And Chinese Lanterns, Doughnuts and Cheese
Part 3 of my Trip Across Canada
Teaser Post: A Coast-to-Coast Canadian Adventure!
Montréal! A city that resonates on so many levels for me – for its beautiful old quarter near the docks and quayside, the food (of course), the markets, the architecture and the whole “joie de vivre” experience of being there. After leaving Niagara and Toronto, where I spent a VERY comfortable night in the Delta Toronto Hotel in an upgraded room which had a bath with a view, I flew from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Magicial Montreal in the Canadian province of Quebec. This predominantly French-speaking province in Eastern Canada is connected by the Chemin du Roy highway along the Saint Lawrence River. The city of Montréal is named after Mt. Royal, with a triple-peaked hill at its heart.
I was driven from the airport to my home for the next few days, Hôtel Nelligan, which is charming boutique-hotel, named after Émile Nelligan, Québec’s most celebrated poet. A sophisticated blend of wood and stone created a poetic ambiance in my HUGE room which had a fireplace, seating area, desk, spa bath and shower room. Just a few steps away from the Palais des congrès (Convention Centre) and the Quays of the Old Port, Hôtel Nelligan is within walking distance of Notre-Dame Basilica and the City Centre, meaning I could do most of my exploring by foot.
And so the adventure started as soon as I booked into the hotel; my long-time (on-line) friend Brenda was waiting in reception to show me around “her” Montréal; the first stop was Reuben’s Deli in down-town Montréal, home to the famous Montréal Smoked Meat Sandwich. A Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich, Montreal smoked meat or simply smoked meat in Montreal (French: smoked meat; sometimes viande fumée), is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion. It’s then typically served in light rye bread, with mild (yellow) mustard and a sweet dill pickle.
A Smoked Meat is ordered according to how fatty or lean you want it and are HUGE, so I ordered a “half” sandwich, but you can see how large a normal one is below……
“Lean”: The lean and less flavourful end. Relatively healthful but dry.
“Medium” and “medium fat”: The most popular cuts from the middle of the brisket. Occasionally, a sliced mix of lean and fat meats.
“Old-Fashioned”: A cut between Medium and Fatty and often cut a bit thicker.
“Fat”: From the fat end of the brisket. Fires the fat taste receptors, but may be an acquired taste.
“Speck”: Consists solely of the spiced subcutaneous fat from the whole brisket without meat.
After wandering around the centre of Montréal, Brenda took me to the Montréal Botanical Gardens, by Metro, to see the annual Lantern Festival. From September the 4th to November the 1st (in 2015), the Chinese and Japanese gardens were illuminated with beautiful lanterns and colourful oriental-themed installations, and every day once the sun goes down, the spectacle is simply breathtaking; the entire Chinese gardens look as if they are part of a setting from a magical Oriental fairy-tale, and this light festival is definitely a “must-see” attraction if you are there in the late Autumn.
This year, the carefully crafted lanterns will be telling a new story, as UNESCO has declared 2015 the International Year of Light. The Chinese Garden takes you into the heart of a Zhuang village in Guangxi to celebrate the New Year, along with a lion, cormorant fishermen and glittering fireflies! The glowing displays offer an original and sometimes surprising perspective on the myths surrounding Chinese New Year. I took loads of photos, as you can imagine, and I would now like to take you around this stunning display of lanterns and light.
Next day dawned with an interesting schedule ahead of me; after a tasty breakfast in the hotel, I was whisked off on a half day Food Trip of Montréal with the lovely Melissa from Round Table Tours. Melissa was a walking encyclopaedia of foodie facts about Montréal’s food history and scene, and I was captivated by her tales of the local immigration and settlement time line in the city. Melissa is a certified Montreal Tour Guide and Professional Cook with an Honours degree in Canadian Studies from McGill, and she had an amazing day planned for me…….we started off with a late breakfast at Léché Desserts, which specialises in gourmet doughnuts……I opted for a LEMON MERIGUE doughnut, which was one of the bakeries signature flavours.
Next on the list, was a visit to the famous Marché Jean-Talon – Jean Talon Market. The market is immense with the most amazing array of fresh and preserved produce, cafés, restaurants, book shops, cook shops and it was a riot of colour with tempting aromas luring you into the small side shops at every turn. Melissa took me around the whole market, and we ended up in local speciality co-opertiave store with a beer, wine and cheese tasting session, which ONLY sells cheese made in Quebec, apparently the province offers over 400 varieties!
