Family Dinner in Montreal


Poulet au Vin

Some people are born into money. I was born into food.* Last weekend, we went up to Montreal for our somewhat-annual family reunion. Every moment is spent eating.

Mom is the youngest daughter of ten children, born ethnically Chinese in Madagascar. In order, "les bebes" are: Victor, Georges, Yvonne, Felicie, Emilienne, Jeanine, Jacqueline, Daniel, Bernadette (my mom), and Thierry. Their names have always sounded beautiful and strange to me, European melodies to Chinese faces. I too was supposed to have a name like this: Adrienne Tom.

Dinner with my Mom's side is always an adventure in unforced, unusual fusion -- part Chinese, part African, part Canadian, part French, with some American and Vietnamese thrown in, too. It's a mix that would never happen in a restaurant -- only in a home.


Chicken balls are not meatballs, but whipped and juicy Chinese-Canadian creations. Submerged in broth, they're like marshmallows in hot cocoa. These were made by two different aunts. One is pert, stir-fried with an astringent chard. The other is braised with tofu skin, shiitake, and Chinese cabbage -- a dish where each bite resists, then immediately gives.


The meal turned slightly American with ribs and coleslaw, but with a couple curveballs. My Dad made his slow-smoked BBQ ribs, while my Uncle Daniel made his 20-minute mustard, soy, oregano ribs. They were accompanied by my Aunt Emilienne's curry coleslaw with raisins. No biscuits.


Aunt Emilienne painstakingly cleaned orange chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, which snap like styrofoam, but taste much better. Aunt Solange made quinoa salad with avocado, olives, and corn. This was the alternate starch besides the necessity of every Chinese table: white rice.


Dad barreled in with a hulking American-style lasagna, larded with ricotta, mozzarella and sausage. It had an entirely different carriage than the rest of the dishes, but the non-American family seemed to enjoy its foreign allure.


These were my favorite and least favorite dishes. Jerusalem artichokes with artichoke hearts and asparagus is an ode to difficult, challenging vegetables, like a duet between an oboe and a bassoon. Pickled pig's feet, I just don't care for. Why are they so white?


Finally, for dessert, Aunt Jacqueline made a classic French clafouti with wild blueberries she picked from the forests of Charlevoix. Aunt Emilienne made a Key Lime "gateau vivant" -- a raw pie made of lime, agave, coconut oil, avocado, and nuts, and not heated over 104 degrees. And finally Aunt Jeanine brought fresh grapes from her garden. Typically, we visit in the summer and close out the night with litchi. But the season has passed, and these were spectacular. Seeded and as complex as wine.


* I stole this line from Frank Bruni, who I think stole it from someone on the street.