After a few great weeks of running around Ontario, we downloaded some ‘learn French’ podcasts and turned the car towards Quebec. While we didn’t complete a single podcast (we would have had to actually start one to do so....the shame!), we did scrape together enough French to make it through.
“Deux bagels avec sesame, s'il vous plaît.”
“Deux croissants aux amande, s'il vous plait.”
If you learn these phrases, you will be ok.
We started in Montreal, a diverse city with rent so cheap it’ll make your head spin. The city has gorgeous parks and avenues, impressive restaurants, many a café to lose an afternoon in, and a well-supported arts community.
There are also bagels. Many, many bagels.
Folks on the eastern side of North America have two bagel types to compare: the Montreal-style and the New York-style, the result of both cities’ strong Jewish culture (which has been a part of Quebec's history for over two centuries). The main differences between the two are that New York’s contain salt, are boiled, and baked in a conventional oven, while Montreal’s contain no salt, are boiled in honey water, and baked in a wood-fired oven. The latter also have a bigger hole in the middle, are a bit sweeter, and crunchier on the outside.
Having only ever consumed Costco bagels during my western Canadian upbringing, I was not a bagel-lover. In fact, I heartily disliked them, and never understood why a person would crave one. Now, having tried the bagels of both New York and Montreal, I’m pleased to say I’m onboard the bagel train, and don't plan on disembarking. Ever.
In Montreal, there are two bagel kings: St. Viateur and Fairmount. They’re located conveniently close to our friend Phil’s apartment, where we stayed, so we tried both for breakfast. While my preference was for St. Viateur, I didn’t notice a huge difference between the two. I’m sure, however, that there are people who hold much stronger opinions than myself on this matter.
Most mornings, I walked to St. Viateur and ordered a half dozen - they were plucked, still warm, from a huge wooden trough and $7.50/dozen. The shop is open 24 hours a day, so there’s always someone cutting strips from a huge mass of dough and rolling the bagels; another pulling them from simmering honey water; and a third lining them up on a long wooden board.
These are sent into a brick oven, its far end glowing with a wood-fuelled fire, and pulled out just as the sesame seeds are starting to turn gold. Any Montreal bagel shop is also well-stocked with the necessary condiments: cream cheese in every flavour imaginable, lox, and capers.
There are other types of bagels available, but my loyalty will always lie with the sesame. When purchased warm from St. Viateur, toasted, and spread with cream cheese or butter, they are infinitely pleasing.
Why else would they be ring-shaped?
And to welcome us to Montreal, the city's coolest man, Leonard Cohen: