With the heat hitting Montreal with full force this summer, you don’t want to miss out on some of the best food festivals around. What’s a better way to enjoy the sun than to have cold glass of beer and explore your taste buds? Take a peek at some of the food-related events and festivals happening in Montreal during the upcoming months:

First Fridays

premiers vendredisPlace: Olympic Park, Esplanade Financière Sun Life (4545 Avenue Pierre-de Coubertin)
Time: the first Friday of every month until October (4-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

First Fridays is essentially food truck heaven. Up to 47 different food trucks congregate on the first Friday of every month until October to offer a variety of foods that will blow you away. Good thing it’s around for a couple of months, because once isn’t close to enough to get a good taste of everything this festival has to offer. There will be live music on scene provided by evenko, so dance away with your taste buds on every First Friday!

Night Market

night marketPlace: In front of Alexandraplatz Bar (6731 Avenue de l’Esplanade)
Time: The last Saturday of every month until September (2-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

The Night Market is a monthly block party that celebrates local street cuisine in Montreal. Similar to First Fridays, Night Market features food trucks that offer a variety of food along with entertainment and local vendors. Support the local Montreal food community by heading over to the Mile-Ex on the last Saturday of every month until September!

Montreal Ribfest

Montreal ribfestPlace: Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough Hall parking log (13665 Pierrefonds Blvd)
Time: Fri. August 14 (11am-9pm), Sat. August 15 (11am-9pm), Sun. August 16 (11am-7pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

Meat lovers across Montreal have been counting down the days left until the Montreal Ribfest. Award winning ribs vendors from across North America will be grilling up a storm to satisfy that ribs craving you’ve had for ages. There will be live music to entertain you while you stuff yourself with a full rack (challenge yourself!). And the best part? The festival supports Canada’s leading youth mentoring charity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island.

Barbeque Bonanza

barbecue bonanzaPlace: Clock Tower Quay (Old Port)
Time: Sun. August 23
Admission: $45 (entrance and 4 coupons), $65 (entrance and 9 coupons)

Barbeque Bonanza is another charitable food festival that will blow your mind this upcoming August. With 26 restaurants showcasing cuisines from around the world and some proceeds going towards the Starlight Children’s Foundation Quebec, this is a culinary experience that you don’t want to miss. The variety of food that will be available at this festival guarantees that no matter what kind of food lover you are, you’ll find your fix. Not to mention that there will be alcohol served.

YUL EAT

yul eatPlace: Clock Tower Quay (Old Port)
Time: Sat. September 5 – Mon. September 7 (12-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

YUL EAT will be a dream turned into reality for true foodies living in Montreal. The festival, hosted by Les Premiers Vendredis and evenko, will feature leading professionals in the culinary industry to offer an unforgettable gastronomical experience – along with tastings, markets, demos, conferences, and more. We know this isn’t exactly during the summer, but who will be working during Labour Day Weekend, anyway?

* Featured image from cuisinederue.org

Have “foodies” lost the plot? It would seem at face value the answer is yes.

That is, if we judge based on public response to an innocuous New York Times guacamole recipe posted earlier this week.

This reposted recipe (it was posted on the site in 2013), was not only utterly unshocking, it was merely one of over 17,000 such NYT recipes innocently living in their Cooking section.

Yet here’s what happened.

And this.

And, hilariously (personal favourite) this.

And frighteningly, even crap like this:

And then this.

Good lord, even this.

I’d stand to wager that there are probably more guacamole recipe variations than almost anything other on the Internet. No, I didn’t bother to check that claim, because, frankly, those would be precious moments of my life lost. And that’s kind of the point: the vicious backlash and endless media attention means that someone has clearly lost the plot.

The question (if you’ve actually read this far) is: who?

To me the biggest is question is why, with access to the finest food writers and chefs in the country (and arguably world), NYT would even bother to (re)-promote such a page. If humous is the go-to lazy person potluck snack, guacamole is easily the second most overmade, over-fusioned, generally, over-dinner-partied dish in the US & Canada.

Now, perhaps that‘s a statement about foodies (run out of ideas much?).

Though to me, the real fallout of #GuacGate is threefold. Each point is depressing enough to make me want to drown my sorrows in a gallon of habanero-laced peadip.

1. Social media is a scourge upon humanity. “Foodies” really never existed anyway.

While most news articles seemed to label this a “foodie” fight, closer analysis reveals that most commentators are the type who comment on everything. Quickly. Without looking. On Twitter.

Even closer analysis reveals that most who lept into the (nonexistant) fracas felt compelled to call themselves “foodies” in their Twitter bios. Yet closer closer analysis reveals that, wait, 99.9 % of people on Twitter are “foodies'” according to their Twitter bios. Odd exceptions include the bios of those who, you know, actually cook, serve, grow, or research food for a living.

So if social media has made us immune to the impact of profanity, foodie is officially the new f-word.

2. #GuacamoleGate is snapshot of our modern “news” landscape.

A quick perusal of the #GG headlines shows: a) it was a slow news day, b) lots of pun-obsessed editors still have (ostensibly) paying jobs, c) news outlets have become a caricature of ideologies. Witness:

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3. Two decades of creative brilliance is worth less than a sloppy repost

It’s struck me that the one person least discussed in all of this #GG madness is its very auteur, the one and only Jean-Georges Vongerichten. If and when he’s mentioned, it’s in the last graph of these stories, though often not at all. Tweets? Forget it! Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal if he wasn’t the single most significant, if not revolutionary, chef in the world’s restaurant capital for nearly two decades.

So, I suppose, we love to scream at each other more than even look at recipe, much less try it, much less learn about its very source. Via a quick media monitoring search, I discovered that two days of guacamole shattered decades worth of Vongerichten media mentions.

Personally, I’m happy for him: he’s long escaped overseas, where it must be said, most Twitterers and newspapers seemed to resist the hashtag allure of GuacGate. I’m just sad for the generation who will now forever grow up knowing this legendary human as Guy Who Tried To Make Pea Guacomole And Failed.

—-

At this point, I’m tempted to go revert back to my turn of the century ways, and an old proclivity to over-make an equally great party dip, then new to Westerners: hummous. Unlike guac, it’s always been open to change.

Oh, supermarkets, what are we going to do with you?

It seems you’re embroiled in a certain love-hate relationship with many of us.

Think of those farmers: they stock many of your vast shelves, yet often remain resentful for being squeezed. Or the upwardly-mobile, who slag you off in public, all while filling your coffers. Even food waste activists, perhaps your most virulent critics, have also been known to sing your praises.

However you slice it, dear supermarkets, it seems we just can’t take our eyes off of you.

