KIM CHAU DELI: LOWERING THE BANH HAMMER
One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking Vietnamese fare is a good ol’ banh mi. Fresh baguette, cold cuts, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, pâté , a little maggi sauce, cucumber and maybe some jalapeno for heat. It’s silly how tasty they can be, and many places still sell them for under $5.00. For years, I defaulted to Ba Le as my go-to place, but that might’ve spoken more to my laziness/unwillingness to find any other places for comparison. But in the interest of venturing away from the tried and true, we started putting feelers out for other places who could also stake their claim as having the best banh mi in town. A must-try suggestion came up for Kim Chau Deli (open since 1986), located on Kingsway and Knight Street.
Being one of the best-known Vietnamese food manufacturers/wholesalers in town, it makes sense that Kim Chau uses some of their own stock to make and sell food to customers. The Kingsway location houses an open food prep area where, on the day we visited, workers were busy preparing betel leaves to make BBQ beef rolls. A pile of freshly deep-fried Vietnamese ham rolls sat behind a glass case next to the cash register. Along the walls, fridges are stuffed full of packaged meat balls, spring rolls, and a variety of other foods ready to be scooped up for someone’s dinner. It may not be the prettiest place, but it’s authentic. Judging from the steady foot traffic in and out of the place, their loyal customers also agree.
So what sets a Kim Chau banh mi apart from the rest? Word on the street was that their bread is bomb. And yes, the bread is very, very good. Want to know how important this is? Try eating a cold Viet sub from T&T – it’s hard but weirdly chewy at the same time. A fresh baguette is a must, and Kim Chau does this right. But the garlic butter mayo they smear on the bread? I want to eat it with a spoon, away from the rest of the kids so I don’t have to share. I won’t go so far as to say it doesn’t matter what else goes into the banh mi, but there’s no arguing that the star ingredient is the mayo. (Here’s a tip: they sell it in little plastic cups at the counter! Happy gorging!). Let’s get into our thoughts beyond the baguette and that sweet, sweet butter mayo. At the time of our visit, they were running a menu of five different banh mis. We ordered all five – you know, because we’re gross.
- The Special Kim Chau Sub (Banh mi dac biet) – $3.75
- Marinated Pork Sub (Banh mi nem nuong) – $4.00
- Vegetarian Sub (Banh mi chay) – $3.75
- Special Roasted Pork Sub (Banh mi ba roi) – $4.00
- Shredded Pork Sub (Banh mi bi) – $4.00
Prices aren’t the lowest in town, but it’s totally within the normal range. I always say it’s a pretty good deal if you can order two of these for the same or less than it would cost to eat a take-out meal at a mall food court.
The Shredded Pork sub was our favourite. I don’t know if it’s because we just had little to no expectations for ol’ #5, but it was damn good. It isn’t exactly packed with meat, but it was actually more of a “less is more” scenario. It was simple and balanced: shredded pork, fatty bits, cilantro, butter mayo. Perfecto.
The Marinated Pork was the consensus 2nd favourite pick. This was despite the sub including something (mutant jalapeno?) that was insanely spicy.
The Special Roasted Pork sub was also good. It comes with pickled veggies, but the lack of meat was more noticeable in this one since the pork wasn’t exactly overpowering.
The Special Kim Chau sub appeared to be their version of the house cold cut banh mi. It was well balanced and contained a reasonable amount of meat to balance out the veggies.
Lastly, the Vegetarian sub was probably our least favourite – not because it was bad, but we were simply tired of chewing at that point. As one might expect, it features plenty of pickled veggies and cilantro, and what I can only assume was vegetarian ham.
Having now sampled literally everything on Kim Chau’s menu, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to why they aren’t more well-known. Its rep is at the “those who know, know” level, but they really should be recognized as one of the best in the city. The prices were right, and you can tell that they know what they’re doing there. The staff were friendly, letting us jam our cameras under their armpits so we could get the right shots. And most importantly, the food is definitely worth writing home about. The lack of seating is a slight bummer, considering how much it would suck if you had to carry your sub out to eat in the rain or cold. But in the end, I keep having stomach rumbles even thinking about how good their subs are. Kim Chau’s banh mi game is just too strong, so rating them anything less than 9 CHOMPS out of 10 would be an injustice. Now go out and get yourself a shredded pork sub with a extra side cup of butter (for dunking). You’ll thank us later.
Kim Chau Deli