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spotlight  IN THE SPOTLIGHT:

Mouth-watering Montréal!
Mr/s XYZ at ISHLT 2013:
Sugar Shack and Other Culinary Excursions

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ISHLT Links Associate Editor (Pulmonary)
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, North Carolina, USA

It was a short 1-hour bus ride to the Sugar Shack or "Cabane a Sucre", just outside of Montréal, on the lowlands of the St. Lawrence river. You follow the guide in the maple tree forest. Flowers are peeking between the rocks to prove that it truly is spring ... but the ground remains a cold muddy mess from recent snowmelts. You are glad that you brought your hiking boots after all.

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Sugar Shack, Montréal Canada; © kylemac

The air is crisp and the tree branches remain bare, afraid to sprout any buds, in case more snow comes. With nighttime freezing temperatures and daytime temperatures above zero, spring weather allows the sugar-rich maple tree sap to rise. Fresh maple sap drips down from spiles, drilled directly into the trees. From the forest, you proceed into the maple syrup factory where maple sap is boiled in various containers to achieve different levels of water evaporation. For example, 40 liters of sap make a liter of maple syrup. Other concentrations are used to make maple sugar, maple candy, maple jelly, maple cream, etc.

After this demonstration, you are ready to taste some maple syrup instead of just watching it drip and boil. You and the rest of the excursion crew are taken into the large sugar shack hall filled with long wooden tables and benches, where lunch will be served. You are not quite sure whether it is truly lunch or just a really long dessert. Maple syrup ham, maple beer sausages, and beans with maple syrup are served. Non-maple syrup items are also brought onto the table, such as meat pie, potatoes, pork rinds, and omelets ... but you are expected to pour maple syrup on these as well. And for the pièce de la résistance, you get pancakes covered with maple syrup, maple cake, and maple sugar pie. You wonder whether they shouldn't serve some insulin along with this meal.

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Maple Taffy "Lollipops"

After this "lunch," as if you needed more sweetness, you and your full stomach go outside for the ultimate specialty "tire d'érable" or maple taffy. Maple taffy is made by boiling maple sap past the point of making maple syrup but not long enough for it to become maple sugar. The thick caramel-like sugary substance is poured onto packed snow where it solidifies. You roll the sticky sugar bomb onto a Popsicle stick and shape it into a sinful lollipop. Wondering whether your pancreas will be able to handle this, you end up buying maple souvenirs for all your friends back home.

The sugar shack cuisine is part of the traditional heavy Québec cuisine originating from the fur trade period, based on potatoes, boiled or roasted meats, and beans. Traditional meals served in Québec homes include various types of ragouts, and stews such as "paté chinois," and meat pies such as "tourtière." However, in the recent past, Québeckers have renewed and refined their cuisine and the contemporary meals are a little lighter, inspired mostly by French and Irish cooking. Québeckers also pride themselves in their artisan cheeses as well as microbreweries that have sprouted in the last 3 decades. The Québec beer style is set apart from other North American beers by its French, Belgian, and British influences.

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Credit: © Tourisme Montréal, Pierre-Luc Dufour,
Fairmount Bagel Bakery

That evening, as you complete your travel diary for the day, you review your culinary impressions from your stay in Montréal to date. Montréal bagels, Montréal-style smoked meat, and of course the famous poutine, which is simply a bowl of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. Even McDonalds sells the basic poutine in Montréal, but variations with the addition of meat or veggies are available from specialized stores.

Perhaps what struck you the most about Montréal, however, is the cultural diversity in restaurant choices. Whether one wishes to venture into China town, grab a gyros or a souvlaki from the corner Greek restaurant, try some French fondue or crêpes from one of the many Crêperies, or perhaps indulge in Italian pasta, there are authentic foods from everywhere around the world. There is even a Czech restaurant, in case you would like to reminisce about last year's ISHLT meeting in Prague.

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Tereza Martinu was born in Prague, Czech Republic, and lived there for 10 years. She drew from her Czech roots in writing about Prague prior to the last ISHLT meeting 2012. When she was 10, Tereza and her family immigrated to Montreal, Canada, where she spent the next 14 years of her life. She is currently a lung transplant pulmonologist and researcher at Duke University in North Carolina.