A warning at the start, this post is about eating, not about cooking. I promise in the next post I’ll be back with a recipe.
Ryan and I recently went to Montreal for a long weekend. It was a wonderful getaway and the perfect mix of site-seeing, taking in a new place, and also sitting around relaxing. As with most vacations, we ate well and tried to seek out popular and local restaurants. I’m a little crazy about this. I read my guidebook and then I constantly talk about what I want to try, until we get to try it. I took pictures of some of our favorite meals and wanted to share in case you ever find yourself in Montreal.
I like taking pictures of food, even if sometimes the pictures come out a little weird. When I came back from my honeymoon a few of my friends teased me about how many pictures I took of the food. At first I was a little embarrassed, but then I realized that food is an important part of the vacation experience (at least for me). We’re tourists in part because we want to learn and experience a culture and life different from our own. As someone who interacts with tourists regularly for work, I’m often asked “what’s a good DC place to eat?” Food can teach us about a place’s traditions and trends. Food can teach about climate. Think of how we associate hearty foods with cold climates. Or oranges with Florida. Or olives with a sunny Mediterranean climate. Food is a part of a place’s identity.
Mostly importantly for me, a picture of food can remind me of the way I felt and the adventures I had. One example is in Turkey, Ryan and I ordered fish and we got the whole fish. The first time, we failed miserably in removing the bones. The second time, I was nervous but determined to get most of the bones out in one swoop. And I was mostly successful, so we took a picture to mark my triumph. Pictures of food remind me of the excitement and anticipation of vacation. I’d also like to note, that when I asked people for recommendations of what to do in Montreal I only got recommendations of what to eat and where. Not one recommendation of what to see! I think that means other people are obsessed with food too. But without further ado, here are four foods/restaurants I think are remarkable in Montreal.
Poutine, from Resto La Banquise
Before we left for Montreal I knew I was going to try to poutine. I first learned about poutine when I was in grad school. I had a friend from Canada who was shocked (and possibly horrified) that none of us had heard of poutine before. Apparently it’s a pretty legit Canadian dish. Poutine is made with french-fries, gravy, and cheese curds. We went to La Banquise on a recommendation from a friend of a friend. We got there and the entrance was filled with about 15 people snaked around in a squished line. It went pretty fast and soon we were seated in their brightly colored and very full dining area.
The menu boasts over 20 different types of poutine. Ryan had his with ground beef, onions, and mushrooms. I had mine with hot dogs. Let me just say, I love hotdogs. Possibly I should be ashamed of that, but I’m not. I will buy a hotdog every chance I get – at the ballgame, from street vendors, at the bar, wherever it’s offered. I love it. But still, I was nervous. Last time I had eaten a hotdog off the bun it had not gone well. On our honeymoon Ryan and I wanted to have a night in and I went to the store and bought what I thought was pepperoni pizza (because I couldn’t read the package and the picture looked like pepperoni). It was HOT DOG PIZZA. It was gross and Ryan and I got sick.
But, La Banquise used to be a popular hot dog stand and so I thought they would know what they were doing. And THEY DID. It was hearty, warm, gooey, and delicious. The fries were crispy and didn’t get soggy. The gravy was so good that if it has been Thanksgiving I would have put it on everything, even the cranberry sauce. And the cheese curds were a little melty and gooey. I loved it and almost ate the whole mound. It was amazing on a cold and windy Montreal day. Seriously, I might try to make this at home next winter.
If you’re a devotee of Manhattan bagels, this isn’t likely to change your life, but it’s worth the try. Montreal bagels are smaller, thinner, and denser than bagels than bagels sold here. I had it with cream cheese, lox, lettuce, tomato, and their special sauce. The bagel was sturdy, filling, and held up well under all those toppings. I really liked it, until I saw Ryan’s breakfast.
While I was eating a bagel, Ryan was eating an out-of-this-world crepe. You know how on menus the pictures almost never look as good as the actual food? This was not one of those times. The picture looked amazing, and the real thing looked just as amazing. The crepe was filled with nutella and fruits like strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and blueberries. It was decadent and I was totally jealous. You can definitely make this at home. It’s not hard at all. Here’s a recipe from Jacques Pepin.
Ingredients – 3/4 cup flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/3 cup cold water, 2 tbsp canola oil
Combine the flour, eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, salt, and sugar. Whisk well. Add remaining milk, water, and oil. Stir well until smooth. Heat a small skillet and butter the pan. Pour about 2-3 tbsp of batter into the pan. Immediately after pouring in the batter, lift the pan and swirl it around so the batter lines the whole bottom of the skillet. The batter can set quickly so you have to be fast moving the batter all around! Cook over medium-high heat for 1 minute, maybe 2 at the max. It should be cooked on one side and can be slightly brown but should not be dark. Flip the crepe over either using a spatula or with an awesome quick flip of the wrist. You’ll probably only need to cook the second side for 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining batter. Butter pan between each crepe.
We also saw macaroon carts all over the place. I had never had one before and was drawn to the beautiful array of colors. I went up to a kiosk in the Underground City Mall (seriously called the Underground City, how cool is that?!) and I asked the vendor what I should get. I was overwhelmed by how pretty they all were and I couldn’t read any of the labels which were printed in French. He pointed one out (unfortunately not colorful) and said it was the most popular and tastes like Ferrero Rocher. Um, sold. Which, if you don’t know what that is it’s a delicious candy that has crunchy hazelnut pieces embedded in silky chocolate. That macaroon did taste just like them – delicious chocolate and hazelnut! It was chewy, soft, and sweet without making my teeth hurt. It was nice introduction to macaroons.
Ryan and I didn’t eat anything maple while in Canada. It’s surprising because it was the only food product I really associated with Canada before our trip. And we saw maple tea and lattes and such, but only in touristy places so we avoided them. But, with our last remaining Canadian coins I bought us some maple cookies for our plane ride home. They were touristy because we bought them in the airport and they were shaped like leaves, but they were surprisingly good. Like maple flavored animal crackers. They were nice, light, and yummy plane food.
Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz’s
Before going to Montreal, everyone Schwartz’s Deli. We walked there and it was a bit of a hike from our hotel and mostly uphill, and then when we arrived there was a long line. We were hungry and tired and hoped the hype was going to be worth it. It was. The place is tiny and different groups get sat together at the same table. The waiters squeeze in between people, and great you with “bonjour, hello,” trying to gauge what language you speak.
Regardless of language, everyone ordered the smoked meat sandwich. There are other things on the menu, but I did not see anything else come out of the kitchen. The sandwich is basically a pastrami type of meat piled high on white bread with a smear of mustard. So simple, and yet so good. The meat was tender but crumbly and fell out of the bread (and my mouth) with each bite. Those fallen pieces were a great delight to pick over once the sandwich was eaten. The sandwich was the highlight of our three-day eating tour of Montreal. We considered getting a third sandwich to share, but decided to make the smart decision and be satisfied with what we’d already eaten. The way I know it was an incredible sandwich was because Ryan asked me to take a picture of him with his sandwich. He doesn’t usually ask for pictures so I knew we had a winner. If you’re ever in Montreal go here. It’s cheap, the line moves fast, and the food hits the spot.
Our trip to Montreal was great. We saw beautiful churches, watched curling on t.v., wandered the old city streets, and ate really well. During the trip, after all this talk of food, I asked Ryan to name his favorite meal he’d had on vacation. It ended up being a lengthy conversation and we couldn’t pick just one thing. We laughed, remembered forgotten experiences, and salivated over delicious meals of the past.
What’s your favorite vacation meal?