Friday, December 4, 2009

Finally......the moment we've all been waiting for

Those that know me well, know that when travelling, I live by the book of Bourdain. Anywhere that Anthony Bourdain visits in No Reservations is automatically on my must see list when travelling (kind of like a Gourmet Lonely Planet I guess). It's not unusual, therefore, that I have progressively moved through his episode in Quebec since arriving here. I've had Poutine at La Banquise at four in the morning after too many beers. I've gorged myself on St Viateur Bagels on several occasions.

But the best, I had to wait for. I don't know why I waited so long........maybe I was waiting for the right company to join me, maybe I was apprehensive of being disappointed by the experience I had built up in my head.........maybe a combination of the two. But fears aside......the time to visit Au Pied de Cochon was finally here...and I was excited.

There is a also a reason I haven't previously blogged about a "Bourdain" recommended experience. It is simply because there is no way I can adequately describe a place, flavour or experience and paint a more detailed picture than he would. With that in mind......let me introduce you to Au Pied de Cochon, Bourdain style:


Now I'm reasonably brave in a gastronomical sense...........but there was no way I was going to attempt to replicate that. My wallet and arteries simply do not have the stomach for it. I did have two things on my checklist from the above segment - I had to try the Foie Gras and I had to try it in Poutine......nothing could be more Quebecoise in my book.

The only reservation I could get was for 9pm on a Tuesday night due to the extreme popularity of this venue. Bourdain is not blowing smoke up his friends ass - Martin Picard is really regarded as one of the best chef's in Canada - and the popularity of his Flagship is well deserved.

After a pre-dinner beer around the corner, I wandered through the doors of Au Pied de Cochon with my dinner companion, Tatiana. Tatiana is a local Quebecoise, and has never visited this Montreal icon before so we were both in the same boat somewhat.

I say somewhat because it's no secret that my French is still at a very rudimentary stage, and whilst the staff do speak English here, the menu is in French and it is located in a predominantly Francofone area of Montreal. We surveyed the menu for a while and finally decided that we'd choose an assortment of options and share so that we could experience as much as possible.

Tatiana's bilingualism came in handy quite quickly as she quizzed the waitress (ironically the same waitress from the above clip) about the contents of a few of the dishes as it wasn't always clear. In particular, we queried the "Head Cheese croquettes" as it sounded interesting. Was "Head" a type of cheese? No.......as it turned out, Head Cheese had more to do with Head and less to do with Cheese. It is prepared using the minced meat of the pigs cheek, rolled and deep fried into a croquette......no cheese present here. Not quite what we were looking for in this instance. We finally settled on the following:

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad - Goat Cheese is something that I haven't eaten a lot of back home. But it's made it's way in as a reasonably regular ingredient since arriving in Montreal (mostly due to my cousin's penchant for it). Traditionally, I'm not a fan of the North American version of beets. They, in my experience, are low in flavour and not particularly pleasant. The Australian counterpart, Beetroot, is far sweeter with a nicer texture. Nonetheless, this was the exception to the rule. The Beet's did not taste like the Beetroot of home - but the flavour was more potent than I had experienced with previous attempts - and it turned out to be a good thing. Combined with the Goat Cheese, the flavours intersected perfectly and the texture was delightful. I certainly wouldn't recommend it for those looking for a "light" salad as, with everything here, it's done to the gastronomical excess - consisting of more Goat Cheese than salad!

Cochonnailles Platter - The very very loose English translation of this French dish is "Pork Products". The cochonnailles platter is basically that - an assortment of pork bi-products like pork sausage, terrine, pate etc with some Bison tongue thrown in for good measure. Most of the items weren't easily identifiable but, in Bourdain style, I had to try it all. I've never eaten tongue before and this was a very pleasant introduction. If you are able to break the psychological barrier of being able to visually identify the animal part you are eating, the flavour is great. I don't think I could ever order it as a main course though! The other interesting highlight was a black jelly substance that had the most obnoxious and overpowering flavour i've ever experienced. I can't describe it accurately as i've never eaten something that I could compare it to. So much so, that we had to ask the waitress what it was........after which I wish I hadn't asked. It turned out to be a jelly made from the  cartilage and jelly from a pig's cheek. Honestly, if i'd enjoyed the taste, it would not have been a problem. But I would actually describe the flavour as offensive - and it was overpowering! I'm sure there are those out there that would disagree with me. 


