Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

12 October 2015

More Food. More Fall, More Ride

Today would have been considered warm for Columbus Day in New York, or most of the US.  Here in Montreal, it was absolutely balmy for la Fete de l'Action de Grace.  Yes, it's Thanksgiving Day in Canada--which, this year, just happens to coincide with Columbus Day, a holiday Canadians don't celebrate.  And, according to a couple of people I talked to, French Canadians don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, although most Anglophones do so with a turkey dinner much like the ones folks in the US eat a month later.

Anyway...About the weather:  The temperature reached 23C (about 72C).  And the skies were clear and sunny.

Still, there were plenty of signs this is indeed autumn, and that Montreal, like most of Canada, is further into the season than most of the US.

Of course the trees are more colorful than they are in all but perhaps the most northern reaches of the United States.  But even the bright blue skies I saw today had the unmistakable depth, even gravity, that you might see in bright, clear eyes when the soul of an aging person is looking through them.

I do not mean that the day looked sad; to the contrary, it had a particular kind of beauty that came from the the warmth combined with the wryness of one who has seen what has been and knows what's coming.

That, perhaps, is what made it such a joy to ride today.  I decided to look at public statuary and art, of which this city has plenty, even more so than New York.  Or so it seems.

It seemed that people--and I include myself--were enjoying this day precisely because they know what's coming:  For most, tomorrow means a return to work, school or whatever else constitutes their lives.  (When I was on line at Schwartz's, a woman told me she and her sister came here for the weekend "just because" they "didn't want to be home".   I feel more or less the same way.)  Also for most, at least in this part of the world, they are enjoying this day because winter is coming very, very soon.

So I enjoyed the riding--I must have done at least 6 hours' worth, even with the stops I made--the company, however brief and random, of those I encountered, and all manner of sensory delights--including the scenery and, of course, the food.

Food writers in this city debate whether Fairmount or St. Viateur's makes the best bagels in Montreal.  Being a New Yorker, I was of course skeptical that any other city could make a decent bagel.  But I'm still open-minded enough to try almost anything.  Also, it occurred to me that I don't eat bagels nearly as often as I used to.  (There was a point in my life when I ate them with breakfast, and sometimes other meals or for snacks, every day.)  I started to wonder why.

When I encountered this

at Fairmount Bagels, I figured the bagels must be almost other-worldly, or that there are a lot of people in this city who don't know what a bagel is.  My Cynical New Yorker Self went with the latter.  But what I saw behind the counter made me wonder whether all of those people on line knew something I didn't.

The workers were actually hand-cutting the pieces of dough.  And boiling them. (I remember when just about all bagel shops in Brooklyn did that.)  But what struck me is that they were using wood-burning ovens.  Hmm...I don't recall seeing those in a New York bagel shop.

Turns out, those ovens are illegal in New York.   And they are one of the reasons why the bagels from Fairmount are smaller, denser and less symmetrical than the ones that come out of New York ovens.  

And, I would discover, they account for the crunchiness on the outside and the smoky flavor.  When I first bit into one of their bagels--which I ate plain--I thought it was too sweet.  And the texure of the dough inside reminded me more of a hot pretzel than a New York bagel.

But the sweetness was not cloying or overpowering.  In fact, a plain bagel was perfectly good with some of Schwartz's smoked meat, which I bought after buying the bagels.  And I found myself liking the crustiness and relative density.  

I then had a revelation:  I'd been eating fewer bagels in New York--or anywhere else (Most bagels sold in other places try to imitate the ones from the Big Apple) because they seem puffed-up--almost like a sponge cake--on the inside, and they are saltier than they used to be.  In fact, much of the flavor in many foods bought and consumed in New York is little more than salt.

I might go back for more of those bagels before I return to the States.  I might buy a piece of brisket from Schwartz's, though it might be harder to get through US Customs.

For that matter, I might go back to Mache for a pate chinois.  I think whoever named it must have been drinking too much beer, hard cider or maple syrup. (A sugar rush can make you do all sorts of strange things!)  One legend says that it was so named because Chinese restaurants made it for workers.  Somehow I doubt it, as the pate does not resemble anything Chinese I've ever encountered.

If anything, it bears more resemblance to a Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie.  Like them, the pate is made with mashed or whipped potatoes.  In the traditional version, which I ate tonight, those potatoes float over a layer of ground beef and kernels of corn (maize).  Other versions use other kinds of meats and vegetables, depending mainly on what's available locally and what's in season.  Mache and other restaurants have even come up with vegetarian or vegan versions.

If this dish has any Chinese connection, it might be that it was fed to Chinese railway workers who turned Montreal into the major railway hub it was for over a century.  

Whatever the origin of Pate Chinois, I enjoyed it.  It's not a spicy food, but it (at least the one I had) was flavorful--and hearty.  I could say the same for the bagels--and, for that matter, the smoked meat from Schwartz's.  

Those foods are further confirmation of something I'd started to suspect when I was in Paris:  that much of the flavor of iconic New York foods, including the bagels and meats, come from their saltiness.  None of what i ate today--or, for that matter, none of what I've eaten on this trip--has left me with the saline aftertaste I so often experience after eating foods in New York.

What further confirms my hypothesis is that I've done as much riding as I've done during the past three days--and as much walking as I did the day before--yet I haven't consumed a lot of water.  

Eating Schwartz's smoked meat and Farimount Bagels raises an interesting socio-historical question for me:  How is it that two of the world's leading Jewish communities--those of New York and Montreal--come up with such different takes on foods traditional to their culture?  These differences are all the more striking when you realize that each city's Jewish community began at around the same time (mid-19th Century) and included immigrants from the same places, namely Germany, Poland, the Ukraine and other eastern and central European states.  (In contrast, most of the Jews in France. for example, are or descend from North Africa and the Middle East.)   

Whatever their origins, those foods gave me food for thought--and energy for riding!



  1. You just know the food is good when people are lining up for it!

    Oh, Fall (or, yeah, Autumn), it makes every ride better, every view better, and eating better. I also love the colors of the leaves during this season.

  2. Lisa--I agree with everything you say. There's something about autumn colors that even makes food smell better, at least to me!

    Thanks for reading!