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"He was convinced that Buddha had revealed a truth that every person could recognise: suffering is a fixed part of life. Fleeing from pain and running toward pleasure would never change that fact. Yet most people spent their whole lives avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. To them, this was only natural, but in reality they were becoming deeply involved in a war they could never win."

Buddha by Deepak Chopra

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Lacklustre grilled cheese sandwich @ Cafe Veritas in Montreal, Canada

3pm on a Monday afternoon. An almost empty Cafe Veritas. I wanted a snack. I asked the lady behind the counter what she recommends. She said the grilled cheese sandwich. My mouth watered. She said it would take 7 minutes. 

3 minutes later, my sandwich arrived. It was no grilled cheese sandwich. It was a meh cheese sandwich. The cheese hadn’t melted entirely, and the bread was still soft, as opposed to crispy. 

There were barely any other customers in this cafe so I came down to my one and only conclusion.

They don’t care about me or my experience of their cafe.

I won’t be back.

P.S. This is the first time in my life anyone’s screwed up a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Café Veritas on Urbanspoon

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"Each person carried an invisible burden. The young monk was amazed that he hadn’t seen it before. Everyone walked or rode with their lives on their shoulders, a pack of memories that spilled over with disappointment and sorrow. This one had never recovered from losing a wife in childbirth. That one was afraid of starving. That other one fretted over a runway son who may have died in battle. And always there was the pall of age and sickness, the endless worry over money, the unceasing doubts about the future."

Buddha by Deepak Chopra

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Try the Trio at Café Pavè in Montréal, Canada

I couldn’t get over the photograph of the giant baby head in the middle of Café Pavé. Is it just me or does the baby’s expression resemble Mona Lisa’s? 

It’s probably just me. 

I went to the cafe around 1pm on Friday afternoon, and the venue was half empty. I ordered one of them trios at the counter.

The trio: a sandwich, salad and drink at $12 (including tax). Not bad. 

They gave me my table number and cutlery, and I took a seat.

A few minutes later, my salad arrived. The dressing was surprisingly good. You can substitute the salad for a soup. 

After the salad came the sandwich.

I ordered the Lima: one of their signature rustic farm pork sandwiches. It comes with tomato, cilantro, homemade ranch and hot sauce and it’s served on warm ciabatta bread.

The ingredients were really really fresh. The bread was soft and satisfying, and the meal itself really hit the spot.

Having said that, it’s not the best sandwich I’ve ever had, nor was it a particularly special experience. 

All in all, a great place for a delicious, nutritious, value-for-money lunch.

I’ll be back. 

Café Pavé on Urbanspoon

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Book Review: the Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

When I first saw the spine of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions in the library, I was excited.

Finally, a historical fiction novel about Draupadi, a leading protagonist in the itihāsa (history) epic Mahābhārata. 

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I know the Mahabharata tale intimately. Well, I know it as well as someone who’s read the story many times over and is still amazed by the epic each time she picks it up and decides to flip through its pages. 

It was an ambitious task that Divakaruni undertook and I take my hat off to her. It’s a big and momentous step from her Mistress of Spices days. I’m a fan of many of her other books and I was excited by her foray into the historical fiction genre. 

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. 

Divakaruni rushes through the whole epic. This book tries too much, too hard, too fast. It was reminiscent of an overzealous teenager who doesn’t quite know what it wants to accomplish so it does a bit of everything. Divakaruni rushes through the 1.8 million word Mahabharata without a clear focus or goal.

I get it - it’s a long story. But instead of writing a well-crafted summary, Divakaruni should have narrowed down the scope of her narration to create depth. Since I do have some prior knowledge of the Mahabharata epic, I was unforgiving about the epic flaws in plot and storyline in The Palace of Illusions

Divakaruni’s depictions of Draupadi’s emotions and inner monologue are far too much like that of a modern woman. At times it dragged on like an overtly long rant that just went on and on. Divakaruni applied modern-day ideas and ideals to an ancient world with a different status quo and it just didn’t work for me. 

Instead of trying to encapsulate Draupadi’s whole life into one book, it would have been better - for me anyway - if the story had been split into a series of books or if she had focused the narrative on a few incidents. The bullet-train pace at which this novel is narrated made it hard for me to bond with Draupadi as much as I would have liked. 

Although I commend Divakaruni’s attempt at an epic task, this book just didn’t do it for me. 

Having said that, if I pretended that it was just a piece of literature, and not a retelling of the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view, I probably would have enjoyed it.

