s great about noodlemania is that, unlike most food trends that come and go, these come and stay, giving us ever more options for fast, delicious and wallet-conscious meals in a bowl.
(Click on the words below to learn more about each type of noodle.)
photograph by jared sych
Spicy pho satay noodle soup at Pho Dau Bo.
There are few things that can compare to a hearty, steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho that warms you from the inside. Even though this dish — essentially rice noodles in a meat broth — is slightly different everywhere you go, it is always satisfying with its fragrant, rich, umami broth, slick rice noodles and tender slices of beefy goodness.
A good test of a top-notch pho (pronounced “fuh”) starts and ends with the broth. Typically, the savoury taste is a result of simmering yellow onions, ginger, marrow-rich beef bones, beef knuckle, chunks of beef, star anise, cloves, sugar, salt, cinnamon and fish sauce. When made well, the soup is clear and brown, not dark or cloudy. No one flavour should dominate, but they should instead combine in each mouthful.
In pho, the beef can be well done, barely cooked or uncooked, depending on how you order. Most house specials offer the whole shebang — beef balls, beef flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and slices of rare beef — a blend of chewy, fatty, moist and tender textures. The best pho joints give you just the right balance of rice noodles in a piping-hot broth, with the rare beef on top and slightly pink. This way, it remains rare and does not overcook as you stir and mix in garnishes at the table.
Pho is definitely not complete without its toppings. Every restaurant will bring you a plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil, mint, sliced onion, chili peppers and lime wedges to add to taste. These only serve to enhance the already flavour-packed noodle soup. And, while most of us tend to go for the bottles of sweet hoisin sauce and Sriracha hot sauce, make sure to slurp the soup without those punches of added flavour first to get the complexities and taste of the unsauced soup. A good pho will stand alone without all these added ingredients. — Lynda Sea
Our 5 pho picks
Pho Binh Minh
This long-time Forest Lawn favourite gets a stamp of approval from pho-lovers of all ages (mothers and grandmothers alike swear by this place). The must-order is the Binh Minh special noodle soup, loaded with beef slices, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe and beef balls in an aromatic broth. Also, Pho Binh Minh doesn’t skimp on your fresh herbs, lime wedges, bean sprouts and chili peppers.
4710 17 Ave. S.E., 403-235-2521
Pho Dau Bo
This spot in Forest Lawn’s Little Saigon Towne Square strip mall is famous for its spicy pho satay noodle soup. You can choose chicken or beef, but we recommend having the beef satay with its tender slices of meat in the fiery broth. You know it’s hot when you’re simultaneously slurping, sniffling and sweating.
4909 17 Ave. S.E., 403-272-5160
At this Vietnamese restaurant located right off Centre Street the service is very fast, so you’re always guaranteed a table, making it a go-to spot despite the challenging street parking situation. Try the rare beef, flank and tripe (pho tai nam sach), a blend of tender beef and crunchy, chewy tripe in a tasty broth that’s just the right temperature.
1511 Centre B St. N.W., 403-276-7425
Pho Pasteur Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant
At this classic spot in Chinatown,the No.1 pho dac biet is a perfectly balanced mix of steak, well-done beef, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe in a sweet and rich broth. Definitely a hole in the wall, but worth a visit.
207 1 St. S.E., 403-233-0477
This place moved into a new location in 2017 and has the best bun bo hue in Calgary. Unlike traditional pho, bun bo hue has a slightly spicy, sour, sweet and salty lemongrass broth and is made with fermented shrimp paste and a thicker, round rice noodle. Song Huong’s version is the real deal with its pork knuckle, beef slices, Vietnamese ham slices and cubed blood pudding.
8, 2915 19 St. S.E., 403-313-9509
Next up: ramen