Mark and I had two whole days to putter around in Montreal before heading east. At the very top of my list was a science museum called the Insectarium, devoted entirely to our creeping and crawling friends. The Insectarium is a modest museum, but stuffed top to bottom with lots and lots of beautiful, scary, surprising, elegant, admirable members of the phylum Arthropoda. Most of the museum's specimens are deceased and mounted in explanatory displays, but there are also some wonderful terrariums full of live specimens that give visitors a view into secret worlds.
I've seen a wide variety of arthropods over the years since I'm such a fan, but one specimen I had never seen before and was particularly delighted to discover was something called a bilateral gynadromorph. I'd recently read about such a thing in one of the excellent Patrick O'Brian books in the Master and Commander series, and was very excited when I saw the brilliant example they offered on display. A gynadromorph is a creature that exhibits both male and female characteristics which is usually the result of a deviation in the early stages of cell mitosis. Some gynadromorphs are quite difficult to detect, but this one looks like two different butterfly halves that have been hot glued together. Amazing!
Aside from the Insectarium, a good bit of our time in Montreal was spent ambling about and eating. Saturday night we followed the advice of our hostess Gabrielle and visited a restaurant called Poutineville. Poutine is a Quebecois invention that has spread in popularity from one coast of Canada to the other. You start with a bed of crisply fried potatoes (usually french fries), top that with a sprinkling of fresh cheese curds and then top it all off with a light brown gravy. It's a robust dish of comfort food, most typically enjoyed after a night of drinking. At Poutineville, there were a number of variations to choose from and I selected the Montrealer: fried smashed potatoes, smoked Montreal beef (more on that in a minute), mushrooms, Swiss cheese and gravy, topped with a battered and fried pickle spear.
Mark went for a custom poutine: sweet potato fries, onions, roasted red peppers, cheese curds and gravy, topped with a fried egg.
Neither of us could finish more that 2/3 of our concoctions because as you can probably imagine, they were extremely filling. While the poutines were plenty tasty, both of us decided we could check that item off our bucket lists and move on to other more nuanced local dishes. A visit to the ancient institution of Schwartz's set everything right, however. Schwartz's has been in business since 1928, founded by a Jewish immigrant from Romania. While there are a handful of other dishes on offer, the reason there is always a line out the door is the succulent Montreal smoked beef served in sandwiches made with rye bread and slathered in yellow mustard. The beef is dry cured with a coating of peppercorns and other spices then smoked, but it melts in your mouth with none of the intense peppery flavor you'd expect from the thick rind of cracked peppercorns that encases it. It was absolutely fantastic.
When we weren't eating, we were strolling the bustling streets, enjoying the people watching in a city that epitomizes the concept of the melting pot. Such a variety of cultures, races and ethnicities swirls through the city. One afternoon as we sat at a sidewalk cafe, several marching bands passed by performing and I was tickled by this group of fellows that had made percussive instruments out of junk:
But great art was all over the vibrant area where we stayed, and I suspect over a good part of the city were we to have had enough time to see it all.
But the two days we had before moving on to the Maritime region went by like lightning, or maybe foudre as the French say. What a delightful city! I will definitely have to return one day to appreciate it more fully.