Foie Gras Poutine - Now this is what I had been waiting for. For those who haven't been initiated to Poutine - it is basically fries, cheese curds with a brown gravy (there are many many variants depending on where you go). So Foie Gras Poutine was exactly that - but with a few large pieces of Foie Gras thrown on the top. Now I have no basis for comparison as this was my first Foie Gras experience.......but the flavour is phenomenal. The texture takes a little getting used to as you are very aware that you are eating liver. Whilst this doesn't bother me - it may bother others. Poutine is one of the most traditional Quebecoise experiences. Even without the Foie Gras, the Poutine was incredible. I know it's ridiculous to think there can be so much variance in quality with such basic ingredients, but believe me there is the way to eat Poutine and the way not too. And this definitely fits with the former. 


Satisfied? Absolutely.......Would I repeat? Can't wait!

As usual, Anthony Bourdain steered me in the right direction. Unfortunately, I did not do him justice at all as I didn't overindulge. But it is very difficult as a normal human being to do so - the above menu choices were shared between two and we both almost had to be rolled out the door at the completion of service. I cannot possibly understand how he achieved what he did in the above video - if nothing else, my Au Pied de Cochon experience only heightened my respect for the man. That being said, I'm sure when i'm visited by my brother (who, like me at times, can treat eating like a competitive sport) that we will do our very best to at least take the silver medal! I might have to stop eating all food from now until then in preparation........



So thank you Anthony, thank you Martin and thank you Foie Gras!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Things to do on a Friday night.....

You all know how the story goes......you start out for a quiet drink with your friends and end up in an underground Greek cultural club at 2 in the morning drinking Rum and listening to a live Bouzouki player.....normal Friday night right? In Montreal......anything's possible........

I was lucky enough to have a visit from an old school friend and his work colleague as they were travelling through Montreal this week. Whilst my local knowledge is still reasonably limited in terms of playing an effective tour guide, I thought i'd be well equipped to show them a few things at least!

After meeting Joel and Amy at their hotel, we proceeded to a Tapas bar that i'd already visited called Taza Flores (www.tazaflores.com).




Taza Flores is located at 5375 Avenue Du Parc.






















As I said, I had been here before so there was no element of surprise in how good it was. The atmosphere was vibrant being a Friday night - we were lucky to get a table given my lack of forward planning in not reserving (a practice that seems to be required here more often than not). I tried my best to act as translator for the menu but thankfully the waitress soon bailed me out and provided the three of us with English menus.

We decided on a selection of different dishes to share:

We started with the Tapas Mixte which was a delightful plate of all the cold assortments that you'd expect on a good cold Tapas plate - dips, pita, olives, herring - and all of a really high standard. The wait staff were extremely competent as they did not bring out our next dish until we had picked the first one dry - which was not a quick process!

Next up was Calamars Frits, Sauce Chipolate or Fried Calamari with a Chipolate sauce. The calamari was extremely tender and the portion size was quite large considering it was Tapas. The Chipolate sauce was a perfect accompaniment. Another successful plate......

As we hit the "hump" of the meal, our Accras De Morue  or Cod Fritters arrived. Now this dish was my recommendation from my previous visit and apparently lightning does strike twice in the same spot - extremely tasty and provided three looks of satisfaction around the table.

Next we were presented with Tortilla Espagnole au Chorizo  or Spanish Tortilla with Chorizo. I've never met a Chorizo I didn't like and thankfully this was no exception - basic, tasty and good quality ingredients.

Finally the piece de resistance', Cigare a L'Agneau or Lamb Cigars. The concept is quite basic - take some good quality marinaded lamb, roll it in breadcrumbs in the shape of a cigar and deep fry. It's simple, it works and it's delicious - exactly what i'm looking for in a Tapas dish!

Whilst Joel and I stayed on the conservative side at this stage of the evening and enjoyed a couple of Moosehead's, I have to mention that the Cocktails at Taza Flores are outstanding. On my previous visit I experienced their Margarita's and have to say i've never had a better one (that being said, I haven't been to Mexico!).

Overall Taza Flores comes with my highest recommendation. After moving through our second plate, Joel commented to me "I don't think it's possible to order anything bad from this menu" and I have to say that his assertion was correct. It's classy and they do what they do well - and they do it without charging you an arm and a leg.......what more could you ask for.