Here in Canada, for example, you recently roused our spirits by bringing ugly fruit to your shelves, all while appropriating it as a new, cost-saving “brand” promising to quell food waste.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, you waded into the edible insect trade, only to pull them from the shelves two days later without telling us why.

In Alberta, you convinced the Blood Tribe of your merits, who hope to leverage your model on their land.

Yet this nagging question remains: do you really help us gain access to food? Or do you just stand in the way—-you big, boxy bully?

Over in the Bronx, a recent high-profile study seems to suggest the latter.

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The NYU report investigated the effects of a 17 000 square foot Associated Foods supermarket in a known food desert, Morrisania, a neighbourhood with high rates of: “heart disease, obesity, diabetes…depression, infant mortality, mental illness and HIV…”

Its $1.1M 2010 opening costs were incentivized to the tune of $449 000 (about 40%).

However, the team reported no “significant changes in household food availability” to neighbourhood children, with an equal dearth of improved “dietary intake.” Don’t dismiss this as a one-off, supermarkets: the study’s vast sample size (about 2000 children) and lengthy duration (before, during and after the opening) suggest that even your government-fuelled spinoffs might fail to offer tangible benefit to those most in need.

Another recent article goes even further, claiming that you might be causing some of these problems to begin with.

In “Supermarkets are the problem,” Deborah A. Cohen at Slow Food USA surveys research on impulse purchases at the cash register alongside nefarious-sounding “slotting contracts” in your end-of-aisle displays. In a decisive verdict, she holds you structurally accountable for obesity and chronic disease.

Now listen up, supermarkets, because what I’m going to say might surprise you. I think we should cut you some slack.

First, determinist conclusions like the latter should be taken with a grain of your finest No Name salt.

It’s not only deceptive to pluck out and blame you from within a living, breathing, increasingly-complex wider food picture, it’s dangerous. By over-emphasizing government regulation as an ultimate cure, it effectively disempowers us everyday eaters of the education, choice, and agency we already possess—the type of things we really should be encouraged to strengthen.

If for no other reason than you’re not going anywhere soon, we’ve no doubt got a lot to negotiate.

Practically speaking, we all find ourselves in your aisles from time to time. Sometimes we’ve driven a long distance to greet you. Other times, we’ve just met you halfway.

Other times, for many of use, we just get squeezed for options and feel almost forced to wander your aisles. Yet rather than praying to be saved or averting our gaze, it would be better to simply open our eyes.

Back in January, I speculated that Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the (real) experts, I pointed towards supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that last week, one food giant stepped up to the plate.

Well, sorta.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaws announced that it will roll out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a first for Canadian corporations, a supermarket giant acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce was actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s a damn small victory. And despite the welcome news, Canada is a latecomer to the ugly fruit game as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So, you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still, could it help our society, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaws produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste. The brand will apply only to apples and potatoes at first, though others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

“If you were to grow produce in your backyard,” says Loblaws senior Director Dan Branson in the Financial Post, “there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.”

He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new “product” in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

The product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement last week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaws waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Or, at the very least, perhaps a sheltered Canadian child might get to see what normal vegetables look like—possibly for the first time in their lives.

 

It’s once again time to roam the frozen streets in search of performative emancipation.

To keep you energized, here’s a randomized list of edibles available between 7 pm to 3 am.

Spontaneity is key here – so when it comes to Nuit Blanche food in 2015, pick what you like in the heat of the moment.

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In no order whatsoever (because Nuit Blanche is all about spontaneity), here are 10 eatable, drinkable temptations to drop into your itinerary:

1) Well, fine, maybe you’re the linear type. If you want a basic starting point, pay hommage to the Swiss theme of this year’s Montréal en Lumière fine dining program and warm up with some mouth-burning FONDUE. Other than the severely lactose-intolerant and this guy, who can, POSSIBLY, SAY NO TO FONDUE? What’s more, you’ll start your night off at the base of all activities: Place des Arts. –> Until 3 a.m.

2) Next, as the world is caving in all around us, why not pay tribute in an ironic way to the oil sands with a fracking-themed cocktail? Half-awareness tactic, half (hopefully) innovative gustatory delight, the Maison du développement durable has you covered with various edible “curiosités de pétrole.” –> Until 2 a.m.

3) Though not technically a food event, the Salon du Livre Gourmand makes use of the BaNQ’s always well-curated exhibition space, and this year the theme is feasting. Is this free feast for your mind’s eye worth it? Why, that’s alimentary, my dear Child!  –> Until 11 p.m.

4) Over in the Plateau, the cuvée d’hiver promises a ton of spiritual uplifting, from whisky to microbrews. Try a few bites at this event at the Église Saint-Enfant Jésus and catch some rock’n’roll – with electro-swing? Huh? anyway… Let me know when you get there!) –> Until 2 a.m.

5) Some people spend decades trying to get their name in lights. For $2, get can get your name in chocolate–> Until 1 a.m.

6) Le “Snow Food” is all about exploring the modes of outdoor eating. A special version of the Food-Truck-Fridays at Parc Olympique, this polar extravaganza by the Association des restaurateurs de rue du Québec is a sure bet, and a good way to get out east to check out the art of the Pôle Parc Olympique. –> Until 1 a.m.

Bonne_Nuit_blanche_a_tous_-_Montreal_en_lumiere7) Over at Artexte’s exhibits, you can get free hot choco while they’re still open. –> Until midnight.

8) Another polar menu is offered over in Parc Lafontaine by the quaint Éspace Lafontaine. Chef Martin Bérubé’s QC-focused goods feature polar salmon, something called “crispy storm” and a Qweebek Turkey kebab (not a Turkish one…get it?) Beers and wines on offer, too. –> Until midnight.

9) Similar to last year at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, you can check out candies and mulled wine – though this year while you’re perusing the exhibits of the Musée d’art contemporain. –> Until 2 a.m.

10) Finally, in the spirit of pure conjecture and blatant prejudice on my part, try out the Belgo building, which I love on Nuit Blanche, and whose art purveyors usually tack together some wacky snackbar, and maybe a dance party or disco as an added bonus. One never knows where your frozen-on-the-outside, sweaty-on-the-inside feet will lead you.

11) A user-generated “bonus” option where you help us fill our pages! Found your own tasty stop? Let us know: @ForgetTheBox or @JoshDavidson.

P.S.: we’re also going to be live-tweeting (until we get too cold, too lost, or too drunk), so keep us informed of your best discoveries all night long for some sweet, satiating retweets!

We’re nearing the yearly gastronomical frenzy at the venerable Montréal en Lumière festival (Feb. 19-Mar. 1), purveyors of Nuit Blanche (Feb. 28).

