Have you read my recent piece on The Main – Blvd St. Laurent in Montreal? If you have, you are going to that place where everybody has wings and is buck naked but not horny – a.k.a. heaven.
At the southern tip of The Main where it nearly kisses the mighty St. Lawrence, is a city block sized area filled with Chinese businesses, restaurants, herbal and naturopathy clinics, branches of the Falun Dafa, the Chinese Nationalist Quo Min Tang and Chinese grocery stores.
Welcome to Montreal’s Chinatown, by far the city’s most vibrant borough, a happy beehive of bustle. I would say ‘throbbing’ but that sounds a bit raunchy and I hate lust. Chinatown is marked by ornate Chinese gates in the north at Blvd René Levesque and the south, at Viger Ave. East to West, Chinatown is a block, between St. Urbain and Jeanne Mance.
On summer Sundays, the area has a marvellous bazaar-like atmosphere. Grocers extend their stores onto the sidewalk with fresh fruits, imported canned goods, and crates of thousand-year-old eggs (actually, eggs which have been potted for about a month). On festival days such as the August Moon, there are dragon dances, martial arts demonstrations, games of Chinese chess, and of course, firecrackers.
Dissecting Chinatown is La Gauchetière which turns into a pedestrian walkway inside Chinatown, making it an inviting stroll. On several weekends during the summer, the street becomes a lively outdoor fair. Chinatown is a veritable walkers’ paradise and I love walking through it’s little lanes and gullies. When you are a loner, walking around all the bustle is exhilarating.
Usually I get off at the Metro Champ de Mars (literally meaning – parade ground) and walk west along Viger Ave for a block to Ste-Elisabeth, which is at the eastern fringe of Chinatown. From there, I cross over to La Gauchetière and begin my long walk west, pausing to take pictures, watching a streetside Sechwanese musician play his erhu (a two-stringed instrument that sounds like cross between a violin and a ukelele) or a group of Chinese going through their Falun Gong paces.
There’s one thing that makes Chinatown stand out – the mindset of the Chinese – stoic, law-abiding and disciplined. You won’t see muck strewn around the sidewalks or junkies slouching around darkened doorways and back alleys. Chinatown is the best behaved quarter of Montreal and that’s another reason why it is so popular among Chinese and non-Chinese alike.
And the food, oh the food. Sometimes I am convinced I was a Chinese in my previous incarnation. I adore Chinese food and constantly seek out places to go eat in. If you know where to go, Chinese food is delicious.
Knowing where to go is actually easy and here is what I usually do since there are just too many joints and I have no way of knowing which are the really good ones. I always go to the ones that have Chinese customers at the tables.
Another thing – I always go to a joint that is tucked away in a quiet back alley, not up front in the midst of the razzle dazzle. It works. I’m not the only one saying this. Remember Godfather and that little unassuming family joint called Louis’ that is tucked away in a forgotten part of town, where Michael Corleone shoots the Virgil ‘the Turk’ Sollozzo? Before he suddenly developed a third eye on his forehead, Sollozzo did say the veal was the best in town, so there. Okay, so that was fiction but I can justify anything I like. This is my blog.
You have to be in Chinatown during the autumn lobster festivals – you’ll have huge red lobsters served to you that are alive, no kidding. This October I had a plate with a complete lobster in a bowl of red chilli stew that looked like blood to me. When I stuck my fork in the beast, it raised itself up and began moving off the plate, it’s long feelers weaving about drunkenly, as if to say, ‘Where the f—k are we? What time is it? Where’s Busty Barb? I need a drink. Hey, ass—le, whatcha starin’ at? Go get me a double vodka martini and I doan give a f—k if it’s shaken or stirred.’ You can imagine a cigar-enhanced rasp.
I lied about the live lobster bit of course. I got that from Ian Fleming’s version of the James Bond classic, ‘You only live twice’. The point isn’t whether there is a certain virtue to my lying or there isn’t. The point is that lying is for me – healthy. Ever since I began lying on my blog and on Facebook, my BP and cholesterol have plunged. So, do you think I would give a flying eff how you felt if I lied?
There is a wide variety of Chinese cuisine that I would gladly choose over sex, really.
Here are some items I would choose over Scarlett Johanssen, even if she stood there in front of me with just a pair of socks on and announced that she had just received a PhD in oral sexual sciences and that she wanted to keep me constantly satiated for the rest of my life –
Stir-fried stuff : Chinese have a patent on stir-fried meats. I go for jumbo shrimps or chicken strips and I like them spicy, coated with sesame seeds, served with finely chopped spring onions, carrots and celery. The carrots have to be slender and stringy, so fine that you can thread them through a needle. The celery shouldn’t be so fine though, because then they’ll simply dissolve. They can be bikini string-sized and I would live with that.
