September 25th, 2017

It’s not the heat, it’s the…smoked meat

Look how uniform the temperature is in the entire eastern half of the country:

Seems unusual to me. We’re certainly having unseasonably hot weather in New England.

I was in Montreal this past weekend, and it was bordering on the uncomfortably hot. People there were exclaiming that they haven’t had much of a summer this year—wet and coolish—and that this past few days constituted the first real summery weather they’d had. So it was party time in Montreal; the streets were loaded with pedestrians well into the evening, taking in the balmy night air.

Ever been to Montreal? It’s the inexpensive way (for us in New England, anyway) to get a soupçon of Paris. About 80% of the conversations you overhear on the street are in French, which for me (because I understand hardly a word of French) means they sound a great deal more interesting and mysterious than the same conversations would in English.

In addition, great clothes and shoes for sale, and not too expensive.

And to top it all off we have the smoked meat sandwich.

“Smoked meat” is a Montreal specialty, a variant of the classic pastrami sandwich that to me tastes somewhat like a cross between pastrami and corned beef but is an improvement on both. And since good pastrami and good corned beef can be improved upon only rarely and with great effort, we’re talking very very very good indeed. Fatty but not too fatty, salty but not too salty. Just plain flavorful and succulent.

The most famous place in Montreal for smoked meat is called Schwartz’s. It’s been around since 1928, and:

…The staff of Schwartz’s credits the unique flavour of their smoked meat to their mandatory 10-day meat curing time, the high turnover of their meat, and their brick smoke-house covered with over 80 years worth of buildup.

That may not sound too appetizing, but believe me, this stuff is great.

Schwartz’s signature dish is a smoked meat sandwich served on rye bread with yellow mustard. The meat is served by the fat content; lean, medium, medium-fat or fat. Medium and medium-fat are the most popular. According to journalist Bill Brownstein, the classic Schwartz’s meal includes a medium-fat sandwich, fries, half-sour pickle, coleslaw, red pepper, and a black cherry soda.

For me, the rest of those things are of little interest. I don’t drink flavored soda. Fries with a deli sandwich seems just plain wrong, although I noticed that in Montreal, fries are absolutely ubiquitous. Coleslaw’s fine, but I don’t need it for that sandwich. Red pepper? Non. As for half-sour pickles—give me a full sour every time, and at Schwartz’s that’s exactly what I ordered, and it was great.

The mustard is good and the rye bread is good. So who could ask for anything more?

I had several other meals in Montreal, which is a foodie capital. But none compared. I was tempted to stop at Schwartz’s on the way out of town to get a sandwich (or two or three) to go, but I desisted.

But just now I learned—to mixed feelings of joy and horror—that you can mail order the smoked meat from Schwartz’s— that is, according to Wiki, but when I went to the Schwartz website I couldn’t find a word about it. It’s possible they experimented with it for a while but ended the practice.

I’m not sure. You’ll have to do your own research on that and report back. As I said, I have mixed feelings about the idea of having constant access to such temptation. And I’m not at all sure that a mail-order version would be anywhere near the same as what I had in the restaurant.

I also found this on HuffPo in 2013, but I don’t know if the information is obsolete:

…if you’re looking for a present for that special someone, nothing says love like getting a vacuum-pack shipped — just e-mail the deli at and get it delivered that week. We recommend getting at least the medium cut.

Wiki offers us this bit of history:

Schwartz’s is considered a cultural institution in Montreal; when the Charter of the French Language became law in 1977, the deli kept its name as is with the apostrophe, despite the French language not using it. The new law still forced the change from “Hebrew delicatessen” to “charcuterie Hébraïque.”

When I was in Montreal but before I decided to go to Schwartz’s, I did online research about the smoked meat choices, as you might imagine. Montreal is full of smoked meat delis, and the discussion of which is best is hot and heavy (like the sandwiches) and contentious. No small number of people say Schwartz’s is overrated. I disagree vehemently. Some of those people preferred various other establishments, and I had a few bites of a smoked meat sandwich at one of those places and it was inedible. ‘Nuff said.

I’m with this writer:

Okay. Okay. We Get It. Schwartz’s Makes the Best Smoked Meat in Montreal.