This years’ offerings are more luxuriant than ever, and while the free outdoor site will be on hand for cheaper (corporately-sponsored) thrills, the real delights are to be found in dining rooms at the four corners of town as hundreds of global guest chefs descend upon our city.

In its first year as a UNESCO-recognized gathering, Montréal en Lumière doses up the usual geographical mashup to guide the culinary program: Switzerland, Washington DC and Lanaudière. I’m not going to pretend to find some throughline for these three places, so let’s jump into particulars.

Old Swiss food conjures up images of chocolate and cheese. Of course, things have long since changed and Montréal en Lumière is helping to smash stereotypes with a barrage of Michelin stars. From my count, we’re looking at a total 9 Michelin stars, if you tend to count that kind of thing.

Guest chef menus are vague, yet styles range from classic French to tapas, crossing kitchens from La Chronique to Maison Boulud. Prices vary wildly yet tend on the pricier side. For example, the “World’s Best Sommelier,” Paulo Basso, will pair wines at overfluffed Europea with Paul-André Ayer’s dishes for a smooth $300.

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For choco-cheese addicts, however, the rich nation’s iconic delights are on show across a flurry of fondue dinnerschocolate-inspired menus and all-you-can-eat raclette evenings. These tend to be more moderately priced.

Personally, however, I’m more interested in the focus on Lanaudière and Washington: two more “emerging” culinary scenes. Despite its general eminence in all things political, DC has never really found the same culinary footing as NYC, Chicago or even San Francisco.

Yet its culinary riches are developing: ethnically varied, innovative and well-financed chefs have recently brought some amazing ventures to the forefront. Big names such such as Equinox‘s Todd Gray and uber-competitive TV wonder Mike Isabella of Kapnos fill the program and are likely worth the tab.

However, from past experience, I’ve found the wine evenings can sometimes be the most revelatory—with dishes more odd & exciting than the headline dinners. In this spirit, check out Marjorie Meek-Bradley at the always-pleasurable Pullman wine bar.

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As for Lanaudière—that Nor’Easterly region right next to Montréal—well, what do we really know about its chefs and traditions? Top pick (and likely to sell out first) is Nancy Hinton’s guest spot at Les 400 Coups. Her rural joint Les Jardins Sauvages was the subject of great fanfare & controversy last year as duelling critics Lesley Chesterman and M-C Lortie disputed its merits. For a more low-key introduction to our neighbouring region, however, check out the Jean-Talon Market for local products and demos by Lanaudière cooks.

For amateurs of the peculiar world that is Québec culinary TV, you can brush elbows (and determine the financial fate) of four favourite Les Chefs! contestants in a $100 a head 12-course competition dinner.

In the series known as “Planète Montréal” you can have so many profound questions answered. Questions such as: “What would (Habs GM) Marc Bergevin make for dinner?” or “What kind of meal would (hipster band) Mister Valaire curate if they had a captive audience?”

Last and not least, the always-educational UQÀM agro-gastro talks come to the festival this year with a séance on olive oil. Tastings included.

The real wacky & budget friendly food thrills, however, are often found on Nuit Blanche. As we did last year, we’ll be providing a list of cheap (or free) thrills just prior to Feb. 28.

Follow us on Twitter for more updates: @Forgetthebox / @JoshDavidson

Another year, another round of increasing challenges–and opportunities–when it comes to feeding the world. Closer to home, we can see many of our most salient national issues (healthcare, climate change, aboriginal rights) refracted through the eye of a handful of food questions.

Food is just that: a flashpoint around which all else swirls. Here are a few simple food questions to keep tabs on this year. As you’ll see, they speak volumes on wider issues we face from sea to sea.

Can school lunches stem an obesity epidemic?

Though five provinces already offer lunch (or breakfast) programs, Canada’s one of the last holdouts among industrialized nations when it comes to a fully fleshed-out national program. It’s not just a question of quelling hunger. Could a properly-designed school lunch program help stamp out childhood obesity, thus reducing affiliated diseases and quashing healthcare costs?

A coalition of food organizations seems to think so. The proposal for a national program will be a bumpy ride, however: getting all provinces–and politicians–to agree on details, not to mention the parliamentary maneuvering needed to pass something of such magnitude.

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However, the longer a potential fight, the more hastily one should get in the ring so as to not avoid eventual burnout… as we learned from our neighbours to the South.

It’s up to us. What do we want our elected officials to focus on? Prevention? Exercise? Mental health? Could something like this help the next generation of Canadians enjoy a healthier childhood and a longer life?

Read an interview about it in the Tyee.

Canada: world’s biggest tossers?

That’s not a character judgement. I’m talking about household waste. We allegedly threw out the most garbage in the world per capita in 2013. We continue to be one of the planet’s most egregious food wasters, squandering enough to feed a small country. Or maybe a large one.

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There’s also that pesky issue of the emissions caused by moving around so much wasted food. Oh, and the $31B we’re flushing down the drain. How stupid. And sad. And avoidable.

If we don’t begin to turn this around quickly, the economic and environmental impacts may well see us drowning in our own waste. On a more hopeful note, campaigns like UK’S “Love Food, Hate Waste” are coming to our soil this year, and programs like Second Harvest are helping to make a difference. More is needed however.

Beyond handy checklists, we need to lobby lagging local governments (such as Montréal) to adopt compost pickup or to punish supermarkets or large restaurant chains for the added strains they are putting on the system.

Yet, if the real problem is with chains, how can we really stop them wasting so much food? We can’t. However, they can only waste food if they have customers to produce it for. Avoiding the big chains in favour of farm boxes, other delivery schemes, growing food in community garden plots, etc. are tiny ways to stem the flow.

Can we solve food insecurity in the North?

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A chronic problem, it’s one about to grow in 2015. With the population of places such as Iqaluit growing quickly, an already-difficult situation is being compounded by one of the youngest populations in the country. Less and less people are hunting. Food prices continue to spike and food banks can barely keep up.

Parliament exploded with this issue late in 2014 (after the UN got involved in 2012), yet very little action can be deciphered. Let’s hope 2015 sees that happen.

Follow this column for writing on food issues (and hopeful initiatives!) both in Montréal and worldwide.

Here at Food & Drunk, we often talk about what’s going on locally. Yet to frame the city’s food beat, it’s important, once in a while, to place things in a global context. As I did last year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at what mattered in food in 2014.

Here’s an eclectic list of eight touch points.

1. 3D printed food

2013 was the year 3D printing became a household term (even if not yet a household object). In 2014, it began to gain culinary traction. From its origins in simple sugar solutions, we started to see applications ranging from pizza to nursing home meals to interactive art installations.

