After I came back from Edmonton, I wrote their Vietnamese offerings are way better than ones here. In the case of banh mi, while there, I visited and Van Loc and Nhon Hoa (my post here). But now that I am back in Vancouver, I have to live with what we have and back in the search for similar good eats it was. That brought me to that corridor in Kingsway between Frasier Street and Knight Street where you have a huge concentration of Vietnamese shops. And there is Kim Chau Deli, one that lately has been regarded as the place with the best banh mi. And, for good measure (and different eats), I went to Thu Hien Deli, too.
I will take this one out of it right away: Just because we share the same name, there is no preferential treatment for Kim Chau! But, that brings the question of how it was brought to my attention. Well, check this post from Sherman. See, it wasn’t just the banh mi, it is the story behind it. And you thougth The Family Restaurant was “funny”! But, you know what? things like this might have a side entertainment value but, in the end, it is about the food and here is what I ordered.
I went for two of their banh mi – sate (sic?) beef tenderloin sub and their special banh mi. Now, they do not have any seating area. In fact, this isn’t even technically a restaurant, think of it more of a Vietnamese grocery store (and well stocked I must say!). So, to draw a comparison to some of the banh mi shops in Vancouver I referenced in my Edmonton post, I took them home (to cause some transit time degradation) – after I went to Thu Hien that is.
A couple of things is evident out of the gate: The bread looks quite “sturdy” or has a good crust. OK, let me try again: unlike the more rustic version in some places, the bread crust kept its shape even after the internal car shock while I was driving back. That should be a decent indicator of the type of bread used. And then there is the packing. Yup, even after “swinging” the bag and toss it in the car, it just had some wrinkles in the wax paper! Can we say good wrapping job? (On that note, the bread is sliced and toasted before preparing the sub).
Moving to the banh mi itself, the first one is the sate (sic?) beef tenderloin. I will have to admit I wasn’t particularly fan of this one. Hmmmmm…. OK, let me try again: it was a good sub; however, the sate (sic? Sauteed? Satay?) beef had a strange issue. While it was flavourful, it wasn’t necessary a beef taste. In fact, the salty and slightly spicy sauce overpowered the beef. Not necessarily a bad issue just that it could have been any meat! The rest of the sandwich component did complement it: The pickled vegetables provided some good crunchiness and the fish sauce added provided some additional salty/savoury tones. The one component that provided a “good” effect was the mayo. In fact, there was something about that mayo… As in garlic mayo? Missing though was the pate. I guess it wasn’t intended for this sandwich. As an overall package, it was a combination of different flavours and textures that simply worked together. Alas, it felt slightly short in the meat department…
As for the special, it had the requisite cold cuts though not head cheese. Instead, they had something akin to a western type sausage. Pretty much all of what applies to the sate beef tenderloin applies here as well. But, being a different type of meat… In this case, the meat was there but, at the same time, I wished it was more savoury. And, unlike the beef tenderloin, this one had pate but it didn’t shine too much. Now, don’t get me wrong, the combination was good, except that it ain’t better or as good as the ones from Edmonton. In fact, compared to the other shops in Vancouver, it is definitely better, even better than Paris Bakery.
Now, here is the entertainment “side”: As Sherman mentioned, tending the banh mi station might be the “mom” or the “daughter”. If the daughter is there, you will soon find out she is quite chatty. Whether it is the customer or people in the back, it seems she has something to say. Of course, when she saw me there, she just kicked some strange comment as a conversation starter. But there was something I had to ask: is it true that, if her mother was there, only one type of sub was available? Well, actually no. It is not that she will refuse to sell others; rather, it is easier for her to prepare, because she is also taking care of the cash register! Now, this is a nutshell the story but, in between, we did talk about other things!
And here is a bonus of sorts. After I went to Kim Chau, on my way to my car, I stopped at Thu Hien. I could have technically done a banh mi comparison (as they have it); however, it would have been too much. Instead, I ordered banh cuon, something I have ordered previously at Truong Tranh. What is banh cuon? If I were to draw a parallel to Chinese cuisine would make explanation easier: That would be their version of rice noodle roll. How about some visuals?
Yeah, natural sunlight rules! As for the contents, the filling was pork with some mushroom, the plastic bag contains a dipping sauce and the white wrap was fried garlic chips. Was it good? Compared to Cantonese’s rice roll, this one was thinner and the usage of fish sauce/lemon/vinegar in the dipping gave it a different twist compared to soy sauce from the Chinese version. So, if you like the Chinese version, chances are you will like this, specially considering it has a twist. And given it is cheap ($6), I would certainly come back. The only catch is that it might cool down during transit time and its texture might change slightly. Otherwise, worth the drive!