Smoked Meat was on the menu again, for lunch, and Melissa took me to the world-famous Schwartz’s Deli, which is now co-owned by Celine Dion. Also known as the Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen, it was established in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania. Schwartz’s is the most famous remaining Montreal-style smoked meat restaurant and the restaurant also sells smoked meat by mail order.
We were met by the effervescent general manager, Frank Silva, who when asked why they were so famous, replied “because we are so damn good”! We sat at the bar and ordered our lunch, a half smoked meat for me, medium fat, with dill pickle and a cherry cola, which is the traditional beverage apparently. I was sent on my way with a very special gift, a jar of Schwartz’s Deli Montréal Steak Seasoning, which I absolutely love on all meat and poultry.
It was then my turn to cook, or rather bake, as Melissa bid me farewell and Hugo Leclerc from Tourisme Montréal met me; my task, to make, shape and bake some traditional Montréal Bagels in one of the most famous of Bagel Bakeries, St-Viateur Bagel. Now, I am a BIG fan of bagels, but what is the difference between a Montréal and a New York bagel? The Montreal bagel is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole than a New York bagel, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. It contains malt, egg, and no salt and is boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked, all of which I did! There were sesame, poppy-seed, plain, “all dressed” sesame and poppy-seed, whole-wheat, sea salt and rosemary, multi-grain, cinnamon and raisin and flax bagels on offer.
The bagels were delicious, chewy with a sweet glaze…..as well as selling bagels in St-Viateur Bagel, they also sell all the “fixings” for a quick snack – Lox (Smoked Salmon), Sour Cream, Capers, Pickles, Sliced Onions etc. St-Viateur Bagel has been baking its famous bagels for over 55 years and is proud to be the longest running bagel shop in Montreal, and if like me, you find the history fascinating, then you can read all about it here: About St-Viateur Bagel.
The next day I met the lovely Suzanne Lebrecque from Tourisme Québec for breakfast; we walked from my hotel to a nearby charming cafe, Olive et Gourmando in Saint-Paul Street West, which serves home-baked organic breads, pastries, paninis, brownies and muffins. I opted for the Housemade Ricotta “Sweet”, which comprised house-made ricotta with honey, orange zest, and Maldon salt, served with toast. Fresh and aromatic coffee was served and by 10am the cafe was packed with diners, it was obviously a very popular place. Suzanne was charming and offered lots of ideas about how to fill my free time.
Other treats that I enjoyed whilst in this beautiful and vibrant city was a cookery demonstration with acclaimed local chef Marc-Oliver Eloy of Au Petit Extra Restaurant, dinner in the Ritz Carlton with my friend Brenda and a second trip around the Jean Talon Market, as well as lunch there, where I tried my first Tourtière, a meat pie originating from Quebec, usually made with finely diced pork, veal or beef which is lightly spiced, as well as Poutine, a classic Canadian dish, originating in the province of Quebec, made with French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce – it doesn’t sound very appetising, but it’s really very tasty and quite addictive!
My three days in Montréal were truly wonderful, from meeting an old friend and visiting the Chinese lantern festival to enjoying smoked meat, doughnuts, poutine and wandering around Marché Jean-Talon, it was all that I imagined before I visited this iconic of Canadian cities and more. My next post will be all about the Eastern Townships, Cantons-de-l’Est, where I will visit an Ice Cider orchard, enjoy lunch in one of the Cafés de Village and relax in a Spa Hotel, as well as chat with one of the brothers at Abbaye de St-Benoit-du-Lac. Karen
Disclaimer and thanks:
I was the guest of the Destination Canada, Keep Exploring Canada, Tourisme Montréal and Tourisme Quebec as well as various hotels, provinces and restaurants that I will mention in my individual posts: all my flights, transfers, train journeys, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
This trip could not have been possible without the following people and organisations, as well as others already listed above:
Brenda Mac Mullen Budd
Chef Marc-Oliver Eloy of Au Petit Extra Restaurant
Quick Montréal Fact File:
French is essential, if you don’t speak it, take a phrase book to help you out – most people are bi-lingual, but I found it helped to speak French.
The Metro is very easy to use and you can buy a one, two and three day season ticket for multiple trips.
If travelling in winter when it is bitterly cold, you can shop in the Underground City which connects shopping malls, over 2000 stores, 7 metro stations as well as universities, banks, offices, museums and restaurants.
Download an App to see where the Food Trucks are located for a fun and quick way to eat on the hoof!