We are in Montreal for three days and have two wonderful meals, one at a French restaurant and one at a Basque restaurant. Have you noticed when you travel, that in every country you go to, you look forward to that country’s food – well I do!
In France you long for a wonderful French meal, in Thailand you can’t wait to visit a Thai restaurant, in Italy you crave pasta and pizza, in England you go to the local Indian restaurant. But in Canada there is no such thing as a Canadian restaurant. And for that we should be grateful. Their only claim to culinary fame is poutine which is fast becoming recognised as their national dish. For those of you fortunate enough to not know what poutine is, it is a large bowl of french fries, mixed with something called cheese curds and topped with a thick brown gravy. If you think that doesn’t sound appetising, wait till you see what it looks like.
It was a dish created (if that is the right word) in Montreal fifty years ago. Only the French Canadians would come up with the perfect way to ruin a bowl of crispy french fries.
And what are cheese curds? Montreal produces almost half of the country’s cheddar cheese, a cheese well known everywhere for its flavour. Cheese curds could be described as cheddar cheese before the taste is added to it. Worse yet, if the curds are fresh, they squeak when you bite into them – a phenomenon that, in the view of some upmarket cheese connoisseurs, remains their most appealing characteristic. Actually it is their only characteristic.
Despite this, the dish has grown in popularity, although the rest of the world is taking longer to appreciate the delights of poutine.
Today, the dish can be found across the width of Canada, but the people of Montreal heap scorn, instead of gravy on poutine made anywhere other than in Montreal. It is hard to imagine that poutine could be any less appetizing than it already is.
It is a dish that is particularity associated with late-night eating by young people who have had a lot to drink—either because it acts as a “beer sponge” or because they’re too drunk to know any better.
The pronunciation of the word is also important. Canadians pronounce it “peu-tin” rather than “poo-teen” perhaps because the second pronounciation sounds more like the after effects of eating the dish. But their preferred pronunciation, chosen long before Mr Putin came to power, now has an extremely unfortunate association. This has led to many jokes about the difference between poutine and Putin most of which involve the fact that one is soaked in vodka while the other is not.
There is another culinary delight in Montreal. This one is the famous lunch counter at a place called Wilensky’s.
It is to Wilensky’s that everyone goes for their much heralded hot dog. When ordering you have to decide whether your hot dog is wrapped in the top or the bottom half of an onion roll.
You make your choice known by saying “Give me a top,” or “Give me a bottom” to the counterman. The tops, by the way, have the onions on them; I can’t imagine why anyone would have a bottom.
Our cruise is supposed to leave from Montreal but the day before we are to board the ship we get an email saying that because of local flooding the cruise ship is unable to get under bridges to Montreal and will be departing from a town called Trois Rivieres instead, some 90 miles away.
The cruise line is organising buses to shuttle us to the new departure point. We try and envisage what it would be like to join 1200 unhappy people with their luggage and their complaints all waiting for a bus. Perhaps not the perfect way to start our trip. So we do what we so often do and rent a car and drive ourselves there.
Once out of Montreal the road follows the river to Trois Rivieres, a scenic drive with lots of stops to see the results of the flooding
Meanwhile the question I asked in the previous blog – “Am I too old?” is asked once more, and the answer is definitely not the perfect way to start our trip.