But I know better. 

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Slice of Cheese Heaven in Montréal, Canada

I love cheese. I love bread. The idea of the two together is enough to make my mouth water. This afternoon, I finally made the trek down to La Foumagerie, a quaint and cute delicatessen in Westmount. 

There aren’t very many tables or seats at this establishment, but don’t worry if you don’t get a table. Get your meal to go and enjoy it at the park nearby (weather permitting, of course). 

The menu is small, but perfect for a light and delicious lunch. 

After I ordered my sandwich, I took a seat. And then I saw a little something which made me really happy. 

CHEESE. Lots and lots of it. 

And olive oil. 

Although frankly, I was more excited about the cheese.

Within five minutes, my Carpaccio and Parmesan baguette arrived. It’s the best sandwich I’ve had in Montreal.

Enough said. 

I’ll be back.

And next time, I’ll bring my partner in crime with me. 

La Foumagerie on Urbanspoon

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Best tuna sandwich in Montréal, Canada

When I first walked into Exception 2 Mk, all the staff saw me. But no one greeted me, and no one quite cared I was there. Fair enough. The cafe was busy, busy, busy. 

I ended up going to the counter and ordering my food. Pretty bad for a full service cafe. After ordering, I took a seat at one of them bar tables. There were dirty dishes on my right and left. And that’s where they would stay for the full half an hour I would spend here.

I must say, I wasn’t impressed by the lacklustre service or the fact that no one really seemed interested in my business. But such is life.

After a ten minute wait, my baguette arrived. Spicy tuna salad with tomatoes, lettuce on a multigrain baguette.

I’m really really hard to please when it comes to tuna, and this is one of the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. 

It was so good that a week later, I still remember the flavours in my mouth. 

I’ll be back.

Hopefully next time I’ll bother to leave a tip. 

Exception 2 Mk on Urbanspoon

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"Palaces have always fascinated me, even a gloom-filled structure like my father’s that was a fitting carapace for his vengeful obsession. For isn’t that what our homes are ultimately, our fantasies made corporeal, our secret selves exposed? The converse is also true: we grow to become that which we live within. That was one of the reasons why I longed to escape my father’s walls. (But-unknown to me-by the time I left, it was too late. The creed he lived by was already stamped onto my soul.) Often I imagined my own palace, the one I would build someday. What would it be made of? What form would it take?"

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Best dim sum in Montreal, Canada

I get cravings. I can’t help it. And on Sunday afternoon, I had a craving for dim sum. It’s hard to find places that do it right. 

Enter Sai Gwan. It’s not the best food I’ve ever had, but it is the best dim sum I’ve found in Montreal to date. Seemingly family-run and operated, the young lady who served us spoke Cantonese, Mandarin, French and English - pretty amazing, huh. 

The noodles were on the salty side for me, but yes, all of the dishes were good. I really have no other complaints. 

The next time I get a craving, I’ll definitely be back. 

P.S. Cash only. 

Sai Gwan on Urbanspoon

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A hidden gem in Montreal, Canada

Woah, woah, woah…. Are you telling me that this restaurant is only a ten minute walk away from chez moi? How come I didn’t know about it? I’ll tell you why. It looks like a dodgy hole in the wall restaurant from the outside. But after reading a few great reviews, I thought…hey, why not?

I was a little surprised when I first walked in. The decor is actually kind of nice. I was expecting a slightly wet floor, sticky tables and cash only kind of place. But Mei Restaurant is nothing like that. The ambience is warm, cozy and casual. The gentleman who served us was a wee bit shy, but still polite, friendly and patiently answered all our questions about items on the menu.

First up, we had a soy meat sandwich. My partner in crime wasn’t really pleased when I ordered this, but he was pleasantly surprised once he started chewing. Crispy bread, mocked meat that tastes like pulled pork, and just good old fashioned deliciousness. The portion is kind of small, so it’s a perfect appetiser. 

The second dish that arrived was the lamb soup with homemade noodles. I liked the handmade noodles, but the soup itself just didn’t do it for me. It’s got quite a strong flavour and is an acquired taste that’s just not for everybody. 

Next up came the sichuan beef noodles, a cold dish. When I saw sichuan, I expected something crazy spicy, but it isn’t. It’s kind of tangy, zesty, sweet and peanut-y thing. I don’t really like hard-boiled eggs, but the one that came with this dish was mmm mmm mmm. I preferred this to the lamb noodle. 