2. Eating insects

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Protein-rich and as-of-yet untapped by global foodways, insects were in the news this year thanks to several startups seeking to exploit their nutritional value. Though many cultures around the world would hardly find this innovative or newsworthy, the Western press started to take a new global movement seriously—one that includes entomologists, chefs and urban agrarians.

Montreal even hosted an international conference on comestible bugs as part of the Future Food Salon (after all, we are the proud home of the Insectarium…remember?). Prediction: we’ll not only see edible insects in the headlines in 2015, but also on our plates.

3. Restaurant no-shows

What was once simply a thorn in a restauranteur’s side became a person to name and shame in 2014. The “shame on no shows” movement gathered great steam, only to fizzle out quickly. However, whether by design or organic growth, a message had stuck. Diners suddenly seemed more conscious of the economic ramifications of this erstwhile frivolous act (especially to small businesses).

In the process, Quebecers were forced to confront the antiquated laws that hinder restaurants, placing them on an oddly unequal footing with similar services and outings (such as hotels or concerts).

4. Aboriginal “fusion” cuisine

In 2013, Newsweek asked the US: “When will Native American cooking finally get its time to shine?

In Canada, the answer came sooner than expected. 2014 heralded a tipping point of sorts for the fusion between aboriginal cuisines of many types and mainstream Western cuisine. We saw Rich Francis show his stylings on Top Chef Canada, Doug Hyndford’s self-described “Métis-fusion” garner national attention in the Gold Medal Plates, and restaurant openings such as the Painted Pony Cafe in Kamloops and Borealis in Toronto.

The movement is only just beginning however. Though US-based, this interview with Chef Loretta Barret Ode of the Potawatomi Nation sheds some light on the issues and opportunities involved.

5. Séralini’s GMO study republished…amidst yet more skepticism

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CRIIGEN’s hotly-debated GMO study was republished this year, albeit in a new journal, after a momentous 2013 retraction by Elsevier. If you haven’t yet heard—in some way, shape or form—about the Séralini affair and the utter furor it has provoked on all sides—start with the Wikipedia entry.

The most valuable contribution of the Séralini affair is how it got us talking, thinking and strategizing about our relationship to genetic modification. How we interpret its influence in our midst. In our lives. In our environment and our bodies.

I’m the last to pronounce on whether it truly was dodgy science or not, but it’s impossible to refute that, by virtue of the controversy alone, the study has had a greater impact on popular consciousness (and even legislation) than almost any other in recent memory. For this alone we should be grateful, as it guarantees we’ll stand up and pay attention to the multiple ways in which the effects of GMOs can be interpreted. It’s not hard to predict that GMO studies will be held to ever-higher standards and thus reveal ever more useful data—in part thanks to the Séralini affair.

6. Haute (or hipsterized) meatballs

We should have seen this coming. In the last few years, meatballs have slipped onto hipster, even fine dining, menus. This year the meatball hit pitch fever. Meatballs were extolled left and right by celebrity chefs. Meatball restaurants opened in New York, Toronto and LA. Meatballs were made on virtually every episode of Top Chef. And to cap it all off: we got our very own Meatball House on Notre-Dame.

7. School lunches

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Kids eat a significant portion of their meals at school. We all know that a bad childhood diet has links to diabetes and obesity. What could possibly be “controversial” about making school lunches healthier…especially over a gradual ten year span? Ask House Republicans in the US. The latter group pulled out every stop to block reforms to the National School Lunch Program, despite the almost laughingly benign nature of the changes. For example, one “hotly contested” rule merely asked that sodium levels not surpass the total of a six-pack of chicken nuggets with a side of fries at Burger King. Despite the ugly resistance, talk of school lunches soon went viral which, ultimately, might be a subtle win for Michelle Obama’s initiative.

8. Cooking (and provisioning) as a human right

One of the most significant (and underreported) food stories of the year came out of Jordan, where the UN’s World Food Program built a supermarket inside the Azraq refugee camp. The camp, on Jordan’s northern border with Syria, might be the fastest-growing in the world, with a population that is estimated to quadruple to 40 000 in the next few years.

In providing refugees with the semblance of a “more normal life,” the WFP publicly challenged its own long-trodden distribution strategies. In turn, it forced many observers—privileged people from afar— to challenge outdated notions of food aid.

Selecting and cooking one’s own food, even in dire situations, was finally brought to the forefront as a key strategy in maintaining human dignity, morale and even life. It was such that John McKenna penned a highly thought-provoking article in The Guardian questioning whether cooking should be considered a human right. Food for thought indeed.

Thus ends Food & Drunk’s eclectic look back at food in 2014. We’d love to hear what you would add to the list! Leave us a comment below or Tweet @ForgetTheBox or @JoshDavidson.

We look forward to covering more food issues and trends in 2015!

The other night I was having a few drinks at new-ish, over-loud Plateau bar, Les Torchés. About one hour in, an adjacent bachelorette party chose to launch into a glass-shattering a cappella version of “I Believe I Can Fly”.

This was the perfect moment to escape out onto Mont-Royal and test out a nearby sausage joint I’d heard about.

I’d been urged on more than one occasion to try Dirty Dogs, a tiny shoebox of a grill on Mont-Royal just east of St-Laurent. The long eight-seater serves only hot dogs. With single franks priced at $8–9 a piece, I took a shot, assuming their chefs knew how to handle a wiener with pride.

My assumptions paid off…for the most part.

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I asked the server as to the signature dog and was instantly pitched on the Mac n’ Cheese dog, whose name is pretty self-explanatory.

(Self-styled) food critic that I am, my mind was made up: I would ignore his advice completely. Otherwise, how could I claim for this to be a true exam?

I picked a few random options.

Open for seven months now, Dirty Dogs had recently expanded their menu. So I expected them to be up to any task, at any hour.

First up was The Boss, which is, admittedly, something of a fan favourite.

A wholesome beef sausage heaped with a “Dr. Pepper”-infused chilli and some kind of slaw, this was a beast of a sloppy bite. Had I had a few more beers before this, it would have been sinfully spot-on. Sadly, most of my faculties were intact, and though I found the sausage itself near flawless, the chilli was decidedly sugary. Now that’s not really a criticism given I ordered something with Dr. Pepper in the flavour profile. However an abundance of salt combined with this sweet touch pushed the whole thing a bit too far into drunk food for my delicate palate. I know, I have only myself to blame.

The cabbage balanced things out on top and the bun was firm enough on the outside to avoid chilli seepage while spongy enough on the inside to soak up the sauce.

Next up was the Cheese D-urger: “Home-made beef sausage with American cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and Thousand Islands dressing.”

