Fringe Food

Tapas, Storytelling and Debates about Food

Bite sized food like this will be served at the event. Photo Ville Miettinen

So one night you ate this hot dog around 3:00 a.m. at Montréal Pool Room. It was an attempt to sober up, and you thought nothing of it.

Nor should you have.

But something startling occurs about half a decade later. Wandering the dark streets of Istanbul, some 10,000 kms from home, you alight upon a mustachioed man alone at a small stove by the murky edge of the Bosphorus. It’s an odd relief: you realize you are starving.

You are also lonely, tired, and sick of simit – those dry street bagels foisted upon you at every second stoplight. Nobody else seems to be around, and nothing else seems open. For all you know, it’s probably 3:00 a.m. again.

But now, like a mirage at water’s edge, this miniature restaurant has taken form. Without a second thought (for how often do you entertain profound thoughts on a ravenous stomach?) you drop your last Turkish banknote and witness your teeth tearing into some steaming “street meat.”

It’s on the second bite that it happens. Suddenly, and without warning, Montreal’s Main floods in, first to your mouth, then to your throat, and finally your heart. Perhaps it was the particular acidity of the mustard, or the surprise statement of that hidden coleslaw, or the comforting flimsiness of the bun.

Select details notwithstanding, I’ve retold a story mostly my own. An anonymous Turkish street vendor, oblivious that he had made me a “steamie,” once managed to catapult my tastebuds toward a slew of Montreal memories for whose poignancy I was prepared.

Such is the power of taste, and according to Spacing Montréal, Avenue 8 and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, it has the power to shape experiences across this island and beyond. The hip urban mag and stately museum have joined with other culinary forces to assemble what they call an “unconference” on taste in Montreal.

The one-night event features free access to the CCA, within which a host of participatory forums will be happening. The idea is to address the ways in which food shapes our island, and our island shapes food.

“Our event is actually a series of conversations that involve the public,” said Elsa Lam, curatorial coordinator at the CCA. “The audience is invited to be the panelists and to initiate ideas and topics,” she said.

So what’s food got to do with architecture or urban planning? According to Lam, the curatorial team wants to look at how “reading the city through food could influence ideas about planning and development.”

Though the venerable Normal Laprise of Toqué will be giving a keynote talk, stories, dialogue and tastings form the heart of A Taste for Montréal.

“The event is really geared around participation,” said Lam, who tells me that three simultaneous “sessions” will take place throughout various CCA sites.

In the CCA bookstore, visitors can hear or share their favourite Montreal food stories. Meandering a few paces away to Shaughnessy House, guests can stop into a “Fishbowl” session and temporarily occupy one of eight musical chairs, pontificating on any food topic that springs to mind.

A space for spontaneous and fragmentary dialogue, Lam says you “can step in and out of it as you see fit.”

Finally, the CCA library doubles as Salon, a forum where ideas can be followed through in a more sustained environment.

And keep your tastebuds open, too. The small plate experts from SAT’s FoodLab will be serving up nibbles ranging from sausage à la Fou de Cochon beer to local goat-cheese-kamut-apricot sablés, alongside a cash bar.

In short: you don’t need to spend your last million Turkish lire to appreciate what taste means to Montreal.

Taste of Montréal takes place April 5, from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 Baile St.). Admission is free.