Category Archives: AAA 2011 Montreal

Montreal: Smoked Meat!

by Alan Nash
Department of Geography, Planning and Environment
Concordia University, Montreal

Schwartz's in 2008, photo by Alan Nash


“What should I eat in Montreal?”

As if answering your question, Calvin Trillin, in a November 2009 column in The New Yorker, acknowledged the reply that most Montrealers would likely give when he remarked “smoked meat was probably Montreal’s best-known food…”.

Similar august endorsements will answer your obvious follow-up question, “where’s the best place to eat smoked meat?”

“When you’re in Montreal, you must go to Schwartz’s” opines The New York Times (a headline that I have been unable to track back to the original – but come from a poster on the wall of the restaurant itself).

Small wonder, perhaps, that Schwartz’s restaurant has recently been the subject of a stage musical (called – yes, you’ve guessed it — Schwartz: The Musical) that ran in Montreal’s Centaur Theatre to packed houses in early 2011.  I have the t-shirt.

As the place for the food, the epicenter of smoked meat in the city, there is no doubt in the minds of many that Schwartz’s is Montreal. Certainly, it fits the bill of an “iconic food” – to borrow Jennifer Berg’s helpful term – and, as an iconic food becomes one that we do not have to eat (or like) before we will recommend it to others. Like the newspaper headline, smoked meat has passed into legend and becomes a marketer’s dream.

If, after a visit to Schwartz’s cramped 61-seater diner-style restaurant on St Laurent Boulevard, you still have the stomach for further questions, they are almost certainly going to be “What exactly is Montreal smoked meat?” “What’s the difference between Montreal smoked meat and New York pastrami?” and “Which is best?

Photo by Alan Nash

I won’t answer that last one — on the grounds of personal safety — but as to the historical background of this story, I can turn to Eiran Harris, perhaps the authority on Montreal smoked meat.

In an interview in Cuizine, he ascribes smoked meat’s origins to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who, in the late nineteenth century, brought with them a familiarity with the meat known as pastrami in Yiddish. Once in Montreal, he notes, two ways of making smoked meat developed. The ‘dry cure’ used the brisket, a cut of meat taken from a steer’s forequarters, which was then rubbed with salt and spices and left to soak for between 12-20 days, before being smoked for six hours. A subsequent development, the ‘wet cure’ reduced the soaking period to about four days to speed things up, and one final innovation, “steaming” the meat for three hours, replaced volume that the brisket had lost through curing. For the record, Schwartz’s (established in 1928) uses the traditional “dry cure” with a final steaming before slicing and serving.

Oh – and how is it different from pastrami? Let me turn to Montreal food writer and Montreal Gazette columnist, Bill Brownstein, who is brave enough to record a view on this contentious matter. He writes that Montreal smoked meat “can be differentiated from pastrami or corned beef by its higher ratio of fat and spice, which connoisseurs will attest accounts for its superior taste’ (2006, 17). Be that as it may, just for the record, there are some basic differences between the two. “New York” style pastrami, according to Bacon’s entry on the subject in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, uses plate rather than brisket – a superior cut of beef  and one usually dry-rubbed with a mixture of spices and then refrigerated for up to ten days before smoking.

Debates about smoked meat in Montreal are always hard to settle, but no one doubts that the secret of Schwartz’s success must lie in a heady combination of its ability to serve top-quality smoked meat, and the publicity that has come to surround both the food and the place.

You should try some.


Bacon, J. ‘Pastrami’, in Smith, A.F. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. New York: Oxford University Press, vol. 2, 2004, 240-241.

Berg, J. ‘Iconic Foods’, in Katz, Solomon H. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. New York: Scribner, vol. 2, 2003, 243-244.

_____. ‘From the Big Bagel to the Big Roti? The Evolution of New York City’s Jewish Food Icons’, in Hauck-Lawson, A. and J. Deutsch (eds.), Gastropolis: Food and New York City. New York: Columbia Press, 2009, 252-273.

Brownstein, B. Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2006.

Harris, E. ‘Montreal-Style Smoked Meat: An interview with Eiran Harris conducted by Lara Rabinovitch, with the cooperation of the Jewish Public Library’, Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures vol.1 no. 2, no pagination [e-journal article accessed on 2 March and 8 April 2010 at] .

Trillin, C. ‘Canadian Journal: Funny Food’, The New Yorker (23 November), 2009, 68-69.


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Let’s Root for Montreal’s Bagels!

by Christine Jourdan

Fairmount Bagel Bakery


Forget about the rivalry between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadians, or between the Cortland apple and the McIntosh apple, or between the Met orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. All these do not matter! What really matters is the rivalry between New York bagels and Montreal Bagels. Now, that is a serious thing to argue about! You did not know Montreal had bagels? We may be Canadians, Eh! but we have bagels too! And if you’ve visited other iconic shops like The Halal Guys in Montreal – it’s time to treat yourself to dessert in the form of a delicious Montreal space bagel.