Keep in mind that American cheddar is processed slice cheese (different definitions on different sides of the border). Again, this was not a bad thing. In fact, it suited the tangy, crumbly sausage (pleasant and not-too-greasy), acidic dill slivers and mounds of lettuce quite nicely. A nostalgic little dog, decidedly less rowdy than the first.

Other than a wacky hint of nutmeg that ran throughout both dogs—a festive touch perhaps?—I had no major qualms with these ‘furters. I actually like nutmeg, so if anything, I was rather intrigued.

What’s more (though I didn’t try them), new options for the standard sausage include chicken and vegan. So now, no one is left out!

Given the amount of new (and old) drinking holes on the strip (with more opening up this winter), I have no doubt you’ll find yourself wandering into Dirty Dogs yourself some evening soon. My only tip: save it for after the bar.

For years Colleen Risbey was frustrated there were no late-night delivery options available for vegans in Montreal. An experienced chef, Risbey was also determined to start cooking more food that she was passionate about. So after three years of planning and scheming, Risbey is now the proud owner of her very own business.

La Tomate Roulante is a delivery-only restaurant which serves vegan munchies to those who stay up late in St-Henri, NDG and downtown (as far as Guy). I stopped by La Tomate Roulante’s headquarters in St-Henri recently to give vegan take-out a try, and learn how Risbey plans to accomplish her mission to “feed the people” of Montreal.

Launching any new business is risky. It’s especially true when your new venture is in a saturated market like the restaurant business. But the reality that most restaurants fail didn’t seem to phase Risbey one bit. “More than half the restaurants I used to work in are now closed,” Risbey declared very matter-of-factly.

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So why is Risbey so confident in La Tomate Roulante’s future?  “Because through all my experience I’ve learned how NOT to run a kitchen.” Risbey said. “Combined with the fact that I’m able to run this business at a low cost and I’m doing something no one else is, makes me extremely confident in its future.”

Risbey is adamant that her menu items will always be financially accessible to anyone. “It’s really important to me that anyone can afford to buy my product. Too many people end up eating crap like McDonalds because it’s the only type of food they can afford. It IS possible to eat well and cheap.” Risbey’s entire menu, from sandwiches to salads to desserts, is available for five dollars or less.

For the tasting Risbey prepared three sandwiches, all with Asian and Mediterranean influences.  First up was Risbey’s flagship sandwich the Avocado Bahn-Mi: a French baguette with vegan garlic aioli, avocado slices,  sautéed nappa cabbage, carrots and smoked tofu topped with red onions and cilantro. A sucker for anything with avocado in it, I was immediately hooked after the first bite.

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Colleen Risbey putting the finishing touches on one of her creations. (Photo by the author)

While Risbey may feel the “Avocado Bahn-Mi” is her strongest menu item, I felt each subsequent  item she presented was even stronger. The next sandwich I tried was the Nilufar Creation: Nilufars falafel,  spinach,  roasted garlic and pepper hummus, marinated cucumbers and fresh tomato in a pita bread.

I would highly encourage this sandwich to anyone who loves falafel, as it was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. The falafel in this sandwhich is courtesy of Restaurant Nilufar, who Risbey has developed a strong working relationship with. “I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it’s been working with Nilufar,” Risbey swooned. “If only all relationships were this easy!”

The final sandwich I tasted was The Alfresco: a toasted baguette with smoked paprika potato salad, vodka battered and double fried tofu with a double date chili sauce and maple dill sauce.

The Alfresco was the clear winner of the three sandwiches in terms of taste, but also the unhealthiest. “People seem to have a misconception that vegan food is always healthy, but I think The Alfresco proves that theory wrong,” Risbey noted with a smile. “At least you know it’s better for you then a hamburger.”

After initially being nervous as to how I would like vegan food, I easily finished every morsel Risbey put in front of me. Even after she’s been professionally cooking for years, Risbey was clearly thrilled that I enjoyed her creations. “Cooking is my art- it’s always been inspiring to me. Nothing makes me happier than feeding people.”

La Tomate Roulante runs from Thursday to Saturday, 9p.m to 4a.m. For contact information visit their website, twitter or Facebook page.

Food photos by Skylar  Bouschel

 

 

 

 

 

I love cream soups. Cream of broccoli, cream of mushroom, cream of leek, but my ultimate favorite has always been: cream of tomato.

When I went vegan several years ago, it wasn’t even a challenge to continue making cream soups without dairy or other animal products. Everything can be veganized, and in my opinion, because the dish is rendered cruelty-free, it becomes even more nourishing and delicious.

In my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, I share with you my “quinoa method” for making soups thick and creamy. Simply by adding a small amount of quinoa, usually 1/2 cup or less, to the vegetables while they are cooking, and then blending the soup, the result will be a creamy vegan masterpiece.

I created quite a few of these quinoa-cream soups and included many in Cooking With Amore, but for some reasons, I had not yet attempted my favorite one of all: cream of tomato (fear of failure, perhaps?) This week, I thought it was time to get to work on that. When I sat down for dinner with my newly-created vegan tomato soup, I was so glad I finally did it.

I ended up eating three bowls! It made me think that a grilled cheese sandwich was all that was missing to make this meal sheer perfection. Daiya makes such delicious vegan cheeses of all kinds – I love their sliced cheese for making my grill cheeses. They even offer an amazing Grilled Cheese Cookbook as a free download!

In addition to the quinoa, I used a couple more ingredients to create a creamy taste and texture for this soup: potato, black beans and soy milk. These extra ingredients served not only to increase the nutrition of the soup, but also to effectively counter the acidity of the tomatoes. This is one challenge we have with cream of tomato versus other cream soups: the acidity of the tomato. But much like with tomato sauces, this is an issue we can easily address and balance out.

Here’s my recipe for a big batch of delicious, nourishing vegan cream of tomato soup. You can freeze some for later. I hope you enjoy it!

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 small potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups of water (more if desired for less thickness)

12 small to medium ripe tomatoes

1 cup of cooked black beans

1/4 cup of quinoa

1 cup soy milk (optional, you can just add more water instead)

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, squirt of fresh lime

Method: 

1. In a large pot, heat coconut oil. Add chopped onion, garlic and potatoes. Add 1/2 cup of water and allow to simmer slowly.

2. In order to remove the peel from the tomatoes, bring a separate pot of water to a boil. Drop tomatoes into boiling water one by one. After 1 to 2 minutes, remove from heat, drain the water and allow to cool. Once tomatoes are cool, peel off the skin and discard. Chop tomatoes and add to the simmering vegetables. Sprinkle some Himalayan salt. Once the onion and potatoes appear to be getting soft, add the black beans and quinoa. Add remaining water and let simmer.

