As my friend Robert S. recently told me, being in Montreal is like being in an alternate universe. It looks like a North American city, but almost everyone speaks Québécois – a French dialect.
Robert has been imploring me for years to go to Montreal as he knows I am a francophone and love French food and culture. To his delight (and mine), I visited this capital of Quebec in November 2010 with Matthew – an Australian friend who lives in Ottawa. While not exactly French, Montreal comes damn close. In Vieux Montreal (the old city), I felt like I had been transported to a European city. There are cobblestoned streets, beautiful old buildings and churches, public squares, horse-drawn carriages and antique street lamps. It’s quite romantic and must be especially atmospheric in winter when covered in snow.
Outside of old Montreal, it’s a different case. This second largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris, of course) has a modern look and feel. I especially liked the neighborhoods of Mile End, Little Burgundy, Plateau, Outremont, Little Italy and the Village. The Village, also known as the Latin Quarter, is the very impressive gayborhood of Montreal. Montreal easily competes, if not exceeds, New York and San Francisco when it comes to gay life and culture. 99% of the gay bars, clubs, and coffee houses, etc are concentrated on and around St Catherine’s street.
One of my favorite activities in Montreal, other than walking for hours at a time, was exploring the Jean-Talon market and the Italian groceries in Little Italy. After checking out the French cheeses and breads, etc. Matthew and I had lunch at cafe inside the market. I had Tortiere (meat pie) – a typical Québécois dish. While enjoying this dish, Matt and I conversed in French with a nice Québécois couple. I always enjoying talking to the locals to get their take on the local cuisine, etc. After mentioning my desire to have dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, they agreed that it was a must visit.
Some days later, Matt and I dined at Au Pied de Cochon, one of Montreal’s top French restaurants. I told myself I would not leave the city without having a sumptuous meal at this renowned French bistro. This restaurant’s speciality is foie gras and while I am not a huge fan of it (not how it’s processed), I wanted to indulge in this fatty, chock-full-of cholesterol dish as I hadn’t had it in a long time. So, I ordered a beet and goat cheese salad, Poutine au Foie Gras, and a glass of red burgundy from France (of course!). Poutine is perhaps the national dish of Quebec. It’s basically french fries, gravy and cheese curds. Heavy and filling but tasty, I can see why it’s popular in the winter months. My dish was a high-end version of Poutine as it was topped off with a slice of seared foie gras. Suffice it to say, I was in culinary heaven! We topped of the night by having Pudding Chomeur – a white cake covered in a butter, maple syrup and sugar sauce. Heaven!
I visited two museums in Montreal: the Museum of Fine Arts and the Archaeology Museum. The latter was quite impressive and the finest archaeology/history museum I have visited. You begin the tour by watching a film about the history of Montreal in a modern theatre built over an Iroquois and French cemetery. The story is told by a woman who personifies Montreal. After the show, you can descend into the cemetery and walk around the foundations of the old city. After my visit, I ascended the tower, admired the views of Montreal and took photos of Habitat 67 – a modern apartment complex built during the 67 World Expo in Montreal. Afterwards, I had a an excellent three course French lunch at L’Arrivage where I enjoyed a superb glass of white Burgundy wine. What a great day!
Montreal is fun city and I look forward to returning soon. You will find more photos of the city on my photo gallery.