Earlier this year, Bambu Dessert and Drinks took over the old Mango Mania location on Centre Street and in a relatively short time, has already built a fanbase for its unique menu of Vietnamese chè dessert drinks. Traditionally, chè is a sweet beverage, dessert soup or pudding and can be made hot or cold with everything from grass jelly and Asian fruits to beans, pulses, rice and grains in them.
“Chè is like a Vietnamese soup dessert,” says Vincent Chau, one of Bambu’s co-owners. “It revolves around coconut milk and very fresh ingredients like fruits and beans. It’s more of a wholesome dessert.”
Bambu was originally started in 2008 by four Vietnamese sisters in San Jose, California and is now a franchise with locations all across the United States and Canada. Chau first encountered it in Houston four years ago and decided to open Calgary’s Bambu with friends and business partners David Fung, Donald Chung and Mike Lai.
“We just really, really liked the product and we wanted this to be in Calgary,” says Chau, who is lactose-intolerant. Vegan-friendly and gluten- and dairy-free, Bambu’s chè is made from scratch using fresh ingredients; even the jelly toppings are made from plant-based agar agar instead of gelatin.
Fruit Addict ($7.50, one size only) is one of Bambu’s top sellers — a tropical coconut milk drink loaded with longan, lychee, jackfruit and palm seeds with red tapioca, agar agar jello, pandan jelly and topped with coconut meat and shaved ice. The red tapioca is delightfully chewy and crunchy pearls made from sliced water chestnuts and the palm seeds resembles translucent, oversized jelly beans that have a unique texture.
Chau says they go through upwards of 30 whole young coconuts a day prepping drinks. “It’s a very labour intensive piece because you have to open every coconut by yourself and you have to take a spoon and you have to scrape all the meat out.”
Making the pandan jelly — a star ingredient in most of the chè drinks here — is a five-hour process. “The pandan leaf is a big long herb we cut in half, chop it up into parts and make our own extract out of it,” Chau says. Once cut, it’s blended into a puree, boiled down and tapioca starch is added, making a green ball of dough that’s proofed in advanced and when ready, rolled out and put through a paster cutter to get the thin strands of green jelly.
“I like to joke that we actually started a bakery because on a weekly basis, we probably process over 150 pounds of tapioca starch and tapioca and make the dough,” laughs Chau. “Everything is very fresh and flavourful — it’s very different from bubble tea because it has a lot of nutritional elements to it.”
1115 Centre St. N.W., 403-457-8897, facebook.com/bambu.yyc