I was reading a story about famous Quebec chef Martin Picard and his grand party at his Au Pied du Cochon Sugar Shack to celebrate the release of his new cookbook, which featured all things maple syrup.  I quickly felt pangs of homesickness.  I have incredibly fond memories of the “cabane a sucre” (sugar shack) experience in Quebec.

Last year, we took DQ to a local sugar shack and I could not have been more disappointed.  They only served pancakes in a tiny little shack and there was no maple taffy!  At the cabanes a sucre in Quebec, there was a true celebration of maple syrup.  A breakfast feast would be served (even if you went at night) with eggs, pancakes, ham, probably creton (although I’m not sure, because I didn’t know what that was in my youth)… and fresh maple syrup drizzled over the entire plate.  Loud Quebecois music played while we ate along large communal tables, and then for the finishing touch, we would all go outside to have “tir” or maple taffy: maple syrup that would be poured over snow to solidify, and then rolled up on a popsicle stick.  Pure gold.

So while I was at it, I started thinking about all the other great things that, despite a 22-year absence, I still miss about Montreal:

  • Real cheese curds on poutine
  • Bagels: sweet & chewy!
  • Rues Laurier, Saint-Denis, Saint-Laurent, Prince Arthur
  • Mont Royal
  • A pedestrian-friendly Chinatown that doesn’t stink
  • The classic walk-up apartments that made the residential streets so beautiful: the inspiration for Michel Tremblay’s “Balconville”
  • Real smoked meat
  • The laid-back, European vibe
  • The beautiful people – damn, they always look so beautiful and pulled together!
  • The cobblestone streets of Old Montreal
  • The Montreal International Jazz Festival: even for non-jazz lovers, it was the best outdoor party!
  • Wine in convenience stores
  • Real croissants: full of butter, butter and more butter
  • My family (those who are still there!)

I can’t wait to go back for a visit over Easter weekend. 

But having said all this, I’ve come to love a lot of things about the city that became my home 20+ years ago (current mayor notwithstanding).  I’ve watched it mature into a very cosmopolitan city that isn’t just focused on business and commerce anymore.  As I’m learning through my consulting work, it has a thriving, entrepreneurial culinary scene led by maverick chefs.  We have access to some of the best musical productions in North America.  The entertainment district has exploded with an enviable club culture (which hasn’t always led to good things, but I digress…).  Its once laughable reputation in fashion has been completely reversed and it’s become home to some of the top designers (and boutiques) in the world.  And its array of ethnic and eclectic neighbourhoods is bar none the most interesting aspect of this city. 

So there you have it: nothing to be ashamed of, YYZ.

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