4. Once the quinoa appears cooked, add soy milk or additional water. Turn off heat, and allow to cool.

5. Once cool, place a small batch of soup at a time into a blender and puree until thick and creamy. If you want to thin out the soup, add more water at any time. Mix all pureed batches together and reheat the portion you are ready to eat. Taste test to see if more salt is desired. Store the rest in the refrigerator or freezer.

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“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” ~Woodrow Wilson

Many people have told me how much they love my popcorn, so I decided to share my method with all of you. I learned it from watching my mother prepare popcorn for us on our fun movie nights! Miss you, Mommy!

I make my popcorn in a big pot on the stove top. I prefer the flavor of the popcorn when I make them this way, rather than using an air popcorn machine, although this is another option you can try. When using the stove top method, believe it or not, the material that the pot is made of will influence the taste and texture of the popcorn. In my experience, it is best when the pot is steel with porcelain enamel or simply stainless steel.

The first step is to thinly coat the bottom of the pot with your choice of cooking oil. Depending on the size of the pot (I use a standard size pot typically used for cooking pasta), usually about two tablespoons of oil is plenty.

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Coconut oil is a good choice since it is an oil which doesn’t denature quickly at high temperatures, like olive oil does. That means that coconut oil retains its healthful properties even when we heat it, whereas olive oil does not. Another oil I enjoy cooking with is grapeseed oil, however, its healthfulness when heated is debatable.

I enjoy grapeseed oil because of its light taste and texture. Some people have written that it is stable at high temperatures, while others disagree. For popcorn, I prefer the outcome when I use grapeseed oil. The advantage with using the air popcorn machine is that no oil is necessary at all.

You then add the popcorn kernels, about a handful, to cover the bottom of the pot evenly, but not more than that, because then the popcorn won’t have enough room to expand. Cover the pot and turn on the burner to high, but not maximum. Start shaking the pot frequently, either by rubbing it directly on the burner, or lifting the pot slightly and shaking it. This will allow the heat to touch all the kernels evenly and within a couple of minutes you will hear that delicious sound: popcorn popping!

If you have dogs, or birds, and sometimes cats too, beware, they love popcorn as well! Continue shaking the pot often until the constant popping slows down, and before it stops completely, remove the pot from the heat. Lift the lid and there you have all your beautiful popcorn.

Now for the choice of toppings – this will make the popcorn extra yummy, and for me, I choose vegan toppings. I get the most compliments when I sprinkle garlic powder, Himalayan salt (or onion salt for added flavor) and nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste and aroma. With respect to the garlic, you can also mince garlic and add it to the oil and kernels, but the garlic inevitably burns by the time the popcorn is done so sprinkling garlic powder at the end may be preferred. The toppings are yours to experiment with!

Here in Los Cabos, Mexico, I get my organic popcorn kernels, nutritional yeast, and my coconut oil from a lovely little store in San Jose del Cabo called Green Goddess. I was thrilled to discover this place since it carries many of the organic and vegan ingredients I like to use in my recipes. They have a lovely selection of nut milks and butters, and many gluten-free pastas. I also get my quinoa and mung beans in bulk at the Green Goddess. They make phenomenal smoothies and cold-pressed juices!

The Green Goddess is a family-owned and operated business (they are originally from Alberta, Canada). Kristen Erickson, the family’s competitive runner, is usually there to greet you with a big smile and has a wealth of knowledge about healthful living to share. The next time you come to Los Cabos, be sure to check them out!

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Make your week amazing and let me know how the popcorn works out for you!

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Get Cooking With Amore and start cooking with love today!

 

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”~Robert Fulghum

We humans love our traditions. Some have persisted for valid reasons. Others? Well, I think on some level, we just enjoy the drug of empty repetition.

I’ve long been an eager proponent of the history, rituals, and heritage of the meal. But sometimes, we confuse the latter concepts. Some traditions are really just calcified habits – long grown irrelevant. To find their rightful place as a cultural and an economic force, restaurants need to transcend the “tradition” of front-line staff, working for tips.

Now, I realize that I’m treading on dangerous ground. Thou shalt not criticize the 20% gratuity, especially here in La Belle Province. But after years of experiencing both sides of the gratuity system, the situation has become as clear as day to me.

The compensation methods, and hence the respect for and the job security of the server has not kept up with its rapid professionalization.

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A restaurant bill in the US showing gratuity charges. Commensurate salaries and gratuity charges are common in many parts of Europe and Asia and have been shown to correlate to better overall wages, more job security, increased professional development opportunities and better employee engagement.

Despite a sharp hike in gastronomy’s cultural currency here in North America, we still cling to the quaint tradition of “tipping the service what it’s worth.”

There are college degrees for restaurant service now, for God’s sake, not to mention mixology, tableside prep and food service theory. (More on the odd tension of these degrees in a future article).

Artful dining and drinking are finally entrenched as legitimate “cultural fields” here in North America. The wealth of highly skilled servers has long outweighed the pretenders. It’s time to shake off the cobwebs and allow the industry to occupy its rightful place.

Where else are consummate professionals still legally encouraged to work for well under minimum wage?

The consumer’s echo? How unfair. I’ll just leave a bigger tip.

Well, I do that, and I used to get tips both big and small. That’s the problem. Instead of thinking beyond the issue, everyone just screams out to increase tips. We are perpetuating a system that is ultimately harmful to servers, restauranteurs, and eaters.

Why, in this one industry alone, are all the tried and tested responsibilities of the owner — adequate compensation for skilled employees, evaluation of roles and performance — deflected so heavily to the customer?

Tradition? Job instability, high turnover, and an uncomfortable and unnecessary dynamic for the client. That’s a tradition! An ineffable part of restaurant culture. But who is really winning from this tradition? And do we realize it’s predominantly a North American addiction?

I’m continually amazed by how rarely we compare the resto to similar cultural experiences. For some reason, we blindly accept that over-regulation and unquestioned traditions can utterly stifle in this one case — for no real reason other than the resistance to change. I’ve ranted in the past about how utterly counterproductive it is for this province to outlaw restaurant tickets, or to let people pay for reservations.

When it comes to working for spare coins, this old, logic-defying current prevails: Servers are inherently different from workers in cognate industries.

The problem is, that is just not true.

Perhaps we just feel guilty about being served food? Does it seem too much of a luxury to be compensated like a normal part of the economy? Try this offhand analogy: riding by plane is luxurious, yet I don’t hear of passengers being asked to invent a rate for the pilot once they’d safely landed.

