Sunday, February 07, 2010

Primo post ufficale dal Canada

The first post of 'An Italian in Canada' will be a short visual summary of just a few things that we learned to like here in Montreal. It's winter, so one has to accept it and take the best out of it. For us, this means mostly going ice skating on the very large frozen pond at La Fontaine park, five minutes from our apartment. Here you can see a small part of the pond, right after it snowed, with people skating on the clear paths. Notice the mom skating with her child in the carrier!
Right after it snows, people go out and have fun in the parks. I think I'd love to be a child in Montreal.
Squirrels are fine with the snow as well. However, they are so much thinner than the squirrels in Berkeley!

When it's not terribly cold, we walk around the city. One of our favorite destinations is Mile End, a Jewish area with three main highlights: two bagel factories, open 24 h per day, 7 days/week, and 'Cheskie', one of the best pastry places in town. I will give more details about Cheskie in a later post, when I have some pictures to go with the explanation.

The bagel factories have huge wood ovens where they constantly bake the bagels, after boiling them in water with honey according to the Montreal recipe. It's hard to choose between the two rivals, 'St. Viateur' and 'Fairmount'. They both make amazingly good bagels and tasting them hot right out of the oven is a pleasure, especially after a long walk in the cold. Here is a comparison of their sesame bagels:
(left Fairmount's bagel, right St. Viateur's).
St. Viateur is a bit cheaper and has a smaller selection of flavors. We tend to like the St.Viateur's warm sesame bagels the best, but the Fairmount's 'bleuet' (blueberry) and 'tout garni' (all dressed) are probably our favorite. I will take a picture of these places one of these days.

Another amazing place in Montreal is 'Adonis', a Middle Eastern grocery store that we discovered thanks to a friend of ours. I've been on this planet for more than 30 years, but I had no idea about what Middle Eastern food really is, before going to this store.

For example, here are two shots of their fresh cheese counter. These are some of the harder cheese. The feta section is not pictured, it occupies about the same space on the counter.
That big braided cheese is an unbelievably dense and salty cheese, with herbs in the dough. We still have to figure out how to eat it exactly. For now we have soaked it in water to eliminate some of the salt and then used it on pizza or inside our kofta sandwiches.
These are some of the soft cheeses. The labneh, especially the half goat labneh, is really good and we started using it either with cucumber and mint or just plain during our middle-eastern dinners.

The olive selection is as diverse as the cheese counter (no pic, sorry); the Lebanese and the Sicilian olives are particularly good, and they cost ~$4/lb!

Their meat counter is also amazing. We've been buying ground and whole Quebecois lamb, much better than New-Zealandese lamb, for a very reasonable price. Not to speak about their delicious hallal chickens for ~$6 each, or their merguez, a lamb/beef sausage, spiced with cinnamon and hot spices.

Another amazing discovery for us was the variety of Middle Eastern breads: pita, the one we all know, is really just their most common bread, which they sell for almost nothing ($0.99 for 6 pitas). Then they have long sheets of ~1 cm thick bread from Afghanistan, some discs that are ~1 mm thick and ~1 m wide, soft loaves.. We're trying them all little by little.

The honey and molassas aisle is amazing as well. Did you ever have grape or fig molassas? Or honey from rose flowers? We tried the grape molassas, and I liked it quite a bit. It tastes very grapy indeed. The same is true for their juice section (apricot and pomegranate are the less extravagant. We recently got sour cherry and guava juice). And their halva section sports tubs in all sizes coming from many different countries. So far however our favorite is still the halva we bought a few months ago somewhere else in Montreal, the Jean-Talon market, which will be the subject of a separate post.

If these items still haven't convinced you about the richness of Middle Eastern food, here is what will: their baklava section.When you get to this counter, you understand why Islamic heaven is represented with streams of honey. Piles and piles of at least 20 different types of baklavas, or baklava-like sweets, are showcased attractively.
And the truth is, they are all really, really good. They are surprisingly different, some of them more buttery, some crumbly, some have filaments of sugary crunchy dough around them, some taste more like rose, others have a lemon hint, they can be filled with almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts... Hard to stop pointing at them when we buy them.

So, this is really one of the things that for now make Montreal worth living in: its mulitcultural aspect and the amazing bagels, croissants, breads and donoughts that can be found at each corner. I'll talk about Portoguese and French bakeries in another post. Hopefully we can avoid eating too many of them while we wait for the winter to be over.

Let me finish this post with a comparison of two pictures of parcs close to our apartment: Parc de La Fontaine in January:
And Parc St Louis in November:
Walking through the latter park while going to work used to make me feel so happy, when the trees still had beautiful yellow, green and red leaves! I can't complain, though. I don't mind the snow, and really, it's been a mild winter. Also, I saw beautiful sceneries that I would have never imagined, such as the air filled with ice crystals, all shiny, when it's close to -20C. I can enjoy them provided my eyelashes aren't frozen shut, which sometimes happens because of the humidity freezing between them.


Simona Carini said...

I like looking at photos with snow. I am not sure I would like -20C, but you are right that you see wonderful things in such weather. What an interesting store!

Ferdzy said...

Glad to see you are enjoying your first winter in Canada!

desperate.viz said...

I'd love to visit Canada
and the States, but definitely Canada first!

I just found out your, blog and I added it to my favs!

p.s. the pics of your US to Canada trip are AWESOME
see you soon

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Unknown said...

Looks like you have found some wonderful spots in your new home! Enjoy! And keep posting!