The best part of travelling anywhere is the food. It's also the worst part, but we'll get to that in a bit. For the moment, let's concentrate on the positive.
Joey and Arek live in a high-ceilinged old apartment across from Parc La Fontaine. It's got those cool old windows that are five feet high and a foot wide and push out rather than lifting up, though nobody's doing any window-opening when it's twelve below. There is the requisite exposed brick wall on one side, and Joey's painted most of the rest of the place in shades of cream, sage green, and light turquoise. It's a sunny place, filled with African masks and Polish ceramics and Joey's paintings and Arek's books. It's also filled with about forty different kinds of cheeses, so that when you open the refrigerator door, you get whacked across the snout with CHEESE.
Cheese here is made from unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization is a marvelous thing; it keeps various nasty bugs from growing in an otherwise wholesome beverage. Unfortunately, the process of pasteurization (as I understand it) also reduces the number of cultures which can grow in milk to make cheese. So the cheese that you get in the States, even some of the best stuff, is a pale approximation of the wonderful creamy, nutty goodness you can find here.
There's a restaurant just 'round the corner that sells practically nothing but poutine. Poutine, for the uninitiated, is French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy.
I'll just wait over here while y'all recover yourselves.
Anyway, the specialty of this place is poutine, and they're proud of it--for good reason. Poutine is one of those things in which wildly disparate ingredients combine to make something that the angels eat in Heaven. If there's a National Food You Can't Believe You Ever Tried But Now Crave for Quebec, poutine is it. Nothin' like it, friends, when you've downed a couple too many Maudites and now need a sponge for the alcohol. I credit poutine with getting me where I am today, which is mostly vertical and with some basic neural functioning.
Another fun thing I tried the other day was tendons. Yep, tendons. See, the pho restaurants at home don't offer tendons (hard or soft, your choice) for good reason: people run screaming from the mention of connective tissue in the US. But the brave folks at Ho Pho or Yo' Pho or Go Pho or wherever it was we ate proudly offer tendons (hard or soft)...and they're pretty damned good. As in, I took a bite expecting to be able to swallow, but not expecting to eat the rest by choice. I ate the rest.
Did I mention the peculiar Quebecois humor of putting small amounts of maple syrup on everything edible? Well, practically. There wasn't any on my poutine, but then, I wouldn't have been shocked to find it there.
I'm spoilt. I've been here, what? three days? and I already have a craving for hash browns and barbecue. And a good burrito. First place I'm stopping when I get off the plane is at some hole-in-the-wall barbecue place with good old vinegar sauce.
In the meantime, more coffee is in order. And maybe a little cheese.