September 08, 2004

Montreal Smoked Meat

Summer slips away quick, it never quite showed its hot face this year anyway. Today we started a full phase change, and Montreal, we scramble to capture in words before the memories slip away.

The first time I visited I left blindsided. A new yorkers natural superiority complex was blown away, here was a city in America (sort of) with more history, deeper culture, closer to Europe. I did not know this existed, although now its clear these cities are multitude, anywhere the Catholics conquestadored they left an etched history that leaves the protestant work ethic in deep doubt.

That first trip was a wirlwind, conference, wander the streets, post conference party, good bye. I had to return, and after much delay I arrived in the good hands of tobias c. van Veen. A week is never enough to learn a city, but this time at least I could take a taste away, not just an impression.

And yes what wonderful tastes. Raw milk cheeses, layered microbrews, French pasteries, old school bagels, poutine and smoked meat. Don't tell the Montealers but their 'smoked meat' is not similar to pastrami, it is pastrami. But damn its good, subtler then New York's bold versions, and quite honestly if you factor in the plague of tourist prices and overstuffed sandwiches that infests NY remaining pastrami masters, then Montreal's Schwartz's is actually a better all round experience.

The true Québécois culinary experience though is the poutine, a dish with close to no peer in the heart attack department (except perhaps frito pie). French fries topped in cheese curds and gravy. Far better then it sounds. I sort of ruined it all by starting with the haute cuisine version, poutine with foie gras (warning, awful website, great food). All comfortably housed in restaurant on the cusp on the next stage of 80's revival, Tibor Kalman/M&Co. yuppie humor...

tobias is of the opinion that Montreal never quite dug itself out of the 80's in the first place, but I'm not quite convinced. There is an other energy to the city, one perhaps akin to pre dot com San Francisco. If SF had a breed of French refinement and vicious colonial streak... This a city the French populated by fur trappers, mercenaries and branded whores. There is a channel to European culture that gives Montreal its glamour, and then a brutal reminder of the deep violence that underseats that culture.

What's new (and perhaps fleeing) Montreal is the creative charge. Like San Francisco the city is open to new ideas, quality control optional. Unlike San Francisco though the city is cheap. Dirt cheap lofts sit a 15 minute walk from the prime central streets. Apparently at -40 below this hood is way to far from public transit. But then again the whole city apparently hibernates for 5 months. I don't anticipate a winter visit. Come next summer though...

Posted by Abe at September 8, 2004 12:34 PM


Great commentary, and very interesting to me. I've recently moved to Montreal parttime and have been blogging about it (and the differences with the US) a lot. The only other North American city I'd consider living in, if I could affod it, is New York. And, hey, Montreal's not THAT bad in the winter - poutine was invented for a reason!

beth -- Montreal is hell in the winter. I go to NYC to flee. Better, I exercise my Commie right as a Canchun and go to CUBA.

It only really sinks in what hell it is at the tail-end of your second summer, anticipating 7 months of SNOW.

Abe -- I didn't know you were at DECLARATIONS. Michael Longford was partially involved with that. I'm working with him on the MDCN (Mobile Digital Commons Network).

cheers + you are always welcome .. tobias

knew that name was familiar from someplace, should have been able to figure it out given it was the only other time I visited...

Abe, no wonder you go for Montreal. This was not your second visit, but your third. You were there in utero.
Love, Mom

Abe, no wonder you go for Montreal. This was not your second visit, but your third. You were there in utero.
Love, Mom

Hey Abe, glad to hear you enjoyed your "third" visit, sad that I missed you, being here in London town. I have a feeling I'll see you there again at some point though.

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I was born and grew up in Montreal.

I lived in various areas in and around the city... Verdun, Cote des Neiges, St, Laurent, the west island, etc.

Montrealers do NOT hibernate in winter... we live in an underground city connected by Metro. Lots of shopping, stores, meeting places, Place des Arts, CEGEPS, Universities, restaurants, churches, cathedrals... you name it. We meet at each other's places for what else? Food ! All different kinds. Our friends and their ancestors come from all over the world. They bring their culinary expertise with them. We also have great winter activities... Downhill and Cross country skiing, with night-time skiing with lanterns, skating rinks everywhere but the most memorable one is on Beaver lake at the top of Mount Royal right in the middle of the city. It is the mouth of a crater of a dormant volcano. We also have many winter carnivals, again a very memorable one Carnaval du Québec. It is a quick 2 hour train or bus or car ride into Quebec city.

Downtown Montreal, St. Catherine Street, St. Denis St. so many stores and boutiques, and at night, so many Boîtes à chanson, bars, movie theatres, art centres, conference centres, music, stage, motorcycle shows, festival of lights, Geeze... it just goes on and on.

We have awesome libraries and museums with special international exhibits.

Montreal is alive and kicking... any time of the year. Get involved... It's such an amazing place. There is no other. Get out there and explore it all!!! You won't be disappointed.

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