Maple syrup and pancakes in French we can’t understand

Stack of pancakes with maple syrup.

If our world trip has had any culinary theme it has been pancakes. From Poland, through mainland France and Corsica we’ve made a concerted effort to sample the best on offer. So it should come as no surprise to find that our main goal for today was to find pancakes and maple syrup. After a fair bit of wandering about we stumbled upon a diner near the centre of Montreal that had just what we wanted: your basic stack of pancakes with the option to have pure maple syrup on them. We almost made the mistake of going with the huge jug of syrup that was available on every table until we realised that this was not the real deal. The pure stuff had to be ordered separately.

Real maple syrup is still basically made the way it has been for hundreds of years. The maple tree is tapped by making a hole and inserting a pipe of some sort. The sap is captured and then heated to thicken it. The last few years have seen some modernisation of the equipment but the basic stuff still comes from maple trees.Apparently the Quebecois refer to the imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau (‘pole syrup’), a joke referring to the syrup as having been made by tapping telephone poles.

Pancakes, maple syrup and some healthy bits.

While the pancakes were not up to the standard of Polish Nalesniki or French crepes they were the perfect life support mechanism for the pure maple syrup. Just yummm…

Another experience in the diner confirmed what we had thought over the last few days. The other theme of our trip has, I suppose, been learning French. Certainly part of our reason for coming to Montreal was to give Jennifer and the boys’ French a boost. Unfortunately while the written French here is pretty identical to French in France, the spoken French is pretty much unintelligible even for me. The combination of lots of slang words and a sort of slurred pronunciation makes even something as simple as “what would you like to drink?” impossible to understand unless the speaker makes an effort to put it into more ‘normal’ French. While it’s still possible for us to speak to them in French, it’s less fun when you can’t understand the reply and have to descend into English to sort things out.

This afternoon we visited the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology. It’s a pleasant little museum which gave us an insight into the history of Montreal. The visit starts with an absolutely excellent movie that lasts about 20 minutes and basically summarises the preceding 400 years rather neatly. Unfortunately that pretty much steals the thunder of the rest of the exhibits making the $30 entrance for a family of four seem a bit steep. It was, in any case, good to get a better understanding of where we are. Jennifer and I were particularly interested in the way the town started French, moved to being and speaking English and then went back to French. It was interesting to hear the breathless enthusiasm presenting the fact that Charles de Gaulle visited during the 67 Expo; oh, and the Queen came along too. We’re guessing that in the Anglo parts of Canada the Queen’s visit would have rated more interest.

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