In Search Of The Illusive...
Mangosteen, the queen of fruits...What is it? What does it taste like? How does it smell? Where can I get one?
These questions obsessed me for a year, actually it was 2004 to be precise. I had opened up Maisonneuve Magazine and read an article about this illusive, mysterious fruit from the East: the Mangosteen. The writer talked about the flavour (cross between a grape and a strawberry), the colour, shape, smell, the exoticness of it all...The seed was planted and from it, my obsession grew.
I googled it daily just to look at images of it. A dark purple-brown skin, a white segmented flesh. I wanted one!
The writer mentioned that canned mangosteen was a good alternative for fresh, when fresh wasn’t available...but canned was nowhere to be found either... I looked everywhere. I was beginning to think that this fruit couldn't be found in my city, and the thought haunted me. As soon as my obsession subsided a little, I would randomly dream about it and WHAM!!! Mangosteen Fever.
Fast forward 52 weeks. I was walking down Parc on a sunny summer day. I stumble into Supermarché PA (www.supermarchepa.com) for water, or gum, or something…PA is a staple in many Mile Enders lives. It has the wonderful charm of a neighbourhood grocery store, and the exotic products of a foodie's heaven. Two steps in I come face to face with a glistening, gleaming tower of tiny purple orbs...I FOUND MY MANGOSTEENS. I took a moment to catch my breath and do a double take to make sure that it wasn’t a mirage. No, they were there, I had actually stumbled upon the end of a treasure hunt, long since abandoned. I greedily bought twelve of them, despite their enormous price tag (2.75$ each if I remember correctly) and forgot about my plans for the rest of the day. My plans were now to discover the mangosteen.
I opened one up and marvelled at the whiter than white flesh. I took a segment and popped it into my mouth. Yes...I tasted the grape...Yes...there was a strawberry flavour as well...but so much more than that. It was delicious. It was juicy and fragrant, almost like a pear/orange/grape/dragonfruit...It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the flavour profile. I quickly devoured my whole bag, and returned many times over the following months to that magical grocery store on Parc.
Fast forward 5 years and there are mangosteens everywhere. Almost comically, they are found at all the markets, supermarkets, some small corner delis...In Cans, In Juices, Frozen, Fresh, Pulped, Candied. My once-seemingly impossible search, is now as easy as crossing the street. I am not at all bothered by this. I can now easily get my daily fill if I wanted. But do I want it? I’m not so sure. Yes, I love the mangosteen, but now that I can get it anytime, the mystery and romance is gone. It has become a common fruit. It has been called a Super Fruit, joining the likes of Pomegranates, Blueberries, Acai and others, as members. I just wish it was still my little secret.
My mind sometimes wanders back to a time when the mangosteen was just an idea, a mysterious dreamlike concept. I think of the joy that finding them brought me. And I also think of the availability of them now. It makes me wonder if always having international produce at our disposal is such a good thing. Like so many items at the grocery store, these little fruits have travelled a long way to get to my table and that is at once a good and a bad thing.
Nectar Of The Gods
"Good oil, like good wine, is a gift from the gods. The grape and olive among the priceless benefactions of the soil, and were destined, each in its way, to promote the welfare of man."
Pleasures of the Table (1902)
Olive oil, liquid gold, is the start of every one of my savoury dishes (and even some of my sweets). Lately, you hear people touting the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (E.V.O.O. to some...) but, healthy or not, I think it’s just plain delicious.
My favourite shop for all things OIL would have to be Les Douceurs du Marché www.lesdouceursdumarche.com nestled comfortably in Atwater Market. This is always my first stop when my stash is running low. As you walk in this foodie heaven, you are greeted by two opposing walls. Hot Sauces vs. Oils. Hot sauces will be the subject of a future article, so I will move onto the Oils.
Argan, Olive, Chestnut, Walnut, Peanut, Nutnut, Light, Dark, Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed, Organic, Pure, the options are seemingly endless. I feel like a kid in a candy store, but the candy is of the more expensive adult variety. You can ask one of the gentlemen behind the cash for advice, as their knowledge is impressive, or you can blindly grab a bottle and leave it up to fate. This is the way that I have discovered and enjoyed many an oil. They have bottles ranging in price from the affordable to the “$$$”, but no matter the occasion, or recipe, you will not be disappointed. Please take your time in this store, even an afternoon, because although it’s small, it’s also wonderful.
East of The Main, at Montreal’s premier olive oil boutique, Olive&Olives www.oliveolives.com you will find just that, and a whole lot of expertise. This is what they specialize in and they know their stuff. They have some lovely affordable oils to suit all tastes, and they have a wonderful online boutique. One of their locations is on Laurier Ave. But they have kiosks located around the city for your convenience.
However, when I need a fix of my good old fashioned Nonni’s Olive Oil (a large aluminum rectangular box, found in all Italian households), I run to Milano’s on St-Laurent. There I can stock up on pure Italian Oils, as well as filling up my depleted pantry of Italian goodies. The smell of this store brings me straight back to my childhood (6862, boulevard St-Laurent. 514-273-8558).
Follow this link, www.marthastewart.com/recipe/olive-oil-cake-with-red-grapes and you will find one of my favourite recipes using olive oil. I usually use a very fragrant, dark and fruity oil in this recipe, but your favourite one will work just fine too. Delicious served warm with butter, or the next day, or in the middle of the night. The grapes explode in your mouth and are a surprising twist on a classic tea cake.
Try these other recipes to broaden your horizons, where olive oil is concerned...
Delicious Savoury Bread Pudding
Olive Oil Gelato
Olive Oil Muffins
Addicted to culture shock
Lately, I’ve been in the mood for a shock to my senses. A real cultural sledgehammer of a shock. I’ve been yearning for a walk down some street filled with colours, odors, and customs I’m not used to. My recent travel activity has not given me this adrenalin rush that I’m looking for. No unidentifiable spices in foods. No wild animals roaming the streets (is a squirrel considered a wild animal?). No languages I don’t speak (Is Brooklynese a language?). But alas, I think I just might have found a temporary fix to my needs. In my quest to get a sense of culture shock, I decided to roam the different ethnic markets of Montreal.
Chinatown is good for this. So are Little Italy and the Côte des Neiges area. I’ve fallen upon strange animals bits I can’t identify, wrapped in cellophane. Durian here, ramboutan there… I love it! Want a calf’s head, or a jellied cow’s foot? You’ll love what’s in isle 3! Take your pick of animal genitalia, there’s cow, donkey, camel, horse, monkey, you name it. All of these unfamiliar sightings of food might not be quite the trip to India that I’ve been dreaming about, nor a cruise up the Chao Phraya, but at least it fed my appetite for things foreign, even if just for a short while.
time I need to feel like I’m somewhere else, I’ll just fix myself a
plate of delicious camel tendons, and chow down like I was in Liangshan.
Bon voyage appétit!