Cuisine edition: Quebec of course, being French-ish, has a long and glorious history of fine cuisine, masterfully prepared dishes of exquisite beauty and a general cultural appreciation of fine food that surpasses other, lesser nations. Here, then, are some of said cultural gastronomic treasures.
The first, go-to constituent of traditional cuisine quebecoise is equal to anything the French can muster:
Poutine, as you can perhaps tell, is in fact chips and gravy. You know, like you get in fish and chip shops in the Midlands. The difference is that this is served with cheese curds. I’m not wholly sure what cheese curds are, though I have in mind to ask one of my friends who no doubt makes her own cheese in her spare time. But they taste pretty good, and the alternating feeling of jostling a hot chip around your mouth and occasionally biting onto a cold curd is quite interesting. It’s still chips, cheese and gravy though, whichever way you look at it, but like a Royal with Cheese, poutine is sufficiently popular for the big boys to want to cash in on the action:
Another speciality local to Montreal is viande fumée. In the same smoked, boiled, kosher, Jewish-style beef tradition as from the mighty Brick Lane Bagel Bake, this is essentially the New York-style, thin-sliced pastrami. Even describing it as such is enough to have the viande fumée SWAT team kicking my door in, so I must clarify that it is not the same as New York pastrami, but is of the same tradition, and so a bit different from the vast slabs of thick cut smoked beef served up 24-hours a day in Spitalfields. It’s pretty good; hot, meaty, not greasy (because it’s boiled) but deliciously unctuous, and while technically served as a “sandwich” it arrives as a huge plate of meat with a light dressing of bread. Loads of mustard and a cornichon are essential extras.
This is from Lester’s, a quite up-scale place at the end of my road (everything is quite upscale in Outrement, even the cornershops. It’s full of children’s clothing shops and hasidic Jews too, talk about leaving home to arrive at the same place, but that’s for another post). However, the place to get your smoked meat sandwich is Schwarz’s on St Laurent, which is always packed, often has a queue of 30 or more people lining up down the street, and is so famous it even has a biography:
At lunchtime after college, I like nothing more than to pop into one of the local restaurants where standing is the norm to pick up that great North American staple, the hamburger:
Served with a six-inch-long gherkin, which they call a cornichon – despite not being the delicious, crisp, crunchy, French-style cornichons available in England, that I spend hours searching for fruitlessly in Turkish supermarkets. This restaurant is called Buns, the burgers are $5, delicious, and – read it and weep people – the cheese is free. There’s a girl who works in the Rue St Laurent branch (“Halifax girl”, because she told me she’s from Halifax) who I talk to at the end of every Friday night and who looks more and more miserable each time. I assume this is because summer is over and this means she’ll be going back to Halifax, rather than it being the cumulative effects of talking to me.
From the supermarket:
Everything you heard is true.
Italophiles among you, get your head around this:
Not a pasta style I am familiar with.
And I saw this on St Catherine’s Street, the main drag through down, where office workers need to be fed and fed quickly. Sometimes you just need to eat quicker than the style of food you feel like eating will allow. For these occasions, there is KONOPIZZA:
Cone? Pizza? Konopizza! Simples.
Finally, cliché though it is, I have to mention the tea situation. I walked around the old port a few weeks back on a sunny Friday and stopped off after hours of photographing churches and looking at ruins and bones and stuff for a cup of tea and a sit down. Everyone seemed to be ordering coffees with long and complicated sounding names, but my heart soared when I saw “pot of Earl Grey” on offer. It arrived looking like this:
A bowl. I am expected to drink out of a fucking bowl, and a tiny one at that. Canadians, bless them, have mistaken tea for some kind of romantic or pre-harakiri ritual to be solemnly observed, rather than the life-affirming, loin-strengthening, massive-mug-draining, utterly commonplace and without faff quotidian thing Brits know it to be. Needless to say, it didn’t come with milk either.
The situation in the supermarket is no better:
See how much tea there is? Wrong. NONE OF IT IS TEA. It is all blueberry extract with ylang ylang and bullshit like that. Shelf after shelf of the crap. The only things I could find that remotely looked like tea were the bizarrely named Orange Pekoe Tea (Tetley and Salada), or the equally bizarre Twinings Irish Tea:
So here I am, in the Francophone side of town in a deeply Francophone state, and lo and behold, manufacturers have twigged that perhaps marketing your product as English Breakfast Tea might not be a moneyspinner. But everyone likes the Irish, right? Job done. A mere $4.50 for 20 bags, the swines.
Of course, with one of the highest numbers of restaurants per capita of any city in the world, Montreal also has a boatload of world class, internationally-renowned eateries. None of which I shall be visiting.