After we had entertained ourselves at Marché Jean-Talon, we stopped by Le Petit Alep for a late lunch and a drink. The café is located parallel to the market and is attached to a proper restaurant; since we were just looking for a quick bite or two to satisfy us until dinner, il était parfait.
Since the day had been both warm and sunny, and because Boston was not, we decided to sit outside on the plank-board patio rather than at one of the tables abutting the stone walls inside the dimly-lit café. There, we studied the listing of Syrian, Armenian and Middle Eastern offerings. Of the four of us, only Keith has any French; in spite of that, I found myself easily making my way around the menu. After all, while the menu wasn’t printed in English, the alphabet was the same, and most of the dishes were spelled phonetically (something I always find amusing).
Joann, Keith and Melissa all decided to have an Arak (an anise-flavored drink similar to pastis), but since I’ve never been fond of the flavor, I went in a non-alcoholic direction altogether with a fantastically-colored drink. Made of blended orange and mango juices whirled with mint, it was utterly refreshing ($4.75 CAD). At times I find mint to be paralyzingly strong; like the mushroom, a leaf or two of mint can overwhelm other flavors and all but smother them into nothingness. My beverage was an example of mint used well, since each component brought out the best in both itself and the other ingredients.
The four of us were specifically in search of something light, since we had made late-night dinner reservations, so that was the driving force behind us sharing the végétarienne platter ($17.00 CAD). Two people could easily make a meal out of the mahummara (sweet pepper and walnut spread), hummos, tabouleh, muttabal (baba ghanoush), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), boereg and mejadara — four would be hard-pressed. We also passed around tiny plates of moussaka, lebneh drizzled with olive oil, more hummos ($3.50 CAD each) and even more bread. I’m not ashamed to say that sent back to the kitchen immaculate white dishes practically licked clean. You would have too.
As someone raised on this fare and living away from home, this was probably the most comforting meal I’ve had in ages. Isn’t it odd, how food nourishes us not only physically as nutrition and as sustenance, but also emotionally? With each bite, I couldn’t help but think of my Syrian-born Armenian father and his young adulthood in Beirut, and of my Filipina mother, who learned to cook a foreign culture’s food for her family. I remembered how my paternal grandfather used to take me to buy apricots from a street vendor in LA when I was a small child, and how I saw his grave for the first time this spring. I thought of my maternal grandfather, a great lover of food rivaling only my brother for hummos consumption, who died this past May on a trip to the States.
The food at Le Petit Alep may seem unique or exotic to those weaned on other cuisines, but to me it was as familiar as the carousel-print navy flannel sheets I slept on through (I’ll admit it) high school and the glossy black and white piano keys I banged tunelessly for seven years. Like them, they are things I know I’ll find in my parents’ house, and they will always bring me home. Even when I’m in Canada.
Le Petit Alep
191 Rue Jean-Talon Est
Montréal, QC H2R