Alphabet soup – vacation special

Just back in the big smoke after a ten day whirlwind trip back to the motherland. I suppose technically Great Britain is the motherland, but my mother lives in Canada. So there you go.

I usually have very interesting things to say about my trips home: “We rented a log cabin in the middle of the woods and fished and made fires,” or “We went skiing at Sauveur and broke our wrists,” or even “We went to the Montreal Formula 1 track and sat on the ground and pretended to be drivers.” You know, things that people want to hear about Canada. Fended off a family of beavers with a stick. Did karaoke with a Mountie. In an igloo.

Really though, my visits home are about seeing friends and family. And eating. This trip was of course in honour of my good friends Roisin and Dave who tied the knot on August 11, but otherwise, it consisted mostly of meals, and planning future meals. We ate such gorgeous food all week that I thought it would be unfair not to find a way to incorporate some of it into my blog somehow, so here is a breakdown. In alphabetical order, obviously.

Akhavan – not a restaurant, technically, but my dad does all of his shopping here. Probably the best supermarket I’ve ever been to – mostly Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Iranian products.

B is for bagels and barbecues. Two things which are an imperative part of every trip home. Unless it’s winter, then it’s just the bagel bit. The Montreal bagel is unlike any other – best eaten at or from St-Viateur Bagel.

Cashew chicken. – this is one of my favourite dishes of all time. My auntie Judy treated me to a massive Thai spread at her house from Thai Shan Inn on Thursday, and their cashew chicken was out of this world. The satay was pretty freaking awesome, too – so good that my cousin Jenn went back for thirds.

D – This was my second time eating at the Drake Hotel. We had dinner there the first time Duncan came to visit me in Toronto, and were very impressed with the porn star martini and the guy dressed up as the storm trooper from Star Wars who didn’t seem to have any obvious function, but who was cool. Breakfast at the Drake Cafe was equally delicious, although sans soldier.

Elk – I don’t eat elk, but Duncan and my friend Nicole sure did, at The Works on Bank in Ottawa the first night of our trip. One of the best burger joints in the world. Choose your protein, your bun and your topping from a list of hundreds. Peanut butter bacon and banana? No problemo. Real Kraft Dinner topperd with cheddar? On it. They have some normal stuff too – Duncan went for the Montreal smoked meat, sauerkraut and swiss on elk; I the brie, caramelised onions and pears on chicken (“the sweet ride”) Order a milkshake in a measuring cup and a tower o’rings – you won’t be disappointed.

Fries. Further to the above, The Works’ sweet potato fries are killer. Fries in Canada, in general, are killer. Case in point: La Belle Province. Poutine. More on this later. Fries, by the way, means “chips” in British.

G is for the Gladstone Hotel, a boutique hotel in Toronto not unlike the Drake, where each room is designed by a different local artist. We stayed in the “Urban Traveler” room – it had dreadlocks. We had brunch in the cafe before we left – I opted for the tofu quesadillas, hoping they would be as awesome as the tofu tacos at The Manx in Ottawa, because I dream about those on a regular basis. They weren’t, but did the trick well enough.

H is for Tim Horton’s, of course. The archetypcal North American coffee and doughnut shop. The coffee tastes like poison, but the timbits rock my world.

I – It’s become kind of a tradition for me, Duncan, my best friend Mel and her husband Nick to have Indian food together when we’re in town. Nick loves Indian food, and we know Indian food well, having lived in Little India in Singapore several years back. This time we tried Taste of India on Monkland, because it is across the street from my house and I am lazy. I wouldn’t let my dad have the butter chicken (I am apparently food bossy) because to me there’s not much more boring than butter chicken, except chicken korma. I’m a big fan of naga (for the adventurous patrons) – Taste of India’s is well good, and hot hot hot!

Jumbo Empanadas– Kensington Market, Toronto. It is as it sounds. Authentic Chilean food – super sized.

Ketchup chips. Full stop. Will someone please tell me where I can buy these in the UK?

L – The neighbourhood of Griffintown (otherwise known as Notre Dame West, before it got trendy) is apparently the new it spot for foodies in Montreal. We chose the Mexican-inspired Restaurant Limon for our yearly get together with my high school girlfriends – not only were the daiquiris extremely potent, but the mole was excellent too.

