Thursday, January 04, 2007

Marching at the Marche

Just when I'm starting to think that I'm getting a grasp on this foodie thing, I do something foolish: like visiting Montreal.

Spent about 42 hours in Montreal this week on a quick stop after the New Year's festivities in Toronto to see N. She's doing well and while she spent her days recovering from illness, I spent the day wandering around the city trying not to say too much because my French is just horrible (as in hor-ree-bleh).

My tour of Montreal brought me to Marche Jean-Talon. It's one of, if not the, biggest open-air markets in the city and nestled in the heart of Little Italy - although there were more than a fair number of halal shops and Thai markets.

I fancy myself someone who knows about food. Someone who can apprciate life's finer appointments. A man who has sampled life's delicacies. I fancied myself glitzing around the market and choosing basketfuls of pates, cuts of meat, cheeses, breads and other fanciful foodstuffs - a veritable orgy of "the good stuff." My vision had me choosing a wise variety of jams made from clementines, bilberries, apricot, bitter oranges, plums, melons and being labelled un vrai connoisseur de confiture by an attractive female mademoiselle who would pass me her phone number because she was so impressed with my culinary prowess.

That vision was shattered as I toured Marche Jean-Talon. I had been served.

All those meals at Les Halles and books on French cuisine does not aptly prepare one for a shopping excursion at the local marche. It was a dizzying array of foodstuffs, in a language I could barely understand and I was the hapless guy trying figure out what was going on.

Every shop I entered was filled with tasty goodies but since I had no foundation in the finer points of olive oil, jams or cheese, I was lost and swimming. Just what do those grades of amber in Maple syrup mean? I don't know. White honey - huh? Look, a patisserie and they have that opera cake they're calling l'opera - and the boulangerie with French Bread (baguette).

After wandering around and familiarizing myself for a little while, my hyperventilation started to slow and I started to enjoy the marche shopping experience. Most importantly, I started purchasing!

I started at the pommes dealer with a large jug of #1 Maple syrup and a jar of golden honey. "Bonjour, merci" I mumbled trying to remain incognito. I could complete a sale but the problem was that I didn't know how to say "how much is this?"

After a quick bite of a beef and pork pie with leek soup, I was ready to hit the aisles again. Behind me is a crepe stand, over to the left is the egg expert, to the right is an immensely large cheese shop, next to that is an olive and spice shop, two doors over is a coffee roaster, and around the corner is a florist and a fresh pasta shop.

But, oh my gosh - what is that over there??? A pork store??? Alright, now I don't care what the Bible might say, but the French are God's Chosen People.

One of the biggest problems of shopping in this kind of environment is United States Customs and Agriculture. While those langoustines look absolutely fabulous and those eggs look incredibly edible, they'll probably be confiscated at The Border and I'll be S.O.L. This reality unfortunately tempers ones' shopping excursion.

In the end, I left with sacks filled with honey, maple syrup, bleu confiture, porc confit, truffle pate, confit du canard, dried cherries, baguettes and rabbit pate.

How glorious!