Montreal, from a foodie’s perspective

One word on everyone’s mind when you think about Canadian food, is poutine. Well, that and maple syrup. Speaking of which, did you know that Quebec produces about 70% of global maple syrup production? I didn’t know that either! That also explains why almost all Quebecois desserts are doused in the sugary substance. Interesting, eh?

One of those would be la tire sur la neige, also known as Canadian maple taffy. As my very limited command of French has taught me, sur la neige literally means “on top of snow”. How it’s made is that boiled maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and wrapped around a wooden popsicle stick once it cools a little, making a golden gooey mass of maple-y goodness. Just be careful not to get it in your hair though! I learnt that the hard way.

La banquise is one of the most popular poutine places in Montreal, and once I had tried it, I completely understood why. Poutine piled high with other toppings like guacamole, drowning in heaps and heaps of gravy and cheese curds… It makes a foodie like me weep. Standing in the freezing cold to get a table was totally worth it for a treat like this.

When my friends and I headed down to Quebec City that one weekend in February, we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that served only Quebecois food. Of course we had to try Quebec dishes while in the old town! Pâté chinois, oddly translated to Chinese pie, is a Quebec style shepherd’s pie. The one that I had the luck to try looked like a deconstructed version of the traditional dish, with the stewed beef resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and a glorious side of preserved cherry tomatoes. It was truly the stuff of gods.

Ah, so many dishes, so little time. It was a pleasure to have experienced all that I have.

Saying goodbye

This was not how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to have stayed with everyone till the end of April, before bidding goodbye to a time well spent in Canada. Unfortunately, life had other planes in store for me, and the pandemic saw me flying back to the opposite end of the world, bypassing Manchester altogether.

Now, I am back home, back in sunny Singapore. Things could not be more different here.

You know, I’ve always had an affinity for islands. Born and raised on my island country, I moved to the UK for my studies about two years back. Then for exchange, I went to Montreal, also situated on another island. Despite being islands, all three places have been vastly different for me. Going from Montreal, where I only saw the streets start to clear themselves of snow when it hit mid-March, to Singapore, where we don’t even have the four seasons. It may sound crazy, but I miss that constant snowy weather that we had in Montreal. Now, I turn on the air-conditioning in my room everyday in a bid to refrigerate myself, very unlike how I would crank up the radiator in Montreal to remind myself of Singapore. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this moment I cannot think of anything truer.

Saying goodbye to the city wasn’t the only difficult thing. Saying goodbye to my friends, and my housemates, was really hard. As a person who has moved to many places, I should be good at saying goodbye, but I never really am. I get used to it, but I’m not good at it, if that makes sense. Living together with 29 other people, I got used to the continuous presence of friends in my life. It is so quiet now.

They say that you make lifelong friends on exchange, and I think there’s truth in that. From the numerous dinners together, to the road trips and the birthdays, these are people that I will never forget.

A love letter to Montreal

All that talk of how cold it is in Canada doesn’t actually prepare you for how cold it is in Canada when you first arrive. 

The slush that seeped into my shoes when I walked around the city for the first time wasn’t exactly the welcome I had expected, nor the teeny tiny steps that I had to take to avoid slipping on the ice. They told me that it’d be cold but I hadn’t thought that I’d lose all feeling in my hands and feet when I went ice skating one bitterly cold weekend. Or that I’d trudge through a snowstorm and end up with ice in my hair and on my glasses.

And yet, despite the snow up to my knees and the falling down on my morning walks to my biweekly classes that commence at 8:30am, I still appreciate Montreal in all of its crazy, beautiful, temperamental weather. 

At first, it’s the snow blanketing the city, and the first snowfall where I stood out in the streets with my tongue out, fully aware that I looked completely crazy to the locals. Then it’s the pure, simple joy of just making footprints in the snow. Then it’s finally the Uber ride in the aftermath of a snowstorm, where the city is sparkling from fresh snow and all of a sudden my breath is taken away by the sight of Montreal at night. We drove by a park where a happy couple bathed in the gentle yellow light, and they were twirling, twirling until they were out of sight. Sure the cold weather bites hard, but it does give back. I do think that would be the night when I fell in love with you, Montreal.

You’re always glimmering, glistening, always promising something new.

That weekend of ice skating, despite my lack of foresight and forgetting to wear thermals in -14 degree weather (please don’t be like me!), was one of the most memorable weekends I’ve had so far. Being raised in Singapore, where the heat doesn’t quit, ice rinks bring to mind indoor rinks in malls, not outdoor forests boasting 12km of skating goodness. Forest Perdue, known rightfully as the enchanted forest, truly takes your mind away from the city, and even if you’re not a good skater, you’ll probably be pretty decent after hours of practice! We ended the day by being shuttled back to the city in those little yellow buses that you see in the movies. What the movies don’t tell you though, is that these buses don’t have very good heating. Brr!

So maybe all that cold isn’t too bad after all, if it results in gems like the enchanted forest.