Wrong. Schwartz’s makes the best smoked meat in the world. Cured and/or wet brined, smoked and/or baked, steamed, or not, or all of the above, copycats would have to replicate the spices and traditional preparation process to even begin dreaming of giving Schwartz’s a run for their money.

P.S.: How could I have forgotten to add this?

23 Responses to “It’s not the heat, it’s the…smoked meat”

  1. kevino Says:

    Montreal is nice, but Toronto is more like NYC.

  2. steve walsh Says:

    My work takes me to Montreal on a regular basis – it is truly a lovely city. Being from Boston the only thing I could possibly object to are the Canadiens fan(atic)s. I usually don’t have to tell them I am from Boston, they figure it out when I butcher ‘bonjour’. But they all, nearly all, treat the hockey rivalry in a friendly and jesting way.

  3. Gary D. G. Says:

    French, yes. But the last time I walked down Rue Sainte-Catherine I heard/indentified eight different languages in three blocks (likely there were twice as many, but I just couldn’t put a name to them). Of course that was when Montreal was still a multi-cultural/multi-lingual city.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    Gary D. G.:

    I was actually surprised I didn’t hear a lot of languages other than French and English. It seems that in most American cities I hear a tremendous variety. I did hear quite a bit of Spanish in Montreal, though, and some Portuguese.

  5. Holly Haymond Says:

    Contrast that with the ice box weather in the mountain West. We’re accustomed to summer through October, but many places saw snow last week and those that didn’t hovered in the mid 40s. My poor melons. And that’s not a euphemism.

  6. physicsguy Says:

    First visited Montreal two years ago for Women’s World Cup. What a great city! Especially for food! I loved how every server greeted us with “Bon Jour! Hi!” Respond with “Bon Jour, and the conversation proceeds in French, with “Hi” they switch to English. The two major cathedrals are fantastic to visit. And I never knew the city’s name is just a combination of the the name of the tall hill behind downtown, Mont Real.

    Concerning the weather: yes hot in the east, but notice the cold in the west. Very typical to have a trough in the jet stream in one section and a high in the other. Usually splits along the Mississsippi.

    Back to Montreal: as their major shopping mall is 3 stories UNDERGROUND below downtown, with many connecting tunnels and metro stops, that just tells me it’s not a place to visit in the winter. All those sidewalk table in front of restaurants would probably be gone.

  7. neo-neocon Says:


    I bet it’s not too bad to visit in winter. There really is a ton of underground shopping and you can walk underground for a long ways without needing to surface. In addition, I bet the motels are way cheaper in winter. I may try it if the latter turns out to be true.

  8. Paul in Boston Says:

    I was in Montreal once while taking a son on a college tour of McGill. A friend of mine showed us around and took us to some of the French restaurants, which were uniformly excellent. He also took us for midnight bagels at a bakery run by Hasids. A New Yorker would freak out if he ever saw or tasted one, it was a different species entirely.

    I recently learned where the name of our hockey rivels, Les Habs, came from while re-reading Francis Parkman’s “France and England in North America”. When the French were settling Canada in the 1600s, it was a wild and dangerous place. The only correct description of the Indians at that time is savages, really wild and very very dangerous. As a consequence, the French Crown wanted the settlers to live in or near the (barely) fortified towns of Quebec and Montreal. A lot of the settlers had a different idea and wanted their freedom so they built their farms on plots up and down the St. Lawrence. They became known as “les habitants”.

  9. vanderleun Says:

    Now, NOW, I AM VERY HUNGRY! I am so HUNGRY that I have become HANGRY!

  10. neo-neocon Says:



  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Paul in Boston:

    You may notice I didn’t mention the bagels. They were—no other way to say this, so I’ll just say this—bad.

    I went to the place that supposedly is the best bagel place in Montreal. They looked good. And the method, boiled and then baked, is correct. But they were cakey, like most US bagels in supermarkets, albeit with a hard chewy crust and a nice irregular shape, and not swollen to gargantuan proportions like so many modern-day bagels. They were also sweetish.

    Hmmm, perhaps a post on bagels coming on?

  12. parker Says:

    I visit Montreal every May to attend an international Aikido seminar, and over years have developed several friendships so I never pay for lodging. I find the city to be beautiful and welcoming. My French is limited but I can engage in very casual conversation. Schwart’s meats are indeed yummy. There is a great dim sum place in the heart of the city which name escapes me at the moment.

