We landed in Montreal, a city that neither of us had visited before, and in spite of my many trips to Toronto, clearly this was a very different part of Canada. As my daughter and I strolled around old town, walking on cobblestone streets, surrounded by French speakers, I couldn’t help but wonder how my parents had felt when they first arrived in Paris just a year or so after the war.
As we explored the various neighborhoods, we enjoyed wonderful meals in small Bistros, every evening trying a different salmon preparation, accompanied by good wine and ending with a fairly rich dessert. Each morning we left our hotel with a list of coffee shops and bakeries that had come highly recommended. It soon became clear that those addresses were not needed because the scent of butter-laden pastries just coming out of the oven could be detected blocks away. Twice in three days, we visited Boulangerie Kouign-Amann where we enjoyed freshly baked croissants, sampling the plain, chocolate, and almond. Of course we also had to try the pastry that the shop is named after, Kouign-Amann, similar to a croissant but both top and bottom layers are made of a thin crispy coating of caramelized sugar.
One afternoon we made our way to a local greasy spoon, not a place or an area that I think attracts very many tourists, but we were on a mission to eat a vegetarian version of Poutine, a common Québécois dish of fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in gravy.
On the morning we planned to have the famous Montreal bagels for breakfast, subject of much debate among people who engage in bagel war conversations, we took the Metro to the area known as Mile End, a neighborhood where waves of immigrants had once settled, Jews among them. The bagels were smaller than New York bagels and slightly sweet, first boiled and then baked in a wood-fired oven. As we munched on our warm bagels slathered in cream cheese (sadly there was no whitefish salad) we passed spice stores, vintage shops, and cafes, and my guess is that new immigrants now settle elsewhere.
We turned a corner and came to an area with a Shul, a kollel, a kosher market and bakery, discovering a community of Belzer Hasidim nestled among the trendy shops. Suddenly I heard Yiddish, saw sprinkle cookies, looked at faces whose features were clearly Eastern European and once again I imagined how my parents might have felt wandering around the streets of Paris and suddenly seeing Hasids walking towards them. No doubt it would have made them smile, and I smiled as well. The only thing missing was whitefish salad.
1 whole smoked whitefish, about 1 pound.
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tb minced shallot
3 Tb mayonnaise
Skin fish and very carefully remove from bones. Mix with sugar, sesame oil, minced shallot and mayo to taste. I like my fish flaked and not too mushy. Serves 2-4.