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Servers are not a special class. They are simply skilled people with jobs. Their skills and experience are as valid as any other profession.

Yet there is some weird mystique to the profession that fogs our view. The latter is one of the nasty byproducts of an empty tradition. It goes something like this: My server is akin to a street performer, s/he should have to surprise and delight me if I am to allow him/her to make ends meet.

No.

Firstly, such expectations are not consistent with those we have for other services, and other skilled professionals. Customer satisfaction, typically, revolves around the expectation that the person we deal with is competent — hopefully decent — in their role. In most situations, this is easily enough for us to expect someone to be fairly compensated.

Second, a server is also not a freelancer in a public place. A server is an employee generating revenue for a government-sanctioned business. The restaurant industry is one of the most heavily legislated in the province, which is about the the furthest thing (on the surface) from an emergent street economy.

Why not just start paying servers like everyone else, which is to say paying servers based on normal principles of compensation? I’m no expert on the latter, but from my own life, it usually involves one’s prior levels of experience and performance year over year.

Check Please

Some say serving is a sort of performance. Fine. Yet unless they are being defrauded or willingly gigging for free, even, say, actors and musicians know to a much higher degree than servers the terms of their contract before performing the actual work.

Because when it comes to a server’s core earnings (tips), the contract is wholly unkonwn. The real contract is not with their boss. It’s with their diner. And they do not have permission to interview diners before the first glass of water is brought to the table.

The problem, therefore, is not the tip itself. People should always tip in life if they feel compelled, and cash is only one (albeit efficient) vehicle to acknowledge one’s actions, or to express gratitude.

But regular wages — eventually salaries — are the only way to keep servers and restaurants stable and relevant in today’s economic and cultural sphere. In no one’s fantasy is the restaurant still an economic or cultural experiment. Rather, it’s an institution, for whom structural change is long overdue.

So how can restos afford to pay servers real wages? Maybe increase booze markup, add a service charge, hike menu prices; in other words, let us diners absorb the cost of a newly stable profession. Because in many ways, we already are.

As you all know, I’m the first person to poo-poo canned food. I also advocate whole foods and lots of raw, rather than processed foods. Living through a devastating hurricane, however, changed my tune! I was surprised to discover that sometimes, canned food and avoiding raw is actually the way to go!

Hurricane Odile crashed into Baja California Sur on September 14, 2014, a date many of us in Mexico are unlikely to forget anytime soon. I prepared as best I could, but how can you ever fully prepare for something you have never experienced before? Norbert the week prior was a fresh breeze in comparison to Odile!

We were all told to take in all patio furniture, stock up on food and water, fill up our gas tanks, secure our windows and doors, and pray for the best. This is what I did, but for me, stocking up on food means lots fresh produce and some frozen items. Right! Without electricity for over two weeks due to the hurricane knocking down almost 8000 poles, in a very hot climate, how far do you think that food took me?

In two days, everything that was uneaten was either spoiled or on its way to expiring. I was surprised at how quickly frozen peas, for example, can go bad. Within one day of no refrigeration, they had spoiled.

If it weren’t for canned food, none of us in Los Cabos would have had anything to eat. The grocery stores were all severely damaged by the hurricane, and what was left of them got looted.

I was scared and saddened not only by the wreckage of the hurricane itself, but also by the ordeal of the aftermath. We had no power, running water, phone or Internet for over two weeks. My home was severely damaged and flooded. Not only were my windows shattered, but the ferocious winds ripped out the frame too! My whole bedroom, in fact, was gutted out, closet doors, clothes and all!

bedroom after Odile

Unfortunately, my living room did not fare much better, broken glass everywhere and furniture soaked.

living room after Odile

Once the windows and patio doors had shattered on that horrifying night, water gushing everywhere, I wasn’t sure my beloved animals and I would survive. As water dripped from the light fixtures on my ceiling, from all my air conditioning units, my laundry room overflowing with dirty water into my kitchen, I prayed the house would not cave in on us! Thankfully, none of us were injured (we hid in the bathroom for hours) and I am just so grateful to be alive!

Canned food is what we lived on for weeks and even if nutritionally inferior to fresh, whole foods, it kept us alive! In fact, I had my first salad a few weeks after the hurricane when one store reopened, and by the next morning, after a night of severe stomach pain, I had a high fever.

Two days of fever, muscle pain, nausea and diarrhea, urged me see a doctor who lives in my community. He said I had a bacterial infection, likely from contaminated water or vegetables. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to avoid raw food completely. He explained that after natural disasters, the level of bacteria is out of control.

This experience has surely taught me a lot about survival, but mostly it has been a lesson in hope and gratitude. I was pleased to actually meet my neighbors, talking to some of them for the first time, and I was really impressed by how we came together as a community and helped each other out. Although many of us had lost so much, and we had so little, no of us went without basic necessities because we were all there for one another.

It has been almost one month since that sleepless night, and Cabo is recovering quickly. Many stores and hotels have already been repaired and are open for business. I continue to be grateful every day, despite my moments of despair and uncertainty. Here is an excerpt from my gratitude journal I’d like to share with all of you:

1 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for teaching me, in a very concrete fashion, the impermanence of all things. What incredible pride we get from acquiring things. A house, a car, a fat pay cheque – wow, these make us feel accomplished, successful. But really, they can and will be taken away at any moment. Similarly, all relationships end at one point. They all end in the physical realm, whether they be through break-ups, or through death. There is no permanence in the physical world, there is only change. The permanence lies only in the spiritual realm. Therefore, maybe, we should invest more in our spirituality (whatever that means to each of us) than in material wealth. Thank you, Odile, for teaching me the transitory nature of physical existence.

2 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for showing me how truly “wealthy” I am for having lived my whole life with running water, enough food to eat, a roof over my head, electricity, enough health to make a living and the possibility of getting better when ill, resources to help me achieve university degrees, the companionship of loyal animals, true friends and loving family. Thank you Odile, for showing me my riches.

3- I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for allowing me to experience the importance of community. We need one another. We belong to each other. Our purpose is to serve all beings and treat them with kindness and help all those in need. Thank you, Odile, for allowing me to experience the power of community.

It seems to me that in those moments when much is taken from us, much of our true riches are revealed. Namaste.

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Looking for some vegan recipe inspiration? Get my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, and start cooking with love!

Once upon a time, you had to venture north of Rosemont to get a proper pupusa in Montreal.

Before that, it was even harder. I was all the way in Santa Barbara, California, when I first tasted the addictively comforting El Salvadorian treat. That was ten years ago, and since then, we’ve been lucky to have a few Montréal instances, like La Carreta on St Zotique, or  El Chalateco on Beaubien.

