Don’t Mess With Montrealer’s Mush…
Pastagate then Schwartz’s in a bag…
by Bonnie Wurst
It’s been all over the headlines, from Pasta to Smoked Meat in bags. First there was the debacle starting with the OQLF’s notice to a trendy Italian restaurant that the word ‘pasta’ contravened the language laws and must be removed from their menus or translated into ‘pâtes’. It raised the ire of the Montreal public at large in a way seldom seen. ‘Pastagate’ even brought together the ‘Two Solitudes’ in a rare show of solidarity – for their beloved food.
I’m sure the late former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau would agree, ‘the state has no business’ in the kitchens of the nation – or for that matter, on our plates. When it comes to Montreal Foodies, it’s clear. Montrealers love their food. So much so, their passion might become the catalyst for a new quiet revolution.
Then came ‘Plasticgate’. Schwartz’s in a bag. Oh boy. The apprehension Montrealers first felt when the news broke of the iconic landmark deli being sold to a group of businessmen (successful restaurateurs and the genius husband of Céline Dion) was not unwarranted as it now seems.
Oh yes, they first stated that Schwartz’s would remain the same and they had no intentions of adding any new locations or seeking global dominance. Montrealers seemed placated, as long as they didn’t mess with their lean, medium or fat with pickle on the side. But these savvy businessmen who paid a wad of cash for the deli found their way around it. They didn’t open up any new locations or franchises, nope. They didn’t even change the mustard. They didn’t even touch the meat produced at their on-site smokehouse, nope. That would be complete sacrilege and incite an uprising.
What they did do was find another way to bring it beyond the Main – from plate to plastic bag, signed, vacuum-sealed and delivered, with the recent announcement that the smoked meat was now available at Sobeys’ IGA stores in Quebec. The supermarket version of the smoked meat they said was being produced at a factory somewhere north of Montreal, citing high-quality production standards so the product has the same unique taste and texture as the one inside the deli. Hmmm…
Montreal Foodies jumped into action, linguistic divides disappeared and bags of four 125-gram pouches were purchased and brought home to be ceremoniously (or unceremoniously) dumped into a boiling pot of critique. And critique they did.
It did get some fairly good reviews, but only in comparison to other mass produced, boil-as-you-go meats. But to purists – it was a bomb. Comparing it to the original version, the popular consensus was a thumbs down. They didn’t like the texture, said it looked flat, tasted processed and the spices just weren’t there. The uproar hasn’t ended.
The question now is whether they will they backtrack like the OQLF and try to improve on the product and appease the pure laine carnivores or will they seek out a five-year business plan, to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and boldly go where no two pieces of rye bread have gone before – down the 401 and beyond?
They took the pickle out of the barrel and put them into jars a long time ago and today most people don’t even know that existed, but I’m afraid given the highly evolved taste buds of Montreal Foodies, a rebellion of Titanic proportions might be on the deli counter in our near future if any other of our gastronomic delights are touched – in any way, shape or form.
I can see it now, protests and demonstrations taking over our streets, uncooked pasta being tossed at riot police, pickles in parking meters and spiced smoked meat bombs disrupting the Metro system.
The only good thing I can foresee in all this is the potential to bring all Montrealers together in a kind of 60’s peace and harmony thing. Together, we can picnic as one in whatever green spaces are left. Together we can eat in one language. Not just in the language of Molière or the fusion of modern day English. In Montreal we have the recipe for perfection. It comes with a little spice of Italian, the honey delights of Greek, the tantalizing sauces of the Middle East, the Oy of Yiddish or the myriad of other great flavours in this fine city.
Together we can create the perfect dining experience. Just don’t mess with my bagels.
Bonnie Wurst is a Montreal writer, ghost writer (not the scary kind) and humorist. Her book “Damaged Goods Re-Stitched”, a re-worked and extended version of the first edition (a hilarious romp through the Montreal Clothing Industry back in its glory days), can be found on Amazon.com. Her library of whimsical satire and social commentary – in the form of short stories, rants and bulletins, can be found on her blog at http://bonniewurst.wordpress.com . Bonnie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org