These bagels are symbolic. To start with, Montreal bagels have big holes. Not ordinary holes but holes with meaning. You see, we like big holes in Montreal: be it the city finances, or the Big O (the O shaped Olympic stadium that looks like the big hole of a urinal), or the island of Montreal, itself a hole in the St-Lawrence river, or the pot holes we have in our streets all year long, holes matter here. Good bagel holes have got to be big too! Then of course, there is the matter of the chewy dough. We have plenty of things to chew on: the corruption in the construction industry; the highest income tax in all the Americas; the Plan Nord that is selling our wood away; and of course, the winter that lasts forever. No wonder our national animal is the beaver! Chew is what we do! But then of course Montreal bagels are sweeter, boiled in honey-sweetened water and always cooked in wood-fired ovens. And there are plenty of things we are sweet on: the green spaces in the city; the majestic beauty of the St Lawrence river; bilingualism and the exhilaration it brings to some of us; the café-terrasse culture; the safety of the streets; the walkability of this city; the friendliness of people, and of course, the McIntosh apple, the Canadians and the MSO!

St-Viateur Bagel

Montreal bagel aficionados know their bagels and the true amateurs are divided between two groups of faithful bagel eaters: Those who prefer the Fairmount Street Bagels  and those who prefer the St-Viateur Street Bagels. All others are pale copies and do not measure up in quality. Some enlightened New Yorkers have come to their senses and affirm a preference for Montreal Bagels. Some even developed an expertise in these matters. For instance, my New York friend Bambi prefers the St-Viateur version while my New York friend Kate prefers the Fairmount version. Be they from Fairmount or from St Viateur, nothing beats fresh bagels bought in the middle of the night, after a party or a late movie, from a tiny shop with a roaring fire oven, when the stomach reminds the mind that food is needed, or when the mind reminds the stomach that food is wanted. Like a proud Montrealer, I truly prefer Montreal Bagels, complete with big holes, piping hot, right out of the wood oven, covered with roasted Sesame Seeds, chewy and sweet.



Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, anthropology, bagels, culture, Montreal

SAFN at the 2011 AAA Meetings, Montreal

Our annual business meeting and Distinguished Lecture will take place Saturday, November 19, from 6:15 to 8:00 pm in room 510C in the Montreal Convention Center. Continuing our tradition of honoring an anthropologist whose research has enhanced our understanding of food and nutrition, the Distinguished Lecture this year will be given by nutritional anthropologist Dr. Darna Dufour. The title of Dr Dufour’s talk is “Anthropological Perspectives on the Nutrition Transition” – it should be great!

SAFN is sponsoring or co-sponsoring the following sessions this year:

  • Breaking Bread with the State: Exploring Food, Diet, Economy, Politics, Identity and Citizenship (3-0865)
  • Changing Contexts and Responses to Food Insecurity (4-0935)
  • Feeding and Food among Babies, Children, and Adolescents (5-0135)
  • Before the Baby Comes: Dietary Provisioning During Pregnancy (5-0725)
  • The Working Animal Body: Recovering and Suppressing Visceral Traces (5-0990)
  • Taste the Difference: Food Futures and the Politics of Eating (and Writing) Food (6-0120)
  • Anthropology of Wine: Ethnography from the Vineyard to the Glass (6-0570)
  • Food and Identity: Are We What We Eat? (6-0575).

We have two invited sessions:

  • Traces of Resilience: Food Security and Wellbeing over the Life Course (5-0430; Saturday, November 19)
  • Ethnographic Approaches to Food Activism: Agency, Democracy, and Economy (5-0805; Saturday, November 19)

There will also be a panel discussion on the “Immense New Challenges to the Future of Food: Reports from the AAA Task Force on World Food Problems,” led by Sol Katz (2-0590).

Please check the AAA website: ( or meeting guide for up to date information on the times and locations of these sessions. As always, check out our blog: and feel free to send us blog contributions. We love to highlight members’ work, ideas, thoughts, etc.

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AAA 2011: Montreal Markets!

by Amy Trubek
University of Vermont

Atwater Market, click the picture to visit the market's web site.

Living in rural Vermont, there are many food related pleasures available to me on any given day. Our vibrant artisan food movement means that I can procure delectable farmstead cheese, crusty slow-fermented breads, and grass-fed beef easily and often. However, there are many foods that are difficult to find, especially those that represent cuisines less bland and less focused on wheat, dairy, and beef. Our Yankee heritage remains. And so what to do? For my husband and I, and many of our friends, the solution is to go to our nearest metropolitan center, Montreal, and shop at the two amazing year-round indoor/outdoor markets: Atwater and Jean Talon. Anyone interested in food and food culture should definitely make a visit to one or both of these markets when you are in Montreal for the AAAs!

