A visit to Montreal

A
Its about ten years since I’d last visited Montreal, my experience was clouded by my memories of a segregated city where two communities were divided by culture and the language they spoke. The French-Canadians resolutely refused to speak English and seemed not even to suffer inarticulate visitors gladly. The Anglophones seemed equally entrenched – it is unlikely to have been so polarized but that was certainly my impression on a brief visit.
Last January I received an invitation from Dr. Michael Kenneally of Concordia University in Montreal, to give the second annual St Patrick Society Lecture in Canadian Irish Studies this fall. This lecture was inaugurated in September 2006 by Dr. Garret Fitzgerald and aims to bring speakers to talk on topics of interest to both the university and wider communities. The Centre for Canadian Irish Studies offers study programmes that focus on the history and culture of Ireland and the experiences of the Irish in Canada. My topic was the History of Irish Food and I also covered the current food scene in Ireland, the emergence of Farmers Markets and the artisan food sector. Michael Kenneally himself originally hails from Youghal where his brother Tom is a vet. I was delighted to accept the invitation and was promised a tour of some of the culinary delights of Montreal including the markets, at their best at this time of year.
On my return visit I was thrilled to discover that the city had completely transformed itself. Montreal is possibly the most bilingual city in the world. The majority of citizens seem equally at home in French or English so many of the barriers seem to have melted away, allowing the inhabitants to come together and embrace each other’s culture – the result is an absolutely extraordinary city which is ‘food mad’. It seems that all the best aspects of the French, English, Italian, West Indian , Greek and Jewish traditions have contributed to make an intriguing melting pot – no wonder the markets are so rich and multi-cultural and the restaurants and cafes so deliciously varied. 
There are two fantastic markets in Montreal, Marché Jean Talon and Marché Atwater.
On my first morning I woke early and took a cab to Marché Atwater the smaller of the two main markets. By 7.30am row upon row of vegetable and fruit stalls were already piled high. Locals were filling their bags and I spotted a couple of local chefs doing their rounds, I was particularly intrigued by the delicious homemade pickles, ketchups and chutneys made by Serge Bourcier. Quebec with its long cold winters has a strong living tradition of preserving summer bounty and the season was in full swing. Everywhere people were carrying huge crates of red peppers and tomatoes to make purees and pickles for their Winter store-cupboard. I also wandered into several of the shops around the periphery of the market. William J Walters freshly made sausages and bacon are legendary among locals and visitors alike, La Fromagerie du Deuxième with its impressive cheese selection is definitely worth a visit also.
Having done my rounds I popped into a Première Moisson for a double expresso and an almond croissant. This small chain of câfe bakeries, the brainchild of the Colpron-Fiset family, is well above average chain quality and having found them I breakfasted in one every morning. Every city should have a Premier-Moisson.
Later I went to the St Denis area to the chic Arthur Quentin (No 3960) kitchen shop – another magnet for the cook is Quincaillerie Dante a hardware shop that sells kitchen gadgets at one side and guns at the other, if you are lucky you may catch one of the owners Elena Faita-Venditelli’s Italian cooking classes. The charming shop and tea room called Au Festin de Babette and offbeat La Witcha which sells fairy dust and herbal tea potions are also worth popping into. I then headed off to Laurier Ave E. to check out an artisan bakery, La Fromentier. They make the best bread in Montreal in a large open bakery with wood burning oven, which shares a space with a charcuterie and cheese shop. (Cheese buffs will also want to visit Yannick Fromagerie d’Exception, 1218 Bernard Street W. to taste cow and goat milk cheeses.)
I also loved two cafes nearby, Byblos and Café des Entretiens, but there’s lots more for foodies on this cool street.
Visitors to Montreal shouldn’t miss Schwartz, a humble café opened as a steakhouse by Romanian immigrant Reuben Schwartz in 1928. You can either eat at one of the communal tables or at the counter. You may have to queue a long time for a famous smoked beef brisket sandwich with mustard on old style rye bread, but both the flavour and atmosphere will be worth it. Don’t ask for lean, it will be too dry, medium is okay, but a toppling sandwich of fat brisket is deliciously, insanely juicy and succulent. Another ‘must not miss’ experience is a Montreal bagel, quite a different animal from the standard bagel. Opinions vary as to which are best but the Fairmont and St Viateur 24 hour neighbouring bakeries are both institutions. The hoops of dough are first boiled, then baked in a wood-fired oven which adds a smoky note to the flavour of the dough – don’t miss the Fairmont onion bagel.
As ever I ran out of mealtimes but greatly enjoyed Alexandre Loiseau’s food at Cocagne on St-Denis Street. He served one of Montreal’s landmark puddings Pouding Chomeur (unemployed man’s pudding) with spice ice-cream and was kind enough to share the recipe with me. Toque! on the edge of Vieux Montreal is a tonier spot where charming Normand Laprise and his team weave their magic with local ingredients in season. I also enjoyed the marginally chaotic Au Pied de Cochon, which was packed and bustling by 6pm. Plum tomatoes were piled high along the counter.
No toques here, the team of young chefs cooked in jeans and baseball hats. Owner Martin Picard is by all accounts a charismatic passionate foodie who has built up an enviable network of local Quebec artisan producers who supply the restaurant with superb meat, vegetables and fruit. The food is robust and gutsy with strong flavours and huge portions. Picard does all his own preserving and pickling and customers can take home either the preserves or the equipment to do it themselves. 
Last but not least you mustn’t leave Montreal without ordering Poutine, a mound of greasy chips sprinkled with cheddar curds doused in thick gravy – doesn’t sound very appetizing but you can’t imagine how good it can taste. It is served in cafes all over town but we were recommended to go to a hip little spot called La Banquise in the Plateau Montreal neighbourhood. I sat at the formica topped tables surrounded by groovy students with dreadlocks, tattoos and many piercings tucking in to the classic poutine. I couldn’t believe I was eating this bizarre concotion, forkful after forkful – I couldn’t resist, it was sooooo good and so cheap, and though its still on my hips three weeks later I don’t regret a single bite!

