Two of my very good friends, Ramona and Joey, live in Montréal, Canada. I recently paid them a visit and discovered what makes Montréal such an attractive place to both visitors and locals alike. Though I had visited this city a few times in the past, it was never long enough to explore or taste the wonderful things it had to offer. This time, however, I took some time to navigate my way through its streets, markets, and restaurants, meeting quite a few people along the way. Even though Montréal is a city of many ethnicities and cultures, it felt overwhelmingly like a slice of old Europe and young America in one place. This time, I was definitely looking at this beautifully colorful city through hungry eyes.
If I am ever asked what Montréal is like, I would definitely say that it is an amazing city, where old streets and architecture meet modern buildings and highways. It is a very lively city filled with a mélange of cultures, cuisines, and architecture. You can find little Italy side by side with little Delhi, which used to be Greek town. I visited little Lebanon, which to my delight, boasted of great restaurants and pâtisseries that served authentically traditional Lebanese fare. I can honestly say that I found some of the best Lebanese food outside of Lebanon and some of the best Italian food that I have had. So many people from all walks of life call Montréal home. This is one of many reasons that the cuisine in Montréal is amazing!
One of my favorite pastry shops in Montréal, Pasticceria Alati-Caserta, a cozy and warm Italian bakery filled with fabulous Italian desserts made freshly every early morning. This is Joey and Ramona’s favorite Italian pâtisserie. Early one morning, Joey took me to Alati-Caserta to sample the wonderful freshly made Italian pastries they had to offer. We were greeted very warmly by one of the beautiful ladies who covers the front of the house, as the intoxicating smell of baking flour and butter filled the shop. I was very impressed with the beautifully decorated pastries. They kindly offered me many samples that included some delicious amaretti cookies; I gladly tasted them. All I have to say is the experience was deliciously wonderful! I am generally not easily impressed with any cannolo, but their cannoli were AMAZING! I loved the crunch of the perfectly fried and crispy cannolo, generously filled with the smoothest ricotta cream with a hint of vanilla or rich chocolate. Their lobster tails were equally as delicious; layers of croissant dough, either stuffed with the same ricotta cream that filled their cannoli or stuffed with fluffy and airy chantilly cream. The choice was up to me … ricotta cream it was. The beautifully decorated cakes, the sweet and heavenly concoctions, I knew then why this pastry shop was always bustling with so many people.
Later that day, I was introduced to one of Montéal’s greatest treasures, and my favorite place to be in that enchanting city, Le Marché Jean Talon. No description from me could adequately explain the perfect farmers market experience that I had that day, but I will attempt it, however impossible. Walking through the marché with Ramona was an experience I will never forget. The freshly picked strawberries and blueberries, the ripe vine and heirloom tomatoes, the intensely purple eggplant, the many types of chilis and haricot verts, the beautifully vibrant French breakfast radishes, the table full of many kinds of wild harvested mushrooms, the crates of exotic squash, all varieties of crunchy and firm apples … I was in heaven, MY heaven. I could not express the level of awe I felt. For the first time in a long time, I was completely overtaken by the beauty, the scents, and the flavors around me! We decided to bring some of that amazing and farm fresh bounty home with us. But first, we needed something else to go with our fresh produce. Our quest continued.
Another part of the marché was populated with small specialty shops and cafés. There was a band playing right in front of the seated patrons, as they sipped their wine and coffee. Close by was a cheese shop beckoning me to enter through its humble doors to sample its rich offerings. Ramona led me to it, Fromagerie Hamel, an amazing cheese shop full of all kinds of cheeses: goat’s milk cheeses, cow’s milk cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses, mixed milk cheeses, soft cheeses, semi-soft cheese, hard cheeses, blue cheeses, pasteurized cheeses, raw cheeses, and the list continues. We sampled a few cheeses being offered by some very kind cheese experts, and elected to purchase some to go with our bountiful fresh produce basket. We decided on three different cheeses, the Papillon Noir Roquefort from France, the Nocciolo from the Piedmont region of Italy, and the Somerdale Aged Champagne Cheddar from the UK.
Back at my friends’ place, we washed and plated the vegetables and fruit we got from the marché. We also made a beautiful cheese plate. The lusciously delicious farm fresh produce awakened all our senses, coupled with the exquisite flavors of the cheeses. The Roquefort was pungent, rich, and memorable; the Nocciolo was very delicate, creamy, and so well balanced; the champagne Cheddar was a softer hard cheese with notes of sweetness coupled with sharpness, yielding quite a mild and harmonious cheddar flavor. Our simple, yet very flavorful meal was exactly what we wanted.
One place Ramona and Joey made sure to take me, before I left their beautiful city was Pâtisserie Amal Bohsali, a Lebanese pastry shop. When I first walked in, all my childhood memories of going to pastry shops in Lebanon with my parents came back to me. The same sweet scents and the same delicious flavors punctuated by orange blossom water with a little rose water and pistachios that made these desserts distinctly Lebanese, flooded my memory with nostalgic euphoria. I wished my parents and husband were with me. I knew my parents would be so happy to see the beautifully made concoctions of their homeland proudly displayed. I knew my husband would have loved trying these flavors he had come to love, since we first met. The kind owners saw my enthusiasm and offered me many samples, which led me to purchase many boxes of Baklava, Ghraybeh, Shaaybiyat, Maamoul, and Mshabbak. Aside from what I purchased, they also had Atayef, Cheese Knafeh, Lebanese Nights, Sfouf, Nammoura, Halawet el Jibn, Aysh el Saraya, znoud el Sit, Awwamat, Maakaroun, and much more. Of course, I took many pictures and forwarded them to my parents. Needless to say, they were very impressed and excited. Since my dad visits Montréal once or twice a year for his speaking engagements, he decided that he must bring my mom with him to enjoy these Lebanese delights.
Days later, as I sat at the airport in Montréal awaiting my Dallas bound plane, I reflected on my entire trip (most of which I did not document in this article). I would easily miss this beautiful and seductive city; I would definitely miss my wonderful friends; and I would truly miss the amazing food and culture that Montréal has to offer its blessed locals and lucky visitors.