This is where the evening starts to take an interesting turn.......

My cousin and friends of hers had decided to travel back to Mythos (http://aussiegoesquebecois.blogspot.com/2009/11/another-thursday-night-in-montreal.html) which they had introduced me a couple of weeks before. They called an invited us to join them as there is usually a Bouzouki player and Greek dancing downstairs on a Friday night - having not planned our next move we decided to wander across the street.

Unfortunately, as the holiday season approaches us, most of the best restaurants and function rooms are being utilised for Christmas parties. This was the case tonight in Mythos. We decided to stay as some members of our growing party had not eaten yet - and when you want to eat, Mythos is the place to be! So we took a table at the back of someone's Christmas party, ordered a bottle of Greek wine recommended to me as "the most addictive substance on earth" (i'll be the judge of that!!), and settled in to at least watch some Greek music from the live band...................Wrong again.......

The Greek Band that I had enjoyed so much the week before had entered a quasi electric/70's/spanish zone and their set list reflected it. I couldn't spot him but i'm certain someone was actually spinning beats behind them on stage. From a technical point of view they were still fantastic - but the experience was becoming somewhat surreal.......we came here looking for authentic Greek culture and this wasn't it!

I must mention at this point that two members of our party are of Greek heritage. And one of them had done her research on where to find the real Greek culture in Montreal. So off we went to a new venue.....a special venue that no-one is likely to forget.

I'm not going to provide the name or the location of this venue as I don't think that the proprietors of this venue are too keen on extended public knowledge. This became obvious to me when we had to be "buzzed in" to enter (thankfully short of being asked a password). As I walked upstairs a familiar smell entered my nostrils...........wait......it can't be.......people are SMOKING in here? Yes.....yes they are......I can have a cigarette with my drink.......this night is getting better and better.

As we entered, we successfully lowered the average age in the place by about 30 years. This was a real Greek community club - and it was off the radar. If you closed your eyes and listened to the Bouzouki player and the female singer you could have sworn you were in Athens.

We were warmly greeted by a guy who I am guessing was the proprietor and he took our drinks order. Five minutes after receiving our drinks he arrived at our table again......this time with a plate of meat. Another waiter followed with a salad.......and bread........we didn't order this.

Complimentary.....it turned out. This really was a community centre. As not to be an ungracious guest, I started eating my third dinner for the night (I couldn't resist sampling a LITTLE bit of the food at Mythos despite already having eaten). The food was incredible.......obviously cooked by Yaya in the back kitchen......even more authentic than Mythos.

The Greek dancing soon begun - but a form of Greek dancing I hadn't seen before. I have been to Greek parties and taken part in the big, everyone's attempting to dance traditionally, type moments. But never have I witnessed two Gentlemen get up and perform the "Drunken Man's Dance". Now that name isn't a direct quote or official name - it's how it was described to me by my Greek friends. It's basically a freeform improvisational dance style that whilst unplanned, if performed correctly can look quite majestic (despite the name). The two guys who performed it here were outstanding - there wasn't anything overly complicated about what they did but you could feel the hundreds (if not thousands) of years of tradition behind what we were witnessing - and it felt good to witness it.

Unfortunately, I was about to participate. On the surface of things, performing something called the "Drunken Man's Dance" sounds quite up my alley. I've performed it many times. In Australia, however, it's a little less poetic and rhythmic. It's more likely to consist of liquid courage in the form of tequila, liquid energy in the form of a Jaeger Bomb and then trying to move your arms and legs simultaneously and retain some level of co-ordination.

This situation had a little more pressure associated. While I was assured by my friends that by the very nature of the dance, you can't do it badly - just move to the music and do whatever you want. If anyone can do it badly, I thought, I can......

So I was dragged to the floor in front of the entire room and proceeded to follow the lead of my Greek friend. My knees bent......my arms flailed........my face reddened with embarrassment. Not embarrassment for my own lack of co-ordination - but embarrassment for destroying a traditional dance in front of a LOT of Greek people. But, as it turns out, I wasn't that bad! Then I realised it had nothing to do with the dance - it's all in the participation. And that's the whole point - traditions such as this have existed for so long because they bring people together......the idea is that everyone gets involved, has fun and it brings the community closer together. So what I had initially assumed might be insulting, was quite the opposite - we suddenly felt quite welcome. Would I do it again? Maybe after a serious visit from my friend Jose Cuervo........

