Royal Mountain- that’s what Montreal means in French, it being the conjunction of the Middle French words mont (mountain) and real (royal), and so being named after Mont Royal (as it’s now called) which sits in the middle of the city. Granted, Mont Royal is basically a large hill (or 3), rather than a mountain, but it is impressively beautiful rising up out of the modern city.
I found myself traveling to Montreal, Quebec, which I’d wanted to visit for a very long time, to visit a friend. I met Lisa years ago when she came from her native Spain to study at my university. I had just returned from studying abroad in New Zealand and the university asked me to “mentor” incoming foreign students- basically, I needed to show them around, take them to the grocery store, and be their contact if they needed some help. Being the person that I am, I adopted them all! I spent the better part of a year driving what we lovingly deemed “the magic international schoolbus” (my grandmother’s Honda Pilot) around full of girls from various countries: Iceland, Spain, England, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Finland… it was wonderful. I even took them ALL to Thanksgiving dinner with my crazy family. THAT was interesting!
Lisa was one of those girls. She’s from Spain, but her father was an American who grew up in Spain and her mother was a Spaniard who grew up in France- needless to say, she speaks all three languages very well. We became particularly close and she’s been back to visit me many times. My parents adore her and always call her their Spanish daughter (they have an Icelandic daughter, too, but Johanna hasn’t been to visit since she finished studying abroad). Lisa has spent Christmas and/or New Year with me several times and I’ve been meaning to return the favor forever.
Finally, the opportunity presented itself. Lisa is an industrial engineer and has been working for a Spanish firm that builds windfarms. Because of her particular language skills, she’s been working in Montreal for the past 2 years. So, I finally got my act together and headed to Montreal! (I was, however, extremely upset that they didn’t stamp my passport. I mean, what exactly is the point of having it with me if I don’t even get a nifty stamp proving I was there? You can get an “East Germany” stamp at one of the remaining gates in the old Berlin Wall, but I didn’t get one going to Canada!)
We decided that we would do a casual tour of Montreal with particular focus on what we love, and do, best: eating! As you’ve probably gathered if you read this blog, food culture is a very intense passion of mine. And Lisa is Spanish… so she can really eat. Being away from east Tennessee, not particularly known for it’s wide variety of food options, I was extremely happy to immerse myself in the wonderful and varied menus Montreal has to offer. And Lisa is the perfect partner in crime! Our food exploration was extensive, so I will make a list rather than write a long review of each establishment. I promise I’m not a total pig- all of these were shared meals or tasting menus.
les 3 Petits Bouchons (French):
confit de canard (roasted duck *drool*)
rosé veal tartare (first time I’ve had beef in 11 years* and only the second time I’ve had veal, ever, and it was DELISH!)
Kanda Sushi (Japanese):
all you can eat sushi
oh, for the great love of California rolls and crab nigiri
yummy pork dumplings (first time I’ve had pork in 11 years)
Le Nil Bleu (Ethiopian)
Tsebhe Sga (beef in Berber sauce)
Sega Alecha (stewed lamb in green ginger sauce)
Doro Wat (stewed chicken in Berber sauce)
all eaten with injera (this wonderful spongy bread) rather than utensils
Schwartz’s Deli (Hebrew):
a smoked meat sandwich (two words: AHHHHH MAZING!)
D’Arcy McGees in Ottawa, Ontario (Irish):
shepherd’s pie (my fav)
Byblos Le Petit Cafe (Iranian):
a puree of some vegetable that was wonderful- I really wish I knew what it was
a yogurt and eggplant puree
the most amazing “omelet” I’ve ever had (basically pureed eggs, feta, butter, dill and some secrets things)
Casa Galica (Spanish):
Jamon and melon (Serrano ham with cantaloupe- it sounds weird, but it’s spectacular)
Sardinas a la Plancha (grilled sardines)
Paella Catalana (lamb, chicken, mussels, sausage and squids)
Ok, so we did some stuff other than eat. We had to work up to the next meal somehow, right?
I stumbled upon a museum that, strangely enough, bore my last name. That was weird, as my last name is not all that common. And I didn’t realize that there was such a large population of Irish/Scottish immigrants in Montreal.
Lisa and I went for a little hike around Mont Royal. At the top there is an amazing view of the city and the St. Lawrence river. There was some city-wide Indian festival going on, so there were tons of Indian families having picnics and games in the park.
We hung around the Old Port and did a little shopping at the stalls around the square. I bought a lovely set of Asian paintings of a bird on the limb of a cherry tree in bloom.
And one night, for a change of pace and scenery, we drove the 1.5 hours to Ottawa, Ontario, to see a concert. There is nothing between Montreal and Ottawa but beautiful farmland. I would have liked to stop and run around some of those places, but then I would have lied on my customs form when I said I wasn’t going to visit a farm (which is a big no-no, especially since I live on a farm and could be bringing all kinds of god-only-knows with me on my shoes). Ottawa is nice but small. I have to say, the Canadian Parliament building is stunningly beautiful.
And, since Lisa is Spanish, naturally we watched the World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands. I am not particularly a fan of soccer, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to watch this particular game with Lisa. When Spain won (VIVA ESPAÑA!!!) the Spaniards (and a lot of other people) in Montreal went wild! Streets were closed down for impromptu celebrations and it was wonderful. Of course, I told Lisa I’d known they were going to win all along- they owed it to me for watching the game!
But, mostly, it was just nice to visit with a good friend who I wish I got to spend more time with. Oh, yeah, and the food was amazing. Did I mention that yet?
*You’ll notice a lot of meat, especially things I’ve not eaten in years and years. This is because of my Travel Rule #1: Be open to all experiences AND Travel Rule #2: General “life rules” may be broken in the pursuit of cultural enlightenment, enjoyment, or just because it sounds like fun. The “life rule” in question on this one is that I only eat meat if I know where and how it was raised- which means that I don’t eat a lot of meat, in general. No beef or pork since I was 16… until Montreal. Usually there are interesting, cultural food options that don’t entice me to eat beef or pork, but there was too much good stuff I would have been ignoring in Montreal. So I seriously went for it!