I have been coming to Montreal every year since I was two, and over the years I have built a food checklist of things I have to have in this wonderful city in order to feel like the trip was worth it. Most of my mother’s siblings and my grandmother live in Canada and some of these dishes can only be had in the El Tayar Household. If you crave one of them I’m sure my aunt or grandmother would love to have you over. Others are Montreal classics and I have included my list of best places to have them.
In no particular order
My aunt Marie has been making this Salade Russe ever since I can remember. Wikipedia says that The original version of the salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow’s most celebrated restaurants. Olivier’s salad quickly became immensely popular with Hermitage regulars, and became the restaurant’s signature dish. The exact recipe — particularly that of the dressing — was a jealously guarded secret, but it is known that the salad contained grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, and smoked duck, although it is possible that the recipe was varied seasonally.
My Aunt’s recipe is much simpler. It contains diced boiled potatoes, eggs, carrots as well as peas and Tuna in a mayonnaise dressing so light I could eat the entire bowl and still crave more (or is that psychological distortion?). In any case no trip to Canada is complete without Marie’s Salade Russe.
Over the years I have had Poutine in many a place and have found it hard to pick my favorite. I’ll start off by saying I’m a fan of the more traditional poutine. Fries, cheese curds and gravy sauce. I also think the nastier the better. One of my favorite poutines so far, based on taste only, is found at a small diner that is recommended by almost every food blogger in Montreal, Poutine Lafleur. I’m a fan of slightly soggy fries, lots of cheese and a thick, rich gravy and that’s exactly how they make it. The settings however leave to be desired and if you’re looking to satisfy more than just your taste buds I suggest you head straight to the old port and have a poutine at any of the nasty bars that line up the Place Jacques Cartier. Order it with extra cheese and a beer.
The most high end poutine I’ve had was at Au pied de cochon, chef Martin Picard’s Québécois restaurant. Let’s just say the restaurant requires a blogpost all to itself but is famous for a menu that displays a great appreciation for foie gras and meats (stag, pig, duck…) and is single handedly held responsible for bringing quebecer cuisine into the spotlight. Predictably their poutine is foie gras based and their gravy is on the lighter side but the taste is so spot on that I forgave them for veering away from the traditional recipe.
I was introduced to dim sum in Montreal by a longtime friend of mine and it has won him my eternal friendship. My favorite dim sum place is predictably located in chinatown in a dodgy depressing shopping mall. La Maison Kam Fung is always full at lunch time but they will somehow magically find a place for you to sit. Go there with at least a couple of friends so you can taste a greater sample of their yummy treats. I’m personally a fan of the Rice noodle rolls (their texture always make me think of big beautiful belugas), the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (cooked aldente like I like them), the Pork, shrimp and mushroom meatball, and all of their dumplings but most importantly don’t leave the place without having the Water chestnut squares.
There’s just no point in beating around the bush, the best smoked meat in town is at Schwartz’s. There’s a reason this place has been open since 1928 and I order it lean with lots of mustard, fries and one of those delicious garlic flavored pickles I can never seem to find back home.
I have a friend who for the past 10 years has consistently asked me to bring her back some oreos from Montreal whenever I visit and you can laugh at me (and her) all you want, Oreo cookies just dont taste the same in Beirut. So whenever I’m here I love to sit down with a glass of milk, a plateful of oreos, and indulge in my favorite sport: twist cookie, dunk cookie in milk, eat it, lick the cream off the second biscuit, eat second biscuit and take a sip of milk.
Back home I’m known for making a mean hash brown but whenever in north america I prefer to let strangers cook my breakfast for me. In the pat 2 weeks I think I’ve eaten more eggs than I do year-round in Beirut.
I’ve had long debates with my Montreal resident friends over the best brunch in town and I must admit when it comes to brunch my favorite places are the equivalent of Mcdonald’s. Hate me not, I just love a big ass plate with lots of meat, a side of french toast and a plateful of fruit: the american way. So if you hear me head for Chez Cora or Eggspectations, and if you are more like my elitist (Read hipster) Canadian friends you will probably find your calling somewhere on the plateaux, but I can’t help you.
I love coffee. Granted, I hate turkish coffee and my taste buds do not revel in bitterness but I still consider myself to be a good judge of coffee, and although I hear Italy is the place to go, I am flat out impressed by how good coffee in Canada, and north America in general is (if you take Starbucks out of the equation of course). I guess this comes from coffeeshops’ willingness to experiment with brewing methods and temperature as well as their great selections of beans.
One of my favorite places to go in Montreal is a place called Cafe olimpico. Next time you’re in town, grab a cup of your favorite brew and enjoy it in the sun, on one of the benches on their terrasse, and have a thought for poor people like me who have to drink Nescafe everyday.
My grandmother makes the meanest Sfouf in the world (and I have just written down her recipe to share with all of you). Sfouf is a Lebanese dry cake that gets its distinctive yellow color from tumeric, which along with anis gives it its flavor. Some of the best Sfouf is sold in Saida, but as a true Lebanese I prefer the family recipe and my teta (grandmother) always obliges.
North american nouvelle cuisine
Although there are a number of restaurant that are worth the try (Garde manger, Joe beef, La salle a manger) we decided to go for the Montreal classic, Au pied de Cochon. It was my second time there, but with the wisdom of a few extra years I finally had the courage to order the Tete de cochon. Literally a pigs head, baked in the oven for over 45 minutes and brought to the table with great fanfare on a huge wooden slab with a lobster sticking out of its mouth.
A few years ago I would have never been able to swallow even a bite but some part of me now sees it as a noble gesture to eat an animal in its entirety and I surprised myself by finding it truly delicious. We also had the Foie gras Poutine (See above) and a Duck confit (with more foie gras) that was extremely well balanced, and by well balanced I mean cholesterol raising, dripping with fat and truly perfect.
I just love Laura Secord‘s Erable and Praline flavors. If you’re lactose intolerant or don’t like milky ice cream stay away, otherwise you’ll find a Laura Secord in just about any mall and it is truly best enjoyed after a long day of shopping (yet another of my foodie sins).
I know this is technically number 11 but humor me, it’s the latest addition to my checklist. Back home, the closest we get to Japanese cuisine are some of the dishes at Sushi bar and although yummy it is mostly a westernized menu. I went to Imadake, a japanese pub on Saint Catherine’s, with a friend and we had incredible food. We ordered a number of tapas and one of them was simply incredible: the Okonomiyaki with seafood. Wikipedia tells me Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”.
In addition to how wonderful it tastes this japanese pancake is a delight for the eyes. It comes topped with Katsuobushi shavings that are so light they flutter as the pancake liberates heat into the air, making the dish look as if alive.
Their black Sesame ice cream and Green tea pudding are also definitely worth a try if you have an open mind.
If you’ve got a dish to add to this list that I can try next time I’m in Montreal please let me know.