Tomato Tart

- from “Au Pied du Cochon – The Album”
Serves 6

Pie Dough
225g (8oz) cold butter
275g (10oz/1⅔ cups) all-purpose (plain) flour
70ml (⅓ cup) cold water
1 pinch fine salt


6 fresh ripe tomatoes
300ml (1¼ cups) béchamel sauce
300g (11oz) Gruyere cheese (grated)
5 sprigs fresh thyme (chopped)
Dijon mustard
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper


First make the pastry. Cut the butter into 2cm (1 inch) cubes. Mix the flour, salt and butter together by hand or with a food processor.
Some small pieces of butter, about 3mm (⅛in), should remain in the flour mixture. They will help the pastry cook to perfection.
Add water and form a dough roll without working the pastry too much. Leave to rest in the refrigerator at least 2 hours.


Roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx. 3mm (⅛ in), Cut out 6 rounds of 15cm (6in) in diameter.
Spread 50ml (¼ cup) of cold béchamel sauce onto each pastry round, along with a few dashes of Dijon mustard. Then add 50g (approx. 2oz) of Gruyere cheese.
Cover the tarts with 6 or 7 thin slices of tomato about 3mm (⅛ in) thick. Top with some fresh thyme. Sprinkle with salt.
Cook the tarts in the oven at 200C (400F) for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately.

Bechamel Sauce

1L (1¾ pint/4 cups) cold milk
70g (2¾ oz) butter
70g (2¾ oz) flour
1 pinch nutmeg (grated)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Mix in the flour. Cook over a low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until golden.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the nutmeg and season to taste. Slowly bring to a boil and cook over low heat for approximately 1 minute. 


MAPLE “PUDDING CHÔMEUR”

from Alexandre Loiseau of Cocagne Restaurant
This recipe was written in American measurements which we have converted
1 egg
2¼ tablesp.(3 American tablesp) maple syrup 
10g/½ oz (1 American tablesp) butter, melted
4oz (110g/1 cup) plain flour
Pinch salt
1 heaped dessertspoon (1 American tablesp.) baking powder
1 pinch nutmeg
4fl.oz (125ml/½ cup) milk
7oz (200g/1 cup) maple sugar (you could also use brown sugar here)
12fl.oz (350ml/1½ cups) heavy or whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375˚F. 

Lightly grease a porcelain baking dish (a lasagne type dish would be fine) 30x10x7cm or a square 24x24cm dish., approximately 

Beat together the egg and maple syrup, then blend in the butter. 
In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg, then mix the dry ingredients into the egg mixture alternatively with the milk until you have a smooth batter. Spread evenly into the prepared the baking dish. Whisk together the maple sugar (or brown sugar) and cream, then pour over the batter. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake is firm and golden, and the syrup is thick and bubbly.

Off-to-Bed Butter Cookies

(from Gourmet Magazine)
Crumbly, delicate and glistening with golden sugar, these easy slice-and-bake cookies will quickly become one of your favourite standbys.

Makes about 4 dozen

6oz (175g/1½ cups) plain flour
¼ teasp. salt 
150g (5oz/¾ cup) unsalted butter, softened
100g (3½oz) granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

2 large baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Stir together the flour and sugar in a bowl. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing, and continue to mix until batter just comes together in clumps. Gather clumps to form a dough, then press dough with lightly floured hands into a smooth 1¼ in (3cm) thick log on a very lightly floured work surface. 
Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 5.
Cut chilled log crosswise into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices and arrange slices about ½ inch (1cm) apart on baking sheets. Brush tops of cookies lightly with cream, then sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 12-15 minutes in total.
Cool on sheets on racks.

Note: Dough log can be chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap, up to 3 days or frozen, wrapped in plastic and foil, 1 month (thaw in refrigerator just until dough can be sliced).
Cookies will keep for 4days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Hot Tips 

BIM Seafood Circle – from Tide to Table 
This initiative recognizes and rewards the many shops, supermarkets, pubs and restaurants that push the limits to deliver excellent seafood and service to their customers. When buying fish or eating out look for the Seafood Circle symbol – www.seafoodcircle.ie 

Q82 Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Celebrate their local producers with a Slow Food Dinner Menu designed around their spectacular produce on Wednesday October 17th at 6.30pm for 7pm
Enjoy the feast and meet the producers themselves. 
Booking essential – places limited – Tel Q82 on 058-244555 (quote Slow Food when booking) €55 for 6 courses (excluding wine) €48 for Slow Food members and students.

Cork City becomes a GM-free zone
Minister for Food and Horticulture backs move
Top chefs and restaurants welcome recipe to protect food quality and traditions
The City of Cork is now a GMO-free zone, following a recent motion by Cork City Council which declares the area off-limits to the release of genetically modified seeds and crops. The decision follows similar motions adopted by Bantry and Clonakilty last year.
The Minister of State for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent, said the move will help to protect the economic interest of Ireland’s food and farming future as a clean green GM-free food island.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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