This column is written for two reasons, only one of which is to teach readers that Winter in Montreal is really worth the trip. More importantly, these scribbles are intended to convince Correspondent Pat that our neighbor to the North (Not Livonia but where people sing “O Canada” in multiple, well, two languages) that there are more cuisines du jour than potine and the daily specials at Tim Horton‘s. Tim Horton’s is a ubiquitous fast food joint that’s encroaching more frequently in The States from A-E’s ancestral home a few miles North of Livonia: Canada.
Poutine in Quebec province is classically French fries and cheese curds embellished with brown gravy. The dish emerged in the late 1950s in the kitchens of Central Quebec and then spread like hot grease through the Canadian Maritime provinces. The dish is also Correspondent Pat’s combination slap in the faces of Quebecois plus a chance to provide Canadian cardiologists extra income. For many years, the greasy entrée succeeded at those goals.
A few years ago, however, poutine became somewhat more celebrated as a symbol of Quebecois cultural pride and its rise in prominence led to popularity outside the province, including New England. Today, the term bespeaks quintessential Canadian cuisine and is frequently called Canada’s national dish, although more sensitive souls probably believe those generous labels misappropriate French-Canadian culture. Many variations on the original recipe are popular, leading some to suggest that poutine has emerged as a new dish classification in its own right such as meat, soup and bread.
When A-E first wrote about the dish, he playfully suggested that any restaurant anywhere that offers “generous helpings of fat on a plate” should prominently display the telephone number of the nearest cardiologist.
Correspondent Pat has exclaimed about the dish in numerous Canadian restaurants as well as a few in the states. A-E, always searching for that special dish in a trendy restaurant happened upon a Montreal gem: Au Pied de Cochon. The name is frequently translated as “pigs’ feet” or more linguistically accurate, “pigs hooves.”
And that is probably one reason why Travel and Leisure magazine named Canada “Destination of the Year” in its December 1917 issue. Au Pied de Cochon is a lesson in bi-lingual irony. A-E learned about the eatery in the mid-1960s during a trip to Montreal to partake of the fun event Expo 67. That was before the city became the third most important dining destination in North America, after New York City and Mexico City.
Don’t laugh at Mexico City: think of traditional Mexican cuisine, not the ubiquitous Tex-Mex dining that has swept across the United States where people can order a taco and think they’ve embarked on a tour of a restaurant where the native help speaks Spanish.
Au Pied de Cochon serves “duck in a can”…a duck breast and foie gras with herbs and braised cabbage cooked inside an actual can. Playful? Sure. But tasty, too, and a meal you’re unlikely to find anywhere much closer than Montreal.
But those are some of the charms of Canada, a country where most of the inhabitants speak a familiar version of English. Western Canada is another version of that playfulness. A-E once met a couple in the territory of Nunavut, the northernmost civilian settlement in Canada and, for those accustomed to the relatively temperate climes of Greater Jasper, one of the coldest inhabited locales on the planet.
You may have read that global warming is melting the traditional homes of Arctic polar bear and opened the Northwest Passage for the first time in 10,000 years or since a few years after the retreating ice age brought dandelions to the banks of the Canisteo River.
Think Antarctic cold.
But also think of interesting places to eat and visit, especially if you enjoy lapping marrow from animal feet.
A-E writes a weakly column near the kitchen in his Canisteo hut where he enjoys occasional helpings of garlicky snails aka escargot in French.