Atwater Market is in the English-speaking Western part of Montreal. The Lachine Canal bike path goes to the market. Atwater is the smaller of the two markets and specializes in fresh meats, prepared meats and charcuterie. Paté et Terrine is especially good. Another great find at Atwater is Les Douceurs du Marché which stocks amazing olive oils, European and Canadian cheeses, and much more. Of course there is a stand that sells sirop d’erable, or maple syrup, and many maple syrup based products!

Description and directions: and

Jean Talon Market photo

Jean Talon Market, from

Jean Talon is larger, located in Little Italy, north of downtown off of Rue Saint Laurent. There is a Jean Talon stop on the metro. Jean Talon is the largest outdoor public market in North America. Jean Talon has a huge array of fresh produce, much of it from Quebec, although some is also imported from the United States and beyond. There are a number of fascinating small stands right near the produce section, including Jardin Sauvage that sells locally sourced foraged foods, especially mushrooms. The outdoor market also has several stands selling maple syrup (in Canada sold in cans) and maple syrup products.  In the neighborhood around Jean Talon are numerous ethnic specialty stores, including Maya which sells wonderful corn and flour tortillas.

Click here for a photoessay on Jean Talon in Cuizine, an ejournal about Canadian food culture. For further description and directions, visit:


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Christine Wilson Student Award 2011

Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
2011 Christine Wilson Student Paper Award

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is pleased to announce the 2011 Christine Wilson Award competition.

Each year we recognize outstanding undergraduate and graduate research papers in the memory of Christine Wilson- a pioneer in the field of nutritional anthropology, innovator in ethnographic research methodology and inspirational guide to members of the society.

We request the submission of original, single-authored research papers that have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of nutrition, foods, foodways, food security, hunger or similar topics. We will also accept multi-authored papers if the submission is by the first author and the other authors are also students. Papers that present new empirical research designs, evaluate community nutrition intervention programs or propose new conceptual frameworks are especially welcome. (Literature reviews and co-authored papers are not eligible).

Eligibility is restricted to students (undergraduate or graduate) enrolled in the 2011-2012 academic year.  If not a current member of SAFN, applicants are requested to apply for membership along with their submission.   Winners and runners-up in two categories (undergraduate and graduate) will be recognized and presented with an award at the 2011 AAA meeting in Montreal, PQ Canada.

The text of papers should be no longer than 20-25 pages, double-spaced. Please delete identifying information and submit as attachment along with the CWA cover sheet to:

Michael R. McDonald, Ph.D.
Chair, CWA Awards Committee
Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

Email to:

Deadline: October 14, 2011

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Food Anthropology in Montreal!

Call for Papers: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition 

Your opportunity to present at the 110th American Anthropological Association  annual meeting in Montréal, November 16-20, 2010

The theme of this year’s meeting is ”Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies”. The executive committee asks us to reflect on these concepts and process of how differences are made, marked, removed, maintained and altered. The membership of SAFN is well-positioned to take a leading role in addressing this theme, given both the universality and malleability of food beliefs, nutritional practices, and resultant health and disease. As a truly interdisciplinary group of scholars within anthropology, the SAFN membership is in a unique position to demonstrate how anthropology’s holistic perspective remains a powerful tool for both understanding and tackling the global issue of “Traces, Tidemarks, and Legacies”. For more information about the national meeting, including elaboration of the theme and important dates, see the AAA meetings web site.

There are three types of sessions for papers and posters: (1) Invited, (2) Volunteered, and (3) AAA Public Policy Forums. While many authors have historically preferred the paper format, the major advantage of presenting a poster over a paper is that instead of 15 minutes of fame, you get an hour and half, during which time you can discuss and debate your findings and ideas.

If you are interested in having an Invited session, please send your proposals to Sera Young ( no later than March 13; earlier is better. You must also submit your proposed session on the AAA meeting website by then. Session proposals should include a session abstract (250 words) and the names and details (institution, title) of all co-authors. Invited sessions are generally cutting-edge, directly related to the meeting theme, or cross sub-disciplines, i.e. they have broader appeal. One way to increase your and our presence at the meetings is to have a co-sponsored invited session between SAFN and another sub-discipline.  Invited time is shared with the other sub-discipline and the session is double-indexed. Volunteered sessions are comprised of individually submitted papers or posters that are put together based on some common theme as well as sessions proposed as invited that were not selected as such. These must be submitted via the AAA website by April 15. AAA Public Policy Forums are reviewed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy, the deadline for those is March 15. If you’d like to discuss ideas for sessions and/or papers, feel free to contact the 2011 Program Chair, Sera Young (, 607-351-0172).

AAA is increasingly open to innovative presentation styles, including round table discussions, meet the author, panel discussions and poster sessions. All of these are submitted through the AAA registration website.
We look forward to seeing the fruits of your fascinating research!

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