Had I succeeded in showing Joel and Amy the real Montreal? In a strange way.....I had. From a tourist point of view, there are so many restaurants, clubs, bars, sights, museums that you can see in Montreal. But as anyone that has travelled knows......you never see the real side of a city in those things. Rather, you see it in the people. I thought about how many venues such as the one we had visited exist around the world - and how many would treat outsiders suspiciously and would make them feel unwelcome. We found the exact opposite - and it's truly reflective of the positives i've seen in Montreal so far. The successful integration of so many cultures in the one city is something that Montreal has achieved - and something that the rest of the world can really learn from. Australia, as we so proudly declare, is a multicultural country. But there is still an unconscious (and unfortunately sometimes conscious) mistrust that still exists between so many groups that just doesn't seem to exist here. I don't know what the secret is.......but when I work it out I'll be sure to share it with you!


 ZFJYYN9H27US

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Thursday night in Montreal.....

There's nothing better than a nice night out with good company, good drinks and good food. Especially when it's not expected! What started as a casual quick drink turned into a night of hedonistic delights. Unfortunately due to the unplanned nature of the evening, I didn't have my camera with me so you'll have to rely on my words!

The adventures began at Baldwin Barmacie (115 Laurier Ouest, Montreal QC)















Walking into Baldwin's at 6pm on a Thursday, one thing becomes abundantly clear - this is where the hip style makers of the Plateau congregate for Cinq a Sept (see side note below). The decor is fresh with several shades of white, large leather seats and an incredible combination of dimmed overhead lighting and candles. It's exactly what you would expect a laid back, fashionable lounge bar to look like. A DJ sits perched above the bar delivering nice mix of lounge music - enough to tap your feet to but subtle enough to perform as background music to good conversation.

(Cinq a Sept - Quebecoise' version of Happy Hour for those playing at home. Directly translated it is "5 to 7" and it basically the time between finishing work and sitting down to dinner where you have a drink with friends or workmates and maybe a light snack. I was introduced to this almost immediately after arriving here! For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinq_√†_sept).

The theme or concept behind Baldwin's is a comparison between Medicine and Alcohol (not a big stretch really). So the set-up is really that of a pharmacy. You are able to purchase entire bottles of spirits and have them served to your table with a selection of mixers appropriately served in small medicine type jars allowing you to brew your own concoction.

Six O'Clock is a little early for me to get stuck into a full bottle of Vodka so I took advantage of the happy hour prices and had a few beers. If beer isn't your poison of choice, there are several cocktails on offer (including some very good looking Martini varieties) and from what I could see, the bar staff knew what they were doing as mixologists.

Overall a great place to start a night or possibly end one. The drink prices aren't outrageous but I would recommend taking advantage of happy hour if you want more bang for your buck.

After four or five pints, some gourmet nourishment was required post haste. The promise of traditional Greek cuisine, live Greek music and the possibility of some drunken Greek dancing from one of our party had me sold.....onwards to Mythos Esiatorio!

Mythos Estiatorio is located at 5318 Ave De Parc between St Viateur and Fairmount- one of the main Restaurant, Bar and Cafe thoroughfares through the Plateau.


Mythos Estiatorio
























As we walk through the entrance, the authenticity is apparent. Whilst on the surface the decor is no different from hundreds of other Greek restaurants throughout the world - something felt like this was less contrived than most. The aromas from the kitchen resembled real home cooking and the two Greek musicians performing centre stage couldn't be faked.

Our waiter seated our party directly in front of the stage so we could truly appreciate the music - a move appreciated by the band I suspect as we were the only ones that graciously clapped after each song (more to do with the client√®le than the quality of the music.

My ability to order from a menu written in French, while improving, is still not fantastic. That combined with the fact that there were two Greeks in our party as well as two other very well travelled people meant that I was happy to leave the ordering to someone else. This turned out to be a very wise move both because of the quality of the selection, but also because we all chose to share a wide selection of dishes allowing me to experience as much of the menu as possible in one sitting without damaging my organs or my wallet. Some of the culinary highlights included:

Skordalia - Skordalia is a dip, but no ordinary dip. It's basically a Greek version of mashed potatoes with Garlic. Closer to a dip in texture than traditional mashed potatoes. It worked very well as a compliment to some of the later dishes

Spanakopita Spitisia - Basically a filo pastry spinach slice. Very Moorish - I only had a small sample of it but could have easily enjoyed this on it's own.