M – I dedicate the letter M to now-retired Cosmos chef Tony Kouzakis, a.k.a, the Man of Grease. One of Montreal’s most legendary breakfast joints, the 11-seater hole in the wall on Sherbrooke street is famous for serving up heavenly potatoes and the epic Mish Mash omelette. Although Kouzakis no longer slaves over the stove with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth (but he DOES have his own DVD), his daughter now holds down the fort and does a pretty solid job at delivering morning fare that contains “billions upon billions of calories,” even if the potatoes don’t actually drip anymore. This is a cosmic experience not to be missed.

Noodles are maybe my favourite food. They can be eaten in so many different ways! Since we ate out at least twice a day for 8 days straight, we decided to cook our Toronto hosts Sydney and Melissa dinner at home – it consisted of noodles, bok choy, dumplings and other fun things procured from one of the many great shops in booming Chinatown. Sometimes it’s nice to stay in with friends. Actually, Melissa wasn’t really there. She was preparing for the surprise party that we were throwing for Sydney later that night. She might have had her dog with her. His name is Ollie – check out his blog. If you thought my blog was awesome…

Origin Toronto is a “high energy global food bar” in the St Lawrence market. Sydney said this was the nicest meal she’d ever had in Toronto. Melissa said: “Ooh, I hope you guys sit at the table with the knives!” This made me a bit dubious, but we did actually sit at this table and it was indeed awesome. We had brunch – I had the brioche french toast with bufalo mozzarella, poached pears and walnut brittle. Yum. Top tip – finding the bathroom takes as long as eating your meal. It’s downstairs. Way, way downstairs.

Pizza Pizza is not just pizza. It is a staple of the Ontario university student’s diet, and I still claim to this day that this company revolutionized pizza eating in Canada. Garlic dipping sauce, please.

Quebec poutine. We didn’t actually have this in Quebec, rather in Toronto at Poutini’s House of Poutine on Queen, after eating four slices of the above mentioned pizza at a friend’s house, drinking a bottle of Veuve (fancy, I know – thanks Alex) and then requiring more food. What is poutine though, really? A mystery yet to be unravelled for the British. Soon.

Poutini's Poutine

Poutini’s Poutine (Photo credit: L.Richarz)

Restaurant des Monts in Ste Agathe is a great local place for breakfast if you’re in the Laurentians – we stopped for lunch on our way to my family cottage in Ivry-sur-le-Lac. My dad swears by the capou bread, but whatever your fancy, you can bet they’ll have it. They also have a very impressive collection of dolls and other antique kitsch.

Salad – is something I didn’t each much of on this trip. Running out of steam here.

Taverne on Monkland is still one of my favourite places to eat when I go to Montreal and I was delighted that we got it in this time. No reservations, but worth the wait. Consistently good food and service, and especially good pasta dishes. Great patio – one of the best restaurants in NDG.

U – Pass. Cheat. Fail. Whatever. You try doing this!

Vegetarian Haven– on the uber cute Baldwin Street near Chinatown in Toronto, this little cafe punches above its weight and I am devastated I didn’t discover this place when I lived there. The food was good enough to please even my three meat-loving friends; most of it is made with seitan, a super meaty meat substitute, and the mock shrimp in the seafood superbowl was extremely convincing. I went gaga for the tofu drumsticks – crispy soya protein kebabs with a sugarcane center.

The Seafood Superbowl

W is for Weight Watchers, which I now need to be on again.

X – I’m almost positive no foods start with X. If there are, I probably don’t want to eat them.

Yogurty’s Froyo is apparently the best frozen yogurt spot in Toronto. We didn’t go there – I’m including it on this list though, as proof that there is actually something that I didn’t consume on my ten day holiday. It’s on my radar for next time though – their low/nonfat flavours include cake batter, Reese’s peanut butter, and Eurotart (what is a Eurotart?) – and if that ain’t diet food, I don’t know what is.

Z-teca Burrito Toronto. Didn’t go there at all, just couldn’t fill in the blank for Z. I do like burritos, though. The end. Finally. Eh?

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