When I travel, like many who belong to my young urban and inquisitive generation, I am on the quest for the “authentic” local experience. The wine bar in the small alleyway in Rome where no one speaks English or the ceviche shack in Tulum decked out with plastic Corona-sponsored tables and stray cats salivating under their overflowing of leche de tigre shelters. I remember until today, the 4:00am soup bar in Istanbul that the Kurdish group I befriended during my stay took me to that had me asking myself why I never considered soup a great drunk food. Many cities have their iconic must-try dishes and the locals’ favorite place to get them. Philadelphia has its Cheesesteak, Chicago its deep-dish pizza and Miami its Cuban sandwiches. Montreal has a few.
First off, yes we make Poutine in this city, and great Poutine at that, but the best Poutines are undoubtedly on the side of the road in the countryside where the cheese curds are fresh and the fries, matchstick thin. Poutine is a province of Quebec thing, not a city thing, and, most definitely not a Canadian thing.
Credit for Montreal’s emblematic foods can be handed to the Jews. We have a large Jewish population on this island. Yiddish was the third most spoken language here (after French and English) for a small part of our history. Anyone who grew up here, especially in the Anglophone world was influenced by this culture. Our friends who shared their traditions, expressions and most importantly for me, foods, have made us non-Jews, all, by default, Jew “ish”.
The deli scene here is comparable to that of New York’s or Los Angeles. There is of course our Montreal smoked meat. There was and there will always be. God bless smoked meat. While Katz’s Delicatessen and the younger Schwartz’s Deli attract patrons from every corner of the globe who have each their own preference, their rivalry is nowhere as grand or well supported as the New York bagel versus the Montreal bagel.
As far as I’m concerned, comparison is tough because there are many stark distinctions. The main being; ours are better, hands down. Arrogant, I am not, realist I am. Our bagels are artisanal products, hand made, rolled and tossed in boiling honey water before being crisped in a wood-burning oven. The salt affects the yeast’s fermentation (ours contain no salt) and we end up with a more delicate, almost pretzel-like finish, far less filling and with a lower calorie count than our counterparts from the Big Apple.