These places are renowned for their flavours and charm, and not for their trendy or boozy vibes.

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Pupusas at Los Planes – perfectly pillowy and comforting.

Los Planes is aiming to modify the pupusa’s image. The city’s third pupusa contender has recently moved southward in a bid to test their El Salvadorian and Mexican fare in the Plateau. It’s not exactly next door to where I live, yet it’s nice to see more great pupusas near me.

It’s a risky bid. After all, the block to which they have migrated (St-Denis near Rachel) is part of that long-imploding mile between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal.

Once the city’s de facto tourist shop/lunch strip, the mile, in the past five years, has become known more for its landmark closings, which leave in their wake, changing doors of upstart culinary establishments replacing one another — endless à louer signs replacing even the places with high quality and good intentions.

After trying Los Planes’ pupusas, I can only hope, that the resto does not find itself among the ranks of the restos that come and go too occasionally.

So slick was this resto’s exterior, that my feet almost made me walk past it. Out for an evening stroll, I initially judged Los Planes’ new incarnation as just another Mesa 14-inspired (i.e., overpriced and under-seasoned) “Tex-Mex” trap.

Then I spotted the p-word.

An entire section of an upscale menu devoted to pupusas? Could it be? Were upscale pupusas suddenly a thing?

The good news is, they’re not!

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Essential sides to the pupusa include a lightly-fermented slaw, a tomato sauce and, occasionally, hot sauce.

Los Planes’ versions are as homey and heartwarming as any of the El Salvadorian pouches I have tried, and the slight bump in the price is entirely forgivable. The clean and spacious terrace, ample people-watching opportunities, and solid beer and wine list make it worth the splurge, at $3.50 per pouch.

Though the resto offers a full menu of Mexican specialties and various brunch offerings, I’m afraid I can’t give you much information about those: I was here for one thing and one thing only.

The dough of a good pupusa, made from alkalized cornmeal, is akin to a pillow. It’s soft yet firm, inviting yet restrictive, and supports you as you melt away into a wonderful state of pleasure.

Los Planes nails the nurturing quality of the pupusa to near perfection.

I’ll push the analogy further: just as a perfect pillow makes fancy sheets seem inconsequential, so too does a wonderful pupusa pocket cast its fillings as mere enhancements, rather than central features.

The Revuelta, a classic filling mostly based around refried beans, goes down just right on a chilly fall night: oozy, warm, and seasoned to simple perfection. Most importantly, perhaps: it’s not overly greasy at all. Less traditional offerings, such as various cheeses, zucchini, garlic, are hit and miss. Again, the structure is so solid, that it hardly matters. I’d suggest about four: two Revueltas and two “mixed-bags”. You get to choose from about ten options.

Traditional condiments include a mild tomato sauce and a lighly-fermented slaw. Both should be piled high for the full experience and to cut the richness. I personally loved Los Planes’ version of hot sauce, which is rather forceful, and perfect for any cheese-based pupusa filling, which can quickly become cloying.

The terrace makes for a nice, clean, relatively quiet place to grab a pint and to snack. Though it was empty when I arrived, the restaurant and the patio soon filled up with curious passersby.

Despite the cartoonishly-tall and awkward to handle pint glasses it is served in, draft beer is affordable for the neighborhood (considering other restos), with a pint of Boreale at $6.50. In addition, the wine offerings are diverse enough to make the place worth going for a short soiree.

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This is the tallest pint glass in existence.

Then there was this seemingly minor detail: a nice wide ledge on the terrace, like a personal bar to lean on, while sitting at your table, makes for a welcome respite for your elbow or phone, and contributes to a feeling of splendor in what is at its heart an authentic pupuseria.

I think Los Planes has added just enough “bling” to their formula to become good, unpretentious Plateau regulars. Let’s just hope the neighbourhood agrees.

Los Planes is at 4115 rue St-Denis.

As some of you know, one of the reasons I decided to move from Montreal, Canada to Mexico is, sure enough, the weather. I just couldn’t stand the thought of another long, freezing winter and way too many grey rainy days for my taste.

Neither could I accept the thought of waiting until retirement to make the move. I longed for sunshine and heat, all the time, all year round. And oh my did I find just that in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico!

However with the year-round heat, sun and sea breeze also comes the hurricane season, which runs from June to October in Baja. This means that during those months, we can expect some rain and there is a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes of varying intensities.

I experienced my first one here last week, Hurricane Norbert, and it was scary and exciting at the same time. Locals tell me it wasn’t a bad one, but it was enough to knock out my telephone and Internet service for 7 days!

We are now expecting Hurricane Odile scheduled to greet us this Sunday. I am quickly uploading my recipe for you this week just in case the hurricane takes away my Internet again!

When the storm was just starting to brew, I stocked up on supplies and hit the kitchen to make a couple of soups – the ultimate comfort food for damp and windy rainy days. I created a coconut, spinach and mung bean concoction so soothing, creamy and delicious that I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you! To my surprise, the mouth-feel and taste reminded me of a luxurious clam chowder.

Before making this recipe, remember to soak your mung beans overnight, just like we do with other dry beans and chickpeas. I added just a little cumin, fresh ginger and basil for flavor – you may want to add more or less to suit your taste.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Coconut Spinach Mung Soup

Ingredients:

Makes approximately 6 servings

3 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

6 green onions, chopped

1 potato, peeled and chopped

1 small chunk of ginger, about 2 inches, minced

2 cups mung beans, presoaked overnight and drained

2 cups spinach, frozen or fresh (chopped)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

1 cup coconut milk

3 cups water

½ teaspoon cumin

Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Place coconut oil, garlic, onions, potato and ginger in a large pot and sauté over medium heat for about 4 or 5 minutes.
  2. Add mung beans, stir and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, basil, coconut milk, water and cumin and slowly bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour, or until mung beans and potato are very soft and soup is creamy.
  4. Add salt and black pepper as desired.

 

“Each one of us is here for a reason that is greater than the roles that are ascribed to us and that we ascribe to ourselves. We are alive, in this moment in time, going over material together for a reason. The reason is greater than your role as a parent, as a sibling, as a child, as a friend, or whatever you do in your career. It is greater than your relationships, your insecurities, your stresses, or your bodies. When we get blindsided by the temporary, by the daily routine and the stresses that rise up within it, we stay cloaked behind the veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing the truth. The truth is this: we are here to examine why we are here, who we are, and how we are connected to each other and to the earth that continues to sustain us. That truth also states that beneath this world of change and separation is a deeper world of unchanging existence, and it is from there that we all stem. From a place of permanence, of unchanging energy and consciousness.”

~Bram Levinson, The Examined Life 

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