Patates Fournou - Your basic run of the mill Greek roast potatoes - but something was a little different. It may have been the freshness of the Rosemary or the home made olive oil but I have never eaten Potatoes as nice as this before.

Gigantes - As basic a choice as you can find - Lima beans in tomato sauce. Again, I think the difference here is the quality of ingredient because even the Lima beans tasted better than i'd had before. They dissolved on the tongue with the slightest pressure and the basic tomato sauce they were drowned in was the perfect complement.

Lokaniko Sharas - Char grilled Greek sausages. Packed full with flavour and when topped with a little bit of  Skordalia were the highlight of the meal for me.

Octapodaki Sharas Me Piperies - Char Grilled Octopus with mild peppers. Now i'm a hesitant seafood fan as a general rule. There are some seafood dishes that I love but i'm still hesitant about quite a few of them as I didn't develop my seafood palate until later in life. I was informed my the other members of my party that the Greek's make the best Octopus and no Greek menu experience is complete without trying it. So I did - and i'm glad I did. I can't believe I had been avoiding this delicacy for so long - a mistake I won't repeat!!

The meal was accompanied with some Greek red wine - unfortunately I don't recall the name as the bottles were ordered by another member of our party but it was a very nice introduction to Greek wines and the perfect addition to everything on the menu.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of Greek speakers with me during this experience who kindly translated some of the lyrics being performed by the two Greek musicians making them that much more enjoyable. It turned out that their repertoire extended beyond traditional Greek music to basically anyone with Greek heritage meaning I learned my second music lesson for the night - Cat Stevens is Greek! I, of course, confirmed this via Wikipedia and was quite surprised to discover that Cat Stevens was born Steven Demetre Georgiou. I finished the night with a small laugh to myself remembering the father from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" saying "Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek". Well....apparently give me a musician, any musician and I'll show you that he is Greek!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How easily people are offended.......

Firstly, quick shout out to my brother who in his spare time (or more specifically, when procrastinating from study), he enjoys a bit of video editing. The following clip is not really a piece of editing work at all, but it's a grab from Curb Your Enthusiasm (if you haven't watched the show......watch it....but be warned, it's not for everyone!) which he has spliced and put on YouTube:




Watch it and it will tell you straight away whether you'll enjoy watching the show. Anyway, back to my actual point.

Since uploading, it's received over 100,000 hits and even been used in an article on the Huffington Post website (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/28/catholic-league-angered-b_n_337199.html). The reason for this attention is simply due to the hilarity that Curb serves up - it's because it's sparked a war between Catholics and Jews.

For those that haven't given into temptation and watched the above, I'll give you a quick rundown. Larry David (of Seinfeld fame), the protagonist of the show is on a new medication that caused him to have an aggressive urine stream (for want of a better term). Whilst visiting an employees house, he uses the facilities and experiences heavy splash back (i'm not explaining this for you!) as a result of his medication. The subsequent splash back makes it's way on to a hanging picture of Jesus positioned next to the toilet (the owner of the house is a devout Catholic). The residents of the house mistake the droplet for a tear and believe that a miracle has happened.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Catholics are up in arms as they believe this scene was a direct shot at them and was incredible insulting to their religion (keeping in mind here that Larry David is Jewish).

Before  give my opinion on the matter, let me point out that i'm Christian and went to a Catholic school. I simply do not see the problem. Anyone that has watched more than one episode of Curb would agree that this is perfectly in line with the type of humor they have used throughout their six seasons and is very unlikely to have been in anyway motivated as a slight against Catholics. And you know......so what if it was? Last time I checked, it's the Catholics that subscribe to the New Testament......let me channel my inner Catholic school boy and quote from Matthew 5:38-42 - the words of Jesus himself:

"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you"


More colloquially known as "turning the other cheek".....


Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't presume to be an expert on Biblical interpretation or Catholic Doctrine but if a little bit of urine (fake for the purposes of a fictional television show) on an effigy of Jesus is worse than getting slapped in the face.....then something is seriously wrong. 


