Eating good Southern Soul Food is possibly one of the greatest things in the world. Here are a few handy things to know before you gorge yourself silly.
Southern Soul Food will reduce you to tears. As you bite into each dish you cannot believe how good everything tastes.
Stretchy trousers are necessary. Tight jeans become a hazard as unbuttoning them on a full belly could mean the button flies off like a rocket in any possible direction.
No matter how hard you try you will leave feeling completely stuffed. You will need to stop but the overwhelming urge to continue eating will be too powerful.
Southern Soul Food is best when shared with good company. Company that is as happy to be a glutton as you are.
The fresh, hot cornbread are like clouds in your mouth but don’t eat too many as you will fill up too quickly.
When the fried chicken arrives; pause, embrace the moment, listen to choirs of heavenly angels sing and remember that you are about to taste the most wonderful thing known to man.
Soul food is good for your soul not your waistline. Constant eating of this irresistible cuisine will ensure lard forms in place you never wanted it to.
Allow yourself to taste every single side dish. There will be many and at first it may be overwhelming but unless you try each dish you will not have had a true Southern meal. Here are some of the sides you could expect on your freshly pressed table cloth; mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, beans, gravy, cabbage, butter beans, black-eyed peas, squash, candied yams, pickled beets, Okra and tomatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, fried green tomatoes, snap peas, apple salad, macaroni salad and English Peas and noodles to name just a few.
Eating Southern food is best down in the South of United States. Find a place that provides that homely feel.
Leave space for dessert. You may think that you cannot have another mouthful but that piece of pie or banana pudding beg to differ.
Wondering around Montreal has been delightful but I began to wonder if I had left continental Europe at all. I knew that I had because the people of Montreal are much friendlier than the entire continent of Europe combined.
Everyone greeted you with ‘Bonjour, hi’ to gauge where you were from or if you were a fortunate Canadian who could speak both of the national languages. A local told us that the people in Montreal are actually some of the most unfriendly people in all of this maple syrup loving nation but coming from a place where even allowing an elderly person to sit or holding open a door is too much to ask for; this was a refreshing change.
Our morning was spent making our way over to Mont Royal, a beautiful park on the top of a hill which allows any visitor with a panoramic view of the city. We opted for the bus to take us to the top and since we had a day pass on public transport we figured we may as well use it. We were dropped off and took a casual stroll through the park towards the view point but we were not alone.
Some Canadian wildlife had decided to join us for some of the journey, a small squirrel was obviously using his looks to manipulate the two very obvious tourists that had wandered into his turf. Eventually the squirrel found something a little bit more interesting than us and we reached the view point.
The view was truly spectacular. The palate of reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves surrounded the tall and powerful grey and dark browns buildings creating a stark contrast. A slight and rather chilly breeze swept across us bringing with it leaves that whimsically danced in the wind as they made their great escape from the roots that had nurtured them. With a last little glance at the view we decided it was time to become a little more acquainted with the city; but first we needed something to eat.
We were told by several locals and visitors that a bagel was an absolute must and that there was one small establishment that made the very best bagels. St Viateur Bagels sits close to the Mont Royal metro station and part of their fame comes from the fact that they make their delicious bagels in the store and boil them before placing them in a large pizza type oven for baking.
Making our way down the store lined street we eventually found St Viateur’s with large bagels on the front signage. Once we were inside we chose a small table in the front window; the sunshine had made it a lovely and warm place to nest.
We decided on sharing a traditional bagel and allowed our waitress to make the rest of the decisions on our behalf and within minutes our Montreal specialty had arrived. The bagel was covered in sesame seeds that were as toasted as we were in the midday fall sunshine, the cream cheese was liberally plastered on one side and on the other half sat layers of fresh pink salmon, red onion that had been crafty laid on top with capers that had hid themselves in the luscious folds.
For my first bite I had to make sure that I had all of the ingredients on my fork to have a true experience and I was certainly not disappointed. The bagel was so fresh and lighter than the dense bagels I have had previously. Suffice to say that my meal did not last long and I was left feeling perfectly content by the end. We sat chatting while observing the staff in the kitchen making endless streams of bagels to delight other visitors to St Viateur’s. Eventually it was time to make our way into Old Montreal.
Arriving in the downtown area we wandered towards the port. I was surprised by the small number of people around, they too had drifted like the coloured leaves on the trees. The port provided an interesting side of the city with many buildings and factory warehouses having been completely abandoned. The number of these buildings around the area was astonishing and the only company that they now have are of the graffiti faces that decorate their walls.
With the cold wind picking up it was easy to understand why there was no hustle and bustle in the main squares of the city. Instead people sat indoors and ventured out to quickly nip inside somewhere else. As we weren’t accustomed as yet to the chilling wind we decided to explore some of the underground shopping malls.
