I wanted this experience to be similar to the one’s I had in Europe, and for this reason my friends and I decided to take a bus to Montréal and stay in a hostel. We arrived in Montréal close to midnight on Friday April 27th and immediately checked into the hostel. We had been traveling for over 5 hours and we were exhausted and hungry.
I had traveled to Montréal for academic conferences and for business in the past, and it occurred to me that not once did I take the time to explore this city like a tourist would. So 3 of my friends and I decided to be tourists for one weekend and through this lens took the opportunity to enjoy what Montréal had to offer. The limited amount of time only allowed us a glimpse into this beautiful city, but what we experienced left us craving for more. In this piece I will focus on the food, since as you know, food drives much of my curiosity.
After dropping off our bags and freshening up we walked one block to a restaurant that was open 24hrs. By the time we arrived at the restaurant it was nearly 1:30am. The restaurant was full of patrons and had music blasting to the point that I was not sure if I was in a restaurant or a club. Nevertheless, the smell of grilled meat had me focused on my purpose; food! As I checked out the menu I noticed that most of their combos consisted of a burger although there were a few options of grilled meat with rice and salad. I wanted this latter option but learned that the rice had onions in it. I hate when this happens since I hate onions. So instead I paid the difference and got fries instead of the rice. Two of my friends decided to get a burger and one was not very hungry and only got fries. Sadly I felt deceived by the scent of barbecued meat. Although the food looked good, it bordered on being burnt and somehow it was lacking in taste. I am not sure how BBQ meat can lack in taste, but somehow it did. My portion of meat was quite small and it seemed like 40% of the meat consisted of large pieces of fat. But by this point I was too tired to care and so I removed all the fatty parts and ate the rest.
Breakfast (Brunch) is my favorite meal of the day (especially when it is cooked by someone else). For my first breakfast in Montréal my friends and I decided to try the breakfast at the hostel. We had the option of choosing something off their menu or eat their buffet. The buffet initially appealed to me, until I learned that it did not include eggs or meat. So we decided to order their Montréalais breakfast for $5.95 which included bacon or ham, 2 eggs which I ordered sunny side up, roasted potatoes, a croissant and fruit.
When I received my breakfast it looked pretty on the plate. Everything had its own place and it looked well-balanced.
When I tasted it I was immediately impressed. Though simple, it was perfectly executed. The fruits were cut into perfect slivers, the eggs were cooked just enough that the egg whites were soft and fluffy, but when I cut the yolk with my knife a perfect pool developed around my potatoes just the way I like it (I like to dip my potatoes and toast in the yolk). The potatoes skin was crispy and the inside was soft, the ham, though thin was still very juicy. The 4 of us were in breakfast heaven.
We decided to walk around the Old Town in Montréal and as we walked past this small ice cream shop with a picture of a banana split, I just had to have one! My friends thought I was being crazy since it was 4 degrees and windy, but I had a craving and once I set my mind to something, it is hard for me to turn back. So we walked into this lovely shop and everyone but me ordered something warm (hot chocolate, espresso).
I felt like a 6-year-old again while I waited for my banana split to be made. It was exciting to watch the toppings being placed on each scoop. It felt very nostalgic since I used to get a banana split for my birthday until I turned 8.
Oh boy was I proud of this decision! It tasted incredible! The ice cream was smooth and creamy with just enough hint of vanilla. The toppings were pineapple, strawberries and fudge. One of my friends noted how the pineapple tasted so much better than what she has had in the past because these were natural pieces of pineapple with no sugar or syrup added. So far Montréal had impressed with its simplicity and minimalistic approach to food (I am choosing to ignore our first food experience).
After the incredible nostalgic ice cream moment, we walked further down the street when I noticed a crowd sitting in a patio with music blasting. “What’s going on there?” I asked my friends. “Who the heck is crazy enough to sit in the freezing cold for food? How good could it possibly be?” Well, of course now I HAD to try it! I am a sucker for lines and crowds. I wanted in!
We walked over to investigate and learned that they were selling satay. Specifically, they had 4 options to choose from, and ultimately we decided to get a cucumber salad and a chicken skewer for $2.50 each. Although the skewer tasted great, I still cannot get the spicy peanut sauce out of my mind. I will admit to having licked the container this dipping sauce came in. It was out of this world! Yet another amazing food experience in Montréal. It was worth sitting in the freezing cold while I scraped the last remnants of the peanut sauce.
We knew that we could not leave Montréal without first trying their famous Montréal smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. So we hopped on the metro and headed over there for an early dinner. It turned out that the metro we got off at was not that close to the restaurant, so the walk combined with the long day we already spent walking around the Old Town had us yearning to sit down and enjoy a good meal. But to everyone’s dismay, there was a line.
Normally I would have gotten a little giddy over a line, but damn I was tired! My feet hurt and I just wanted to sit down and sulk. But luckily it only took us about 15 minutes to be seated and we were able to sit at the counter and watch the staff put the food together. We all decided to order the sandwich with fries and coleslaw. When we got our order, it looked simple enough, but I have learned already that in Montréal simple does not mean devoid of taste.
Several of my friends described the meat as “it melts in your mouth.” One of my friends did try to add ketchup to the sandwich and it did make me cringe. “Can I dump a friend for such an atrocity?” I asked our waiter. “I cringed too when I saw him almost add the ketchup,” he said. Overall, the meat was tender with just the right amount of mustard, the fries were fine and the coleslaw a little on the watery side, but I did not mind it. I was disappointed that you had to pay extra for a pickle. Why not throw in the pickle? I only wanted one!
Today was the day to hunt down the best desserts. I love desserts and I especially like pretty looking desserts. My friend and I were on our way to pick up some bagels when we stumbled upon a Première Moisson bakery. We went in and I felt like a kid in a toy store.
All the deserts looked so beautiful! What to choose? I wanted it all! But I was able to choose just three. I honestly cannot remember their names because I made my decision on looks only. Yes, clearly I am vain. My logic is that if it looks good, it must taste good! In this case, my logic was right on the money! I am pretty certain my friend and I moaned when we took our first bite of our first desert and the theme was consistent across the other 2 deserts we chose.
This was an incredible weekend in Montréal that was filled with great adventures, met amazing people, and explored fascinating sites. But most of all, we enjoyed a weekend filled with such mouth-watering food that for this reason alone we are determined to return. The quality of ingredients, the simplicity in its execution, even the knife skills has me enamored with the culinary world in Montréal. Montréal you have my palate hooked and I am coming back for more.
Au revoir et merci!