Overall rating: 4 out of 5. FOOD: 4 out of 5. VALUE: 5 out of 5. AMBIANCE: 2.5 out of 5
Just a few minutes off International Avenue (17th Ave. S.E.) is Song Huong, a tucked away restaurant serving specialties from central Vietnam, especially from former imperial city Hue, along with more familiar Vietnamese cuisine like beef noodle soup (pho). Read my Lunch Rush column in Metro Calgary, or continue on for the expanded version.
We started with steamed pork and shrimp tapioca dumplings ($6.25).
The earthy minced pork and shrimp filling was nicely balanced by the gelatinous dough and infused with banana leaf. There are 9, count ‘em, 9 dumplings! For those who eat dim sum, the texture is reminiscent of the a mushier version of har gow, those clear shrimp dumplings you must eat with hot sauce.
We continued with bun bo hue ($6.95), a special noodle soup dish with rounded rice noodles and an orangey broth, typically made with beef bones, lemongrass and chili. The version here is topped with Vietnamese sausage, beef shank and cubes of pig blood jelly (mmm, blood-flavoured jello).
Unlike pho, the bun bo hue comes with shredded iceberg lettuce and purple cabbage (or banana blossom). The sweet and complex broth had overtones that reminded me of lotus root and was mild spice-wise compared to other versions of bun bo hue that can get quite spicy.
The clam rice (com hen $7.25) is amazing. Rice is topped with fried baby clams, fried onions, chili peppers and peanuts and served with a bowl of broth.
There is also shrimp paste for dipping (note: this purple paste has a potent shrimp smell, especially if you’re not accustomed to it). The addictive dish features contrasting textures and simultaneous salty, spicy and sweet flavours that appeal to my bias for bold, complex flavours. My mom says I was born with a palate for foods with hot “chi” which usually means super savoury and deep fried. Healthy, I know. Hence the thing for poutine.
There is a wide selection of Vietnamese drinks too, like sour and salty plum, pennywort and soda egg yolk with condensed milk. Authentic, obviously.
Listen, the value at Song Huong is unbeatable. I hope it stays that way. Being the selfish bitch I am, I am aware of the risk of restaurants hiking prices up once it gets busier with the non-ethnic population at large. That said, it’s a risk I’m obviously willing to take, because the food here is so unique and well executed.
Song Huong; 4-1704 61 Street S.E., Calgary; (403) 313-9509.
Hours of Operation: Wednesday to Monday: 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Tuesday: closed
Price range: ($5.95 Pho Dac Biet to $12.50 Rare beef marinated with lime sauce)
Is this restaurant appropriate for:
Client negotiations: No
Lunch with co-workers: Yes
Social lunch: Yes
Quick solo lunch: Yes
Time in: 12:35 p.m.
Time out: 1:25 p.m.
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