Traveling is something I both love and get really nervous about. The experience of exploring a new area often leads to unexpected finds. Typically my husband, Alex, and I go on adventures in our “backyard”, as in America. Just the East Coast for us, together, that is. Until New Year’s Eve weekend. We had planned a trip to Montreal, thanks to an incredibly generous gift by a dear friend of ours. They still speak English, don’t they? Well, apparently there are many French speaking cities in east Canada, especially Quebec where French is it’s official language.
Why does that make me nervous? Was I unsure about finding my way around? Nah, that wasn’t one of my concerns. Communicating with others? Getting warmer. OH! How the heck was I going to communicate my food allergies with others when ordering food? I did NOT want to become sick. That was what I was the most anxious about. How am I going to do this? Even if they speak English, I can’t understand people with accents (if you are unaware, I am Deaf and rely on lip-reading when conversing with people who do not use American Sign Language). Oh yeah, that’s something to be worried about. What to do?
The fabulous friend I mentioned earlier? She offered to help translate my food allergy card since her family was fluent in many languages, including French. Hallelujah! What food allergy card? My husband had several made for me for my birthday last year. What a lifesaver! I recommend it to EVERYBODY with food allergies; since it’s something tangible a waiter can bring back to the chef to ensure that the meal is free of allergens. Otherwise things can get lost in translation. Maybe if its just gluten free, but what if it’s among seven other allergens? How can anybody memorize eight? That’s where the card comes in. It takes away that hassle.
Armed with both English and French versions of my food allergy cards, I felt more confident going into restaurants. In the first one, I had an English menu given to me so I assumed they would understand the English card. I have never seen a waiter’s face fall that fast. He immediately grabbed another waiter who apparently could read English. So I waved them over and gave them the French version. Talk about relief!!!
From that point and on, whenever Alex and I went out to eat, we whipped out the French translated allergy card. Made my dining experience so much more enjoyable! And the best part? We kept finding restaurants where we were the only customers. It’s due to two factors: we ate earlier than the locals. Apparently people in Montreal eat later in the evening, around 8’o’clock or later (or 2000 hours). We ate around 6 PM. We were hungry!
Being the only people at the restaurant meant extremely personalized services. At Serafim, an organic bistro that was on the other end of rue Saint-Paul (it’s a generally busy street, but this place was just past the crowd). The waiter there was not fazed by my allergy card, they are already familiar with gluten-free and is a part of their menu. They were able to assist me in selecting a meal that would be the most enjoyable and easily modified. I ended up having salmon with a delicious Mediterraen inspired vegetable medley, heavy on oregano and dill. Oh, I also had a yellow lentil soup to start with. I told my husband that the true marks of a restaurant that can meet my needs are ones that can serve me soup. I find that many places add flour to their soup, so if they make soup that’s “straight up”, that’s a plus in my book. I also had an antipasto salad. They asked us if we wanted dessert and realized that it was a challenge for me. But not one they were going to give in to. Instead the chef came up and led us to the dessert shelf. After some musing, he made an aha sign with his finger and gestured for us to hold out our hands. He placed a date in a small napkin and gave it to us. The sweetness of this often forgotten fruit was just perfect for our filling meal. So light yet SO nectarous. We left the place with a smile on our face.
The next evening led us to an Indian restaurant, Kashmir, where we once again found ourselves being the only ones there. Again, this meant personalized service. Can I say how much I love Indian food? We realized that it’s becoming equivalent to comfort food in our book. I LOVE their cuisine. We had a table by the window overlooking the street, watching people hurry by, ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was so much fun sipping wine while chatting about our resolutions and admiring how people figured out ways to stay warm. It was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, if not below.
Since I’ve learned about my food allergies, the days of grabbing food from vendors on the street were LONG gone. This includes hot chocolate, ice cream, and popcorn from wherever we were. Walking down Rue Saint Paul, there were several wooden sheds in front of Marche Bonsecours, a two-story public market. Curious, Alex and I peered at what the vendors were selling while customers spoke with them. Then I saw one thing that made me glee with delight. Seriously, I think I squealed. There was this guy with a huge tray filled with broken ice. Think slush. Where am I going with this, you ask? Especially on a FREEZING night in Montreal, Quebec? Think maple syrup. Yes, maple syrup. The dude poured maple syrup right on the ice along with candy sticks. He rotated them in the ice, slowly hardening them to eat them as if they were popsicles! Alex saw my face and asked if I wanted one. He probably thought he was talking with a five-years-old, trying not to jump up and down with giddiness. Not caring about how cold it was, I whipped off my gloves and grinned as I savored the sweetness of pure maple syrup. We checked with the guy first, naturally. And you just KNOW it when it’s the real deal instead of that fake stuff that has artificial sweeteners. I could and probably never will understand why people eat them. But that’s just me.
We also had delicious breakfasts at our hotel, Auberge Bonaparte. Immediately upon being seated, we were served orange juice and creamy coffee. What can I say? I’m a goner for those who knows how to do food well.
But Montreal isn’t all about food! We also went up the world’s tallest leaning building which is also an observatory overlooking the city. It’s a part of the Olympic Park, where the summer Olympics was held in 1976. Their biodome was converted into the COOLEST zoo, or whatever you call it. You felt as if you were in the actual environment with animals roaming about. They used natural barriers such as a specific plant that acted as curtains between two types of monkeys. I actually got to see an otter slide down a slide! Birds flew over our heads. I saw puffins up close, with only glass separating us, and Canadian lynxes napping on the rocks. It was stunning and is a must-see in Montreal. The Basilique Notre-Dame was also jaw dropping. It’s already beautifully lit up at nighttime, but the inside? Whoa. I’ve grown up going to Catholic churches but nothing prepared me for this. The architecture was mind blowing with the details. Old Montreal is definitely my favorite part of the city. And the fireworks on New Year’s Eve above the river was AWESOME! I don’t think I’ve ever watched fireworks in the wintertime.
Basically if you want an international experience, but you only have a few days (such as a long weekend) and you’re nervous about your food allergies, why not start with Montreal? Be sure to make a food allergy card! Both English and whatever language spoken where you’re going. I think that’s KEY to a successful trip. Ever since Alex made me those cards, I’ve felt so much more comfortable ordering food in restaurants. Just seeing how they react to the cards is a sign of whether I’ll be able to safely eat there or not. By this I mean how much they seem to freak out when reading the card. When waiters seem familiar with the concept of food allergies, that’s a good sign. If they have that “uh-oh” look, get out. Don’t feel bad for leaving. It’s not worth your health. What’s the point of eating if you’re unable to enjoy it?
If you’re traveling to Montreal anytime soon, I suggest checking out these restaurants since they were very accommodating to me and I had delicious food there! I have also added links to these restaurant to my list of websites under restaurants for future reference!
Serafim, Old Montreal- http://www.serafim.ca/
Zero 8, Downtown Montreal- http://zero8.com/index.php/fr/
Restaurant Kashmir, Old Montreal- http://www.restaurantkashmir.com/