Many years ago, Sona went to a South Indian restaurant in New York City during her lunch break, and ordered the Paper Dosa. The woman asked Sona if she was alone, and cautioned her against ordering the dish, but Sona being Sona insisted, and got a massive dosa that traversed the entire length of the table she was sitting at by herself. And of course, she didn’t finish it. It’s one of the few vegetarian dishes I will happily eat at any time of day, and it’s pretty much all we ate when we were travelled through South India for our honeymoon. Crepes, in their many forms have always held a soft spot for me in any country I’ve traveled.
Before we had Kavya, we went on a family road trip to visit Sona’s cousins and attend a 25th wedding anniversary in Montreal, which I was quite excited about. Why? Because of the crepes. That’s pretty much all I knew about Quebec. Or rather, what I assumed would be true of the entire province, Canada’s largest by area, and its second most populous, after Ontario. While Montreal was nice enough, its downtown a lovely area to walk through, with a lake, shops, and a pretty good bagel and coffee joint, I came to Canada to practice my poor French and the Crepes. And I wasn’t leaving without doing both of those things. I, of course, started up conversations about crepes with anyone who would listen (as you do), and found out that old school crepes were made still pretty traditionally and taken rather seriously in Old Quebec, and they speak a rustic French in many areas, particularly the more rural. We didn’t have time to go for very long, as we were there for a wedding anniversary, but it was only a couple of hours drive from Montreal. So that’s what went down. It took slight convincing to get Tarun, my brother-in-law, on board. I didn’t tell him we were driving several hours just for crepes, something he’s eaten in NYC countless times. I told him about historical buildings and shit like that in Old Quebec. Fucking history, man.
It was quite a fascinating drive because within a relatively short amount of time, we were in an area that was completely French speaking. As much as I love going on road trips in America, where there are some beautiful areas and really fun places to visit for a very long list of reasons, from cultural to historical, to yes, fine, the food. Okay, mainly the food. But linguistically there is nothing as transformative as heading past Montreal and into Quebec City, where it’s a full fledged living language that is a hotly debated issue, especially during the 1980s.
People still have license plates with the phrase, “Je Me Souviens,” I will always remember, a call to never forget the political and cultural wars against the Anglophones for preserving the identity of Quebecois social and political culture. It’s still a highly contentious issue, but one I fully support when you look at the state of linguistic identity in places like Punjab in India/Pakistan, Xinjiang in China, or countless other places around the world, where because of a lack of vigilence, an entire culture may very well die out in a few generations. What are commonly referred to as the Language Police, plain clothes coppers, known for being a little over zealous in enforcing French to businesses. At the height of the language and culture wars, they would go about and measure signs on businesses to make sure the French was longer than the English!
Old Quebec is lovely, with its beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and historical buildings, complete with cannons and 400 year-old walls, and fancy pant boutique hotels. It’s a fantastic area for walking around and getting lost in the side streets, but the places that we find most memorable are ones that make our stomachs happy and our wallets full (not that we pay cash for anything. That is so 1990).
The place we went for breakfast was a little neighborhood crêperie called Le Bilig, which served up some amazing crepes and beer. It’s a quaint little place with wooden floors, and furniture, a breakfast bar area, and a super friendly chef. All the crepes are made with buckwheat as a base and some inventive toppings, at reasonable prices (around $10 for crepes). Below is a completely useless video me and Tarun took at various stages of intoxication. I am, of course, being extremely fancy in my beer tasting. If you happen to know what this guy used in his batter and own a crepe pan, you too can make this recipe. Here’s the video