    Ah, Montreal in May, will continue to visit until I feel too feeble to get on the mat.

  13. parker Says:

    Speaking of heat… Iowa had September in August and the weather gods have decided we must have August in September. Plus after a very wet early summer we have a 6 week drought that requires daily watering in the veg beds. 2 inch wide cracks in the rest of the yard.

  14. Paul in Boston Says:

    “Iowa had September in August and the weather gods have decided we must have August in September. ”

    This is known as Climate Exchange. Something new to get hysterical about.

  15. Lee Says:

    Montreal Bagels are the best!!!

  16. miklos000rosza Says:

    What a funny post! I’d probably like the meat, but I’ve had enough exposure to French after my marriage and a time when we nearly moved to Avignon. All of her relatives, and friends, oh God…

    I knew a model in NYC in the late 90s who was from Montreal, and she once went through the different ways of speaking French, from the hard Parisian accent to Marseille, Algiers, etc. Certainly you could get along very well in Tangier if you spoke French.

    In any case, the French spoken in Montreal sounded the most musical and pleasing.

  17. J.J. Says:

    Rye bread, yellow mustard, and smoked meat. Three of my favorite things. Sounds delightful.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Food from the earth is different from the food of the spirit.

    After a day or two of fasting, the hunger desire goes away.

    A 3 day fast without water is nearly suicidal, as it can cause kidney and organ failures.

    A 7 day fast without water is, some kind of torture program.

    But people have been known to go for quite some time without physical food.

    When the body switches from using the energy of the earth via digestion of calories from the gut, to using the other sources of energy, from the real world, it causes a change. Lots of legends about martial artists and spiritual hermits transcending human limits.

    parker Says:
    September 25th, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    If you use trees and rainwater drains to irrigate a valley, it can store water for several months deep underground.

    Usually what is used is a mountain gravity valley slump. The water flows downhill, hits the uphill, stops, and then goes straight down. If the ground water is sufficiently absorbed and stored, it won’t evaporate, and thus can sustain the plants above for quite some time.

    The benefit of this is that it doesn’t rely on artificial irrigation but is akin to the irrigation provided by trees. Since trees aren’t useful for farming, humans create an artificial system that operates closer to trees than what people see on industrial farms or rice paddies.

    As for AIkido, I haven’t practiced Ikkyo or Sankyo for quite some time. The joint lock skills have evaporated, probably. Now I spend my time learning how to create door hinges and lever bars inside the human body, to generate mechanical advantage and manipulate gravity, instead of using muscle pulleys.

    My understanding of aikido movements have probably improved, from practicing Japanese swordmanship however. The whole wrist locks would be very applicable if someone pulled my sword from my saya/sheathe when I wasn’t paying attention. Or if I was going unarmed against someone wielding a length object, entering into the range of the arms and applying leverage at the wrist points would create 2 points of contact for the 5 points of a web contact.

  19. Barry Meislin Says:

    The controversy between Montreal bagels and NY bagels is akin to a religious disputation.

    A matter of faith.

    As for, “I bet it’s not too bad to visit in winter….”, it does have “its moments” and can actually get pretty hairy:

  20. huxley Says:

    Not to mention Montreal is Leonard Cohen’s hometown and where he is buried.

    I’d love to try Schwartz’s smoked meat sometime.

    I have heard French speakers from France are unfond of Canadian French. A French kid in my high school was quite disdainful of our French teacher who learned the language in Canada.

    “Why is Québec French nearly universally considered uglier than France French?”ébec_french_nearly_universally

  21. huxley Says:

    Not to mention Montreal is Leonard Cohen’s hometown and where he is buried.

    I’d love to try Schwartz’s smoked meat sometime.

    I have heard French speakers from France are unfond of Canadian French. A French kid in my high school was quite disdainful of our French teacher who learned the language in Canada.

    “Why is Quebec French nearly universally considered uglier than France French?”ébec_french_nearly_universally

  22. LindaF Says:

    Oh, for Heaven’s sake! This is what we call “Indian Summer” – that time period that is a last gasp of warm before the cold descends upon us.

  23. Surellin Says:

    No poutine while there, Neo? 🙂 BTW, you can get Schwartz’s Montreal Steak Seasoning on Amazon.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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