I suppose it's part of a long tradition of the Catholic church not being able to laugh at themselves. You only have to think back to their reaction to Kevin Smith's movie "Dogma" to see that in full force. I just find it interesting given that being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of humility and Christ is supposed to be the ultimate representation of humility for a Christian (i'm sure some smart arse will argue with me over the difference between "True Humility" and "False Humility" - i'm aware that self deprecating humor would most likely fall into the category of the latter).


I think it boils down to one simple question for me - Would Jesus actually give a shit about this or would he concern himself with some of the slightly bigger problems facing Mankind? Or maybe the Catholics should take a leaf out of the book of Jewish comedy which can traditionally be extremely self-deprecating. Take this joke from Jon Stewart (a very famous Jewish comedian):


There is no Jewish conspiracy to control the banks. You know why? Because we can't agree on a place to go for dinner! We couldn't even get the meeting started!
(authoritative voice) All right, the Jewish meeting to control the banks will now commence.
(grouchy voice) Hey, who died and made 
you king? Never mind me. I'm no one here. I have no opinions.



Even Larry David's previous show, Seinfeld, constantly had many story lines that poked fun at Jewish stereotypes - I don't recall any major Jewish power brokers or leaders demanding that the show be taken off the air. 


Sure, I understand that people will argue that it was offensive because it was someone from another faith making the joke. But I don't believe for a second that the reaction would have been any different - it's a simple fact, the Catholic church cannot laugh at themselves. And yes, there are plenty of media pundits asking the natural question of "What would the reaction have been if a Catholic had urinated on a Menorah or something similar" - and I agree, it would probably have not been well received by the Jewish community. But in the end who really cares! If any community is that self conscious that something like this would affect them so severely - then they have bigger problems than they are letting on. And as I said earlier - even if you are insulted, practice what you preach and turn the other cheek!


So the bottom line - get over it, there are far more important things that deserve your attention!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Viva Las Biodome!

I learnt two very important things today when travelling to visit the Montreal Biodome:

1. I really need to buy an umbrella.
2. I definitely need a better camera!

That aside, it was a fantastic afternoon. I had originally intended on walking to the top of Mont-Royal today but one look at the weather outside this morning confirmed that I needed to find an indoor activity.

I've been unconsciously avoiding doing "Tourist" type activities since arriving here - probably out of a desire not to appear like a tourist! But today I thought screw it! I am a tourist at the moment - i'm still on holiday for a little while longer so I have every right to do tourist things! I scoured the web for something interesting to do and came across the website for Biodome de Montreal (http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/biodome/site/site.php?langue=en)

I recommend anyone intending on reading the rest of this entry should probably visit the website. I'll try to explain the concept and setup of the Biodome but I fear I won't do it justice. In short, the Biodome is a fully enclosed and operational habitat with 5 distinct regions and/or ecosystems. It's quite a unique concept (in my experience at least) as each zone is very authentic, including the climate. As you walk into the Tropical Forest, the first zone after entering, the humidity and temperature increases instantly and feels as real as the trees and animals.

The main attraction in the different zones is of course the animals. But this isn't an ordinary zoo - the animals are in as close to their natural habitat as is possible outside of the wild. A lot of zoos that I have visited have adopted this type of exhibit design - and some (Like Monarto in South Australia or Werribee in Victoria) have created huge open areas where animals like Elephants and Lions can exist in natural habitats rather than cages. I suppose the difference here is that the focus is on creating the ecosystem, rather than focusing on the animals. Everything from earthworms to fish and birds all co-exist within their appropriate zone - as I said before, have a look at the website to get a more detailed understanding of how everything is structured.

Despite my poor performing and temperamental camera, I did manage to get a few videos worthy of uploading:



















Also got a few piccies for those interested:






















I would recommend that anyone visiting the Montreal area should make a trip out to the Biodome - particularly if the weather is inclement as everything is indoors. Cost of entry is $16.00 for an Adult Tourist or $13.50 for an adult resident of Quebec - discounts apply for children, seniors and students.

If you are travelling by public transport, simply take the Green line on the Metro towards Honore'-Beaugrand and get off at Viau station. Walk outside and you can't miss it!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

What the f....... racism is alive and well in Australia and it's time for families, communities and religious groups to do something about it once and for all...

 Due to the potentially controversial nature of this entry, I'd like to make a few statements before I begin

1. I do not consider myself a racist
2. My opinions here in no way are meant to single out any particular group of people. The nature of this problem is widespread and has nothing to do with groups or races as a whole - individuals are to blame as is always the case.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26343471-421,00.html

Well.....the preamble aside. Those of you that read the news (see link above) in Australia will be aware of an incident over the past 24 hours whereby an 11 year old Australian boy of Greek origin was bullied by a group of Muslim students in a Sydney public school due to the fact that he was eating a salami sandwich for lunch during Ramadan. He was chased, assaulted and forced to hide in the library with a friend for an hour. According to the parents of this child, this was by no means the first time this type of bullying occurred towards their son. Other parents apparently reported that their children have been persecuted for what is in their lunch boxes as well and that the students are offered little protection from the school.

The school has rightly suspended the supposed "ringleader" and were quick to indicate that they have a zero tolerance policy towards racism and bullying (as every school publicly indicates when incidents such as these happen).

As I said before, this type of problem is not isolated to any group or race - it happens everywhere and it happens from both sides. Children of Anglo heritage will bully and racially vilify children of Italian heritage, children of Italian heritage will bully and racially vilify children of Asian heritage etc etc. It has happened throughout Australia's short history - it certainly happened when I was in High School which is why i'm so disappointed to see it still occurring.

In a predictable piece of PR spin, the response from the Department of Education and Training was

"The department said that the school had "ongoing cultural and interfaith awareness programs to improve understanding among students of events like Ramadan and Christmas"

Well that sounds like they know exactly how to solve the problem. Lets take these kids aside, educate them about the fact that there are different cultural groups in the world and that they have different beliefs and traditions and then send them back into the schoolyard. I have no doubt that no further incidents will occur......<heavy sarcasm intended>.

In fairness to the school and the department, the problem cannot be solved by them. They do, however, have a duty of care to ensure that the children are better protected. This type of violent incident is no orphan.

The problem needs to be solved by families, communities and religious groups. At the end of the day, kids that bully or racially vilify other kids have learnt their behavior somewhere in their home environment - or if they haven't, then nothing is being done to counteract it in their home environment.

Take the afore mentioned example. From my very superficial research into Ramadan as a tradition (and I have to stress here that I am no expert on the subject and any offense caused due to my own ignorance or misinterpretation is completely unintentional), Ramadan is about restraint and purification. It is more than simply fasting - it is about refocusing one's attention to God and purifying the soul. As the guide to Ramadan on the about.com website states:

 " We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings" (http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/f/ramadanintro.htm)

So the question I pose right now is - who taught the children involved in this incident about the purpose of Ramadan? They've clearly missed the point as in attacking someone else for what they saw as a violation of a sacred tradition, they themselves have violated it in a far worse way. How pure can your soul be after kicking the shit out of another kid for no good reason?

Which brings me back to my point - this attack didn't occur out of a deep religious belief, it occurred out of hate. It occurred because someone in these children's lives is teaching them to hate people different from themselves. And that my friends, is where the buck has to stop. Ethnic and religious communities (and I include all Religions and Ethnicities in that statement) are extremely influential on their members. They have the responsibility to teach tolerance and understanding about other ethnicities and religions. Education is and has always been the key to promoting tolerance - humans by nature are more likely to fear what they don't understand. And anyone that doesn't believe in tolerance and understanding of other religions or ethnicities can quite frankly f*** off and find somewhere else to live - whether you are 15th generation or 1st.

When incidents like this occur - the question of "Why" really needs to be asked. Sweeping it under the rug with a bullshit cultural integration program within  an underfunded public school system will solve nothing - in fact, it may simply provide more ammunition to the cause as it's focussed on highlighting differences, rather than similarities.

Maybe the schools and the community should spend some time promoting the uniting force that being Australian is supposed to be. Sure, we can be a pretty apathetic nation when it comes to real patriotism - and patriotism in the wrong hands is dangerous - but it is also an incredible way to bring people together. There are plenty of ways to identify as an Australian without diminishing your own cultural, religious or ethnic background. Being Australian has absolutely nothing to do with what God(s) you do or do not believe in - it has nothing to do with your physical appearance or the language you speak. In my eyes, Modern Australia is about embracing things outside our own spectrum and looking after the little guy (idealist....I know). Take a lesson from the Americans (probably the only time i'll say that in relation to racism) - the blind patriotism that they have as a people, cheesy as it is at times, brings people together. It unites people that may not have normally been united. At the end of the day, if you can't practice absolute tolerance in your life, at least tolerate the people who live under the same flag as you........and don't travel and ruin the good name that the majority of us are trying to create on the other side of the world!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hole in the wall....

