Bagels, Poutine and everything in between
Montreal, with its French heritage and current day multicultural mix, is a food lover’s delight. With that in mind, Montreal’s gift to the world today is food. More specifically: Montreal bagels, smoked meat, and the unique gastronomical delicacy known as poutine.
Montreal bagels, a contribution from our Jewish immigrants, are unbelievably good. So good that we claim them to be the best in the world. So good, that I’ve heard of ex-Montrealers who will go as far as to have them flown in on special order wherever they are. You have to taste one to appreciate how good they are. A combination of just the right texture of chewiness with the generous aroma and taste of wood-fire oven-baked sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Unlike the bagels of other locales which may be uniformly circular cakey or spongey concoctions with or without a hole in the middle, Montreal bagels are hearty and truly satisfying in smell, taste, and appearance. Standing in line at the bagel store is a quintessential Montreal experience and it’s not just for tourists. You start to salivate as you smell the bagels being brought out from the oven and tossed into a pile. As you inch up the line, you watch the bakers expertly roll out the bagel dough under their palms to form each and every unique irregularly-shaped bagel. When you get to your turn and purchase your bagels (I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to buy just one), it would take nerves of steel to not greedily bite into one and experience a hot piece of heaven.
Montrealers generally fall into two distinct camps when it comes to who exactly makes the best Montreal bagel and the leading two contenders are St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel. This can lead to many a lively discussion but the fact remains that we love our bagels!
St. Viateur Bagel
Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, another contribution from our Jewish immigrants, is a meat lover’s mistress. You know you shouldn’t have one but you want one – badly. The possibility of heart congestion following ingestion of this meaty miracle is no deterrent. Montreal smoked meat is not pastrami. It is unique. The meat is delectably tender and juicy and smokey-flavored. Sandwiched between two pieces of rye bread with mustard, it is the stuff that people will literally wait an hour in line for – in Montreal winter weather conditions no less. The place to get smoked meat in Montreal is Schwartz’s delicatessen on St. Laurent. And here’s a tip: order the sandwich “medium” fat, and you’ll get slices with just the right amount of fatty goodness.
Last but not least and perhaps most cherished by Montrealers as uniquely our own, is our national pride – poutine! Poutine is a heart attack in a bowl. But at least you will die happy. It is a combination of French fries and cheese curds all lovingly drenched in hot gravy. The mixture of melted cheese and soggy French fries is a treat that you will see young and old enjoying. But be warned, shoddy substitutions made with mozzarella cheese or any other kind of cheese other than the requisite beloved squeaky melting cheese curds will pale in comparison! Poutine may not be glamorous, it may not even be classy, but it is comfort food and has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that you can’t find anywhere else but here in la belle province. One bite and you will be won over!
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