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Guests enjoy various fruits and vegetable samosas at Market Produce

Guests enjoy various fruits and vegetable samosas at Market Produce

While some Calgarians are continuing to frequent the same old restaurants and chain grocery stores, others are finding a new means to expand their culinary horizons.  One method of such gastronomic exploration involves a Saturday afternoon, a classic orange school bus, and the smiling eyes of a bus driver by the name of Rollie.  Rollie Braun is the man behind the wheel of the school bus taking patrons on the Around the World in 35 Blocks bus tour arranged by southeast Calgary’s International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone.

And on a sunny morning in September, he was joined by the BRZ’s Alison Karim-McSwiney to lead a bus load of around 30 hungry food lovers to a number of different ethnic shops and restaurants along International Avenue, also known as 17 Ave. S.E.


The September edition of the monthly tour begins with passengers assembling at Mimo Portuguese Restaurant, 203 -4909, 17 Ave. SE. Tucked just off the main thoroughfare it’s one of many hidden treasures that passersby commuting up the avenue simply would not notice. Ranging in ages and hailing from all parts of Calgary and surrounding area, the crowd sips coffee and munches on fresh pastries while waiting for their fellow tour-goers to trickle in.

“Because our area is so ethnically diverse, we want to celebrate that,” Alison says, telling the group about the BRZ and its revitalization projects in the area (including pedestrian amenities, trees, and solar-powered streetlamps).Then everyone files into the bus, not unlike school children heading out on a much-anticipated field trip.

Food lovers board the bus at the beginning of the tour

Food lovers board the bus at the beginning of the tour

The journey begins as Rollie directs the bus toward Green Cedars Food Mart, a Lebanese market located at 4710, 17 Ave. S.E. Alison tells the group a bit about Lebanese culture and cuisine before the bus stops and everyone files into the shop. Once inside they’re greeted by employees Mike Sarout and Rabab El-Sayed, who have prepared a buffet sample for the hungry crowd.

The table is spread with falafel, two kinds of olives, tabouli, and butter-smooth hummus made fresh in store. After sampling the Middle Eastern treats tour-goers browse the shop’s offerings, then make their way back toward the bus.

Rabab El-Sayed serves traditional Lebanese fare to guests at Green Cedars Food Mart

Rabab El-Sayed serves traditional Lebanese fare to guests at Green Cedars Food Mart

Stop number two is Fassil Ethopian Cuisine, 3608, 17 Ave. S.E. Owned and operated by Moges Aman and his wife Rekiya Desta, the restaurant serves up traditional Ethiopian fare including lamb, fish, spinach and lentils.

Tour patrons Julia Crowe and her mother Jean Auger-Crowe don’t live in the area, but over their plates of hot Ethiopian food agree that International Avenue is a little known treasure, and that the area’s somewhat seedy reputation is unfounded.

“There’s way more culture here than in other areas,” Julia says. Her mother echoes her sentiments, calling the area “endlessly fascinating.”

“What a way to learn; through food,” Jean says. “It’s something we all share.”

The tour rolls on, taking patrons to Hong Kong Market at 3215, 17 Ave. S.E. where they sample Asian cooking and browse the various food items on display. In addition to staples such as rice and juice, the market boasts rarities such as quail eggs, and an entire aisle dedicated to frozen fish.


Erin Woods resident Myrna Holtzman of the Wild Rose Red Hatters social club heard about the tour and suggested the idea to her friends at the club. Clad in shades of red and purple, ten members of the club take in the various tour stops.

“I live a couple blocks from here, and I’ve never been in these stores,” she says. “I’m always busy going by on the way somewhere else. It’s funny how you live right next door to them, and you never stop in. But I’ll be coming back.”

Further tour stops include Illichman’s Sausage Shop, 1840, 36 St. S.E. which specializes in fresh meats and sausages along with dry goods from Germany and around continental Europe. Family owned for over two decades, Dana Meissinger runs the shop along with her son and mother-in-law.

“I tell people when I hire you, you’re part of the family,” she says, underscoring the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere of the shop. Here tour patrons enjoy not only sausages but fresh baked rolls and chocolate-dipped wafers.

Sausages, sauerkraut and biscuits await the palate at Illichmann's Sausage Shop

Sausages, sauerkraut and biscuits await the palate at Illichmann's Sausage Shop

The tour then winds its way to Market Produce, 5315, 17 Ave. S.E. where patrons are treated to aisles of affordable fruits and vegetables before returning to the starting point back at Mimo Portuguese Restaurant. Tour-goers browse the adjacent Portuguese Food & Giftshop before heading back to Mimo where Carla Da Costa and her staff have prepared a pork and mussel casserole to bring the tour to a close.

The food tours run once per month at a cost of $25 per person. To find out more or to reserve a spot, call the International Avenue BRZ at 403.248.7288.

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