After hitting the gym for a much needed workout to combat my recent "Elvis" tour of the US, I thought i'd take a wander to quench my now growing hunger. One of the best things about Montreal is that you can go out at 10pm on a Tuesday night and know that you will have options a plenty.

I wandered up Boulevard Saint Laurent passing Pizza bar after Pizza bar but they weren't inspiring me. As partial as I am to a good slice of Pizza, I knew I needed something with a little less melted cheese and a little more vegetables (or salad at least!). As I approached Rachel, I contemplated turning around but out of the corner of my eye I spied a very unassuming hole in the wall called Patati Patata.


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My initial assumption was Indian based on  the name (again, not really what I was looking for), but I ventured in for a closer look. Peering in the window, this looked like one of the many late night Poutine places that Montreal is so famous for. But for the sake of my arteries, Poutine is now reserved for post 3am after a heavy night of drinking!

To avoid looking like a stalker (or a tourist) staring through the window, I went inside to get a closer look at the menu. Of course, Poutine in it's many varieties was on offer, but as I scanned further, I found a variety of burger options.....for what......$1.95? Surely that can't be right. I have to find out what a $1.95 burger not prepared by a ginger clown tastes like.

I took a seat at the makeshift bar next to a homeless man (possibly unfair assumption) enjoying a nice big plate of Poutine.

"What can I get for you sir?"

"I'll try the beef burger thanks"

"Excellent. Would you like a plate of salad and fries with that?"

"Absolutely" (Salad mission accomplished and Potatoes are a vegetable even in fried form).

"Please tick what you would like on your burger on this slip" as i'm handed a small piece of paper with a list of options and a golf pencil.

Bacon (extra 50c) - Tick
Cheese (extra 50c) - Tick
Lettuce - Tick
Tomato - Tick
Onions - Tick
Ketchup - Tick
Mustard - Tick
Mayonnaise - Tick

"Thank you sir, it won't be long".

I sat and watched the creation of my $1.95 (sorry....correction, $2.95) burger. The pattie looks small but I would expect as much given the price. As the pattie cooked away, the plate of salad was built. Lettuce, Tomato, Onion (sliced on the spot), Cucumber, Carrot and Olives......everything a growing body needs.

Time for the cheese and bacon to be added. Wait......he's not going for the sliced processed cheese......he's actually slicing a piece of a large, very authentic looking piece of what i'm assuming is Cheddar. Not long after, the burger is complete and on the plate accompanied by the fries and salad.

"Here you are sir. Here is some Ketchup and Mustard for your fries, and some dressings for your salad. The white bottle is Creamy Basil, the other is a Sundried Tomato and Coriander balsamic" as four bottles are presented to me with my meal, with the dressings looking encouragingly home made.




I went with the Sundried Tomato dressing a little bit of mayonnaise on the fries (When in Rome?). The salad was nice and refreshing - the Balsamic base was definitely the right choice. The fries were a little cold but tasty enough....

"Is everything satisfactory sir?"
"Definitely, thank you" I answered wondering how I was receiving 5 star service, 4 star ingredients for a 1 star price.

Now for the main event. As I said before, it's not a big burger - but you'd be a fool to expect one for the price. As for the taste - very very passable. The freshness of the salad lettuce, tomato and onions (and they were definitely fresh) blended well with the cheese, bacon and pattie. The pattie had a slighly processed taste to it but it was full of flavour nonetheless and combined well with the whole package.

Overall, a very pleasant experience. The reduced size of the burger combined with the salad meant that I didn't undo all of my hard work at the gym (which I'd expected I would). The service was fantastic with the guy behind the counter seamlessly looking after five or six patrons whilst simultaneously cooking. And the price........$7.90  (inc taxes) for a burger, salad, fries and a can of coke.........unbeatable.

I'm quickly discovering that places like this are the real Montreal. Unpretentious meals, Unpretentious staff and Unpretentious prices but oozing with atmosphere at the same time. I'm sure the converse is present in many other venues (particularly those with much higher menu prices) - but i'll take a hole in the wall burger joint with a bohemian atmosphere any day of the week - places like this don't need to try to create atmosphere.....they bleed it.