Chew on This

5 foods Montreal

August 28th, 2016

From the delicacy of foie gras to the hot mess that is poutine, this town can eat. Favorite foods here are as cosmopolitan as the population, reflecting an amalgam of immigrant heritages. It's -- hey! -- a melting pot. I imagine that the loco moco would be quite happy here.

I spent just a few days in Montreal, and make no claims to being an expert, but I did ask consult several natives about the iconic foods of this city, and some of them were indeed quite expert. Then I made it my mission to taste them all.

Bagels are dumped into these baskets straight from the oven at St-Viateur Bagel in Montreal's Mile End neighborhood.

Bagels are sorted into these baskets straight from the oven at St-Viateur Bagel in Montreal's Mile End neighborhood. You can see them pulled from the oven as you stand in line to order.

  1. A Montreal bagel -- as opposed to a New York bagel -- is thinner, crunchier on the outside, softer on the inside, and sweeter. Among bagel connoisseurs, the relative superiority of either city's bagel is subject to often impassioned debate. I stand firmly on the Canadian side on this one. Both types are boiled, then baked, but the Montreal version is boiled in sweetened water and baked in a wood-fired oven. No salt is used in the dough, which is always hand-rolled (no machines). All this adds up to major differences in taste and texture. Bagels can be found everywhere in the city, but the most acclaimed are from St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmont Bagel, both in the Mile End neighborhood. The favorite flavor, by the way: sesame.
A smoked meat sandwich from a stall in the Jean Talon market.

A smoked meat sandwich from a stall in the Jean Talon market.

2. They call it smoked meat, but it will likely remind you of pastrami. You can get it at food stands, delis and sit-down restaurants in this city, served simply on bread with mustard and a pickle -- although you could skip the carbs and just eat a pile of it plain. Smoked meat is beef brisket that is brined, marinated in a spice blend, smoked and then steamed to tenderness. In preparation it is much like pastrami. Differences in flavoring, smoking methods and time taken for each step, as well as the exact cut of meat, account for the taste variation. Like bagels, smoked meat is a delicious tradition that grew out of Montreal's Jewish heritage.

Portuguese chicken from Piri-Piri.

Portuguese chicken from Piri Piri restaurant.

3. Portuguese chicken a la Montreal is first marinated in a blend of paprika and other spices, then brushed with a spicy sauce made with piri piri, or bird's eye peppers, and, finally, turned on a rotisserie over a coal fire. More piri piri sauce goes on top, if you like. The usual companion is french fries. It's like an extra-extra special rotisserie chicken, with the flavor cooked deep into the meat. Delicious hot or cold.

A foie gras mousse atop toast with pickles is served at Maison Publique, a pub in the Plateau neighborhood.

A foie gras mousse atop toast with pickles is served at Maison Publique, a pub in the Plateau neighborhood.

4. This town is exceptionally big on the French classic of foie gras, with some restaurants that make it a specialty, offering several preparations a night. Especially famous for it: Joe Beef, which offers a Double Down "sandwich" of two deep-fried slabs of foie gras with bacon, cheese and chicken-skin mayonnaise between; and Au Pied de Cochon, where the menu lists 10 foie gras dishes, including "Fg" on burgers, in croquettes and over fries (see poutine, next). In some restaurants it's even merged with desserts.

Fries + gravy + cheese curds = poutine.

Fries + gravy + cheese curds = poutine.

5. Last and by all means least -- poutine. The word is Quebec slang for "mess"; the dish is french fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. Not all poutine is created equal. The cheese is basic -- mild, fresh, unaged cheddar -- but the rest is only as good as the gravy and the quality of the fries.  You can get a basic version like this one from food stands or fast-food restaurants. Fancy restaurants dress it up with special sauces, even foie gras. Take it or leave it, depending on of the depth of your personal culinary mission to pursue the iconic foods of Quebec.

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