Red meats don’t find a place in my scheme of things. I think cows, goats and pigs are friendly, cute and cuddly and they don’t like being eaten. Chicken, on the other hand, are dumb. Behead one right in front of his coup-mate whom he must have grown up with and he won’t bat an eyelid. Chicken have had it coming.
And lobsters? They go even further than the chicken. They love being barbequed. Just stand in front of one of those lobster tanks in the grocery store and they’ll be piling on each other to get near you so you can reach in and grab one, like they are saying to you,” Me! Me! Here! Not him, me, me!” Lobster, stir-fried Szechwan style, is the best dish in the world. Even your Scarlett Johanssen Bowdi, with her lips permanently frozen in an ‘O’ won’t cut it, if there is a whole lobster, sitting there sizzling in fronta me.
Dim Sum : Otherwise known as dumplings, these are bite-sized goodies – meat, stuffed in a soft dough wrapping – good as brunch or with some red wine if you like, as horses of the ovaries . Usually dumplings are served with chilli and soya sauces. If you are in Chinatown in the Chinese New Year, dumplings of all shapes and sizes are everywhere – on the sidewalk, being served hot or in restaurants, with waitresses pushing carts on rollers through the aisles with a variety of steaming dumplings for you to pick from.
There’s other stuff I don’t have the time to mention, such as Ma Po Tofu – a milky tofu that has been enriched with meat, usually beef or pork, but I like it with chicken. It is spicy and hot, like an Indian Andhra-style curry, with lots of chopped spring onions and pepper. Won Tons, with diced shrimp of course drive me nuts. Like dumplings, these are stuffed too, with all sorts of meats, my preference being shrimps, since I am a shrimp maniac. Virile men go for fruits de mer. Trust me.
Don’t forget Peking duck – usually served as one whole duck, it has a crispy skin and is simply delectable. A waiter wheels it in, sizzling on a massive round brass dish and proceeds to carve out pieces for you. On the cart you might find thin pita-like bread, long string beans and celery sticks, a bowl of sweet bean sauce and a bowl of soy with mashed garlic. If you are having Peking Duck, keep a loaded Walther PPK on the table, inches from your right hand, because a lot of folks might want to relieve you off your meal, so tasty it is.
And who can write about Chinese chow without mentioning Spring Rolls. In most Chinese restaurants, spring rolls are crappy, stale and frozen supermarket packed stuff. Avoid them unless the waiter tells you they were freshly prepared. Spring rolls are deep golden-fried dim sum, but cylindrical, with the ends tucked in, so the filling won’t spill out. With spring rolls, you might not need a handgun but at least carry a Swiss Army Knife in your breast pocket, just in case.
There, isn’t Chinese food eksyting? Food however, isn’t the only thing that makes me visit Chinatown. I have been going to a 90-year old Sechwanese herbal medicine practitioner for a problem that is a bit embarrassing for me to discuss here. I’ll give you a hint – let’s say that it is something that afflicts a man when he gets as old as 60 and has two words in it – one that starts with ‘e’ and rhymes with ‘projectile’ and the other, with ‘d’ and rhymes with ‘malfunction’.
I remember the first time I went to the crone. Neither he nor his wife knew a word of English or French, but she gestured, ‘hang on’ and called someone on the phone and held out the handset to me. Puzzled, I took it from her.
It was a girl at the other end, speaking reasonable English, with a heavy Chinese accent. “That man – I’m his zawser. You can tell your problem…” she said in that typical sing-song Chinese tone of voice.
“No way, Miss, this is a man issue and you are a girl. Do you have a man there I can talk to?”
“No, I’m the only one my fazer trusts. Look, I salk to all my fazer’s patients, including men, including problems with sex. Don’t wowwy, iss okay.”
“I…I can’t. You are a girl and …and…”
“Listen to me, iss something with your penis? I salk to many men wis all kinds of penises all ze time, no problem.”
Under other circumstances I would have welcomed such talk. I am heavily turned on by oriental women with slanting eyes, who wish to talk about penises. But that day I just wasn’t prepared to open up to someone over the phone that I hadn’t even set my eyes on – especially on a part of the male anatomy that wouldn’t do what it was supposed to. But in the end I had to ‘open up’ to her.