And then came the pork dumplings. Homemade, too. On the way to the restroom, I saw a couple (presumably husband and wife) making it swiftly and skilfully. You should have seen it. But even if you don’t, you should still try these dumplings. Not the best I’ve ever had, but if you have a craving, it’ll fix you up nice and good,

And then we had what is in my opinion the best dish at Mei Restaurant. Chicken and lamb skewers. I preferred the chicken. Oh good grief could I feel the happy explosion spices, grilled meat and freshness in my mouth. Love it! The lamb was good, too, but some pieces were a bit too fatty for my liking.

For dessert, I had the barbecued marshmallow, which presented itself like a biscuit sandwich.

All in all, it was a great meal. Food is not salty (no msg, hooray!) and the restaurant does have a family-run kind of vibe. Decent prices, and generous portions. 

I’ll be back. 

Mei Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Opening Review of Beauty and the Beef in downtown Montréal

I finally got to meet downtown Montréal’s new kid on the block. I’ve been walking past this restaurant for weeks and waiting oh so patiently for the day that its doors open for business. I’ve been a meat lover for as long as I can remember, and there’s something about the name of this restaurant that conjures up a delicious happy image of juicy meat in my belly. 

This evening, I finally had a meal at La Belle et La Boeuf

This establishment is still working out some of the kinks in terms of its liquor license, so there’s no drinking if you sit outside. But no big deal, I was here for the food anyway. Oh, and if you’re dining with kids, you have to leave by 8pm. I don’t have kids so… 

The gentleman who served us was friendly, warm, and kind of funny; but admittedly it was a bit hard to get his attention to take our order. We waited around 20 minutes. 

But once he took our order, the food arrived promptly. For starters, my partner in crime and I shared the queso cheese sticks which came with a side of jalepeño sauce. 

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It is a crime for something to be so delicious, so satisfying and so good. I think these are probably the best cheese sticks I’ve ever had in my life. I was hungry when I arrived here and I was even hungrier after this appetiser. 

For mains I ordered the mushroom burger which came with swiss cheese, shallot sautéed with Parisian mushrooms, caramelised onions and wine sauce.

And then it arrived. An eight ounce patty accompanied with a towering happy mess of madness.

Just look at that. 

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It probably goes without saying but you better show up starving cause the portions at this restaurant are HUGE. I thoroughly enjoyed my burger, but I was kind of sad that I couldn’t finish it. 

My partner in crime ordered the Captain Flam on the waiters suggestion. It came with: monterey jack cheese, smoked bacon, caramelised onions and spicy mayo. 

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It was really tasty - the spicy pink mayo sauce is real good. My partner in crime also switched his regular fries for sweet potato fries (a dollar extra, I think). I’m not a big fan of bacon, so I preferred my mushroom burger, but my partner in crime said his burger was AMAZING.

He didn’t manage to finish his meal either. 

Nevertheless, we were peckish and ready for a sweet finish twenty minutes later. But I just couldn’t find our waiter. By the time he finally came around to ask us for dessert, it was too late, and we had to leave to go meet someone. 

All in all, it was a great experience. La Belle et la Boeuf is still working out some of its opening operational kinks, but other than that… It was all good. 

The food itself was amazing.

I’ll definitely be back. 

La Belle Et la Boeuf Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

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Food Review, Les 3 Brasseurs in Montréal, Canada

The first time I came to Les 3 Brasseurs some six months ago, I wasn’t impressed. I ordered the lamb shank and it was tasteless and undercooked. The service was horrendous, too.

I’ve walked past the microbrewery several times since and was always surprised at the crowd the restaurant manages to pull.

So I decided to try it out again. I probably missed something on my last visit. 

It took around 15 minutes for the waitress to come and ask us for drinks. A bit of a long wait, but when she did arrive, her recommendations were spot on. 

I ordered a beer cocktail called white banana which is essentially a white beer with banana liqueur. 

I couldn’t tell that it was a cocktail, but it was nice…

On the waitress’ recommendation, we decided on the calamari platter. I must say, I was pretty impressed. The batter was surprisingly not as oily as I expected it to be. 

But the star dish was the Venetian flammekueches. Described in the menu as ‘an artisanal flat bread tarte developed in the Alsatian region of France’. It’s kind of like a pizza.  

Like pizzas, the flammekueches come with a variety of toppings. The Venetian, which we ordered, came with tomatoes, crushed hot peppers, prosciuttos, capicollo, roasted peppers, red onions, Kalamata olives and mozzarella cheese. 

It was really