These malls have over 32km of walkways and are home to hundreds of stores that sit in a world entirely on it’s own. After a couple of hours meandering our way through these large and yet stuffy shopping pavilions we decided that it was time for something very important; dinner.
Each person we had spoken to had recommended a little place called Schwartz Deli and so without delay we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. Arriving at Schwartz the first thing that we noticed was the very long queue out the front; initially we were put off by the hoards of people who too had followed the smell of smoked meat but if we weren’t going to wait we certainly weren’t going to get any.
We were sat at the counter of the small diner; newspaper articles and photos of semi – famous people covered the old smoked meat absorbed walls. Every single table was full and each person had the same dish placed in front of them. We sat next to an older Canadian couple and as is custom, it seems, in Canada they greeted us and gave us some advice on what to order. We ordered with our waiter who also seemed to be the manager of the joint. Minutes later we had enough food in front of us to feed a small army or at least two self confessed food lovers.
The sandwich had layers of thinly sliced deep pink beef with the edges brown and grainy from the spices that gave it the unique Schwartz flavour. Protecting the middle of the sandwich was of course the bread but this bread was fresh; the centre was soft and when you pressed strategically grabbed it, so as not to have the contents fall out, the bread felt like a soft cushion with the crust a light tanned colour. Mustard smothered each gap on one side of the sandwich and a dill pickle that looked like it was sat amongst Arnold Schwartzengger’s steroid cabinet, had a plate entirely on it’s own. We sipped the very local Cott’s Soda which was insanely sweet but complimented the savoury meal which was slowly being devoured.
We savoured each bite and just as the people around us did we finished up and allowed those eager and waiting in the cold to come in and enjoy their experience. Plunged into the cold; which our waiter was insistent was worse than normal, we made our way back to our hostel for a quiet drink and a toast to completing our first city on our two month adventure. In two days we had completed the top three food experiences recommended to us by all those we spoke to about the beautiful city of Montreal.
Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted with a friendly smile and a ‘Bonjour, Hi.’
Whenever I spoke to Canadians about the fact that I was going to be visiting their country they all spoke of a dish that could not be missed; a dish called poutine.
Arriving in Montreal off of our Air Canada flight we were greeted with a combination of ‘Bonjour’ here and ‘Hello’ there before turning the corner to go through customs where we were met with a not so Canadian welcome.
Being the weekend after Thanksgiving it was packed and unlike any airport I have ever seen before. The Canadians around us could not believe their luck and their previous weekend of thanks and giving went out the window as they lined up very irritated, like us, in the queue for over an hour.
We lost a large chunk of our time in the queue as we watched the daylight slip away from us as the sky turned from a pasty grey to a dark charcoal.
Eventually with a slight diversion (my fault) we made it to our hostel in the downtown area. The M Hostel is located in the University district and for our short stay in Montreal had everything we needed.
After a quick drop of our bags we had one goal for the evening; find poutine.
What is this that I speak of? Well; poutine is a truly Canadian dish which originated in Quebec. Poutine is a dish that would suffice in any circumstance however I do believe that if you were drunk it would provide the consumer with a food experience to match no other. Essentially it is chips doused in gravy with a heavy handed sprinkle of cheese curd. Sounds simple enough but it is a combination that is sure to blow your mind.
We were told about a little place called La Banquise. They are known as the best place for it and as lovers of food, new things and a rule to always follow a good recommendation, who were we to say no?
When we arrived we were very quickly seated and experienced our first bit of Canadian service. Water was on the table and a quick explanation was given in regards to what we should try.
Our receptionist told us to not go for the classic poutine however I could not go past it. While the menu had many other delicious and mouthwatering options which included ingredients like guacamole, pulled pork, beef mince and Swiss cheese, I opted for the classic poutine as a first time cherry popper.
Less than five minutes had passed and an enormous (apparently regular) plate of poutine had arrived on the red decorated table. Oh my god! It isn’t really much to look at and doesn’t get points for presentation but I couldn’t wait to tuck in. I took my first bite and let me just say “Oh Canada, thank you for poutine!”
It was amazing, my first mouthful had everything on it, ensuring I got the whole experience and it was great. How can a meal with hardly any (or very little) nutritional value taste so damn good?
Tactfully; with extreme skill and precision we managed to make our way through the dish. Each bite providing a gateway to the pool of gravy at the bottom of the once white plate.
I got a third of the way through and already began feeling defeated. I know what you are thinking, I can hear the cheers now “Keep going! You can do it!” I continued for a little while taking breaks where I could. You must understand it was tough, really tough. As a lactose intolerant person this is not the ideal dish but I had prepared with myself.
I got halfway and I had to stop, not because I wanted to but because my body could not keep up. This delicious poutine had beat me; taken me into its gravy filled void to spit me out and look like it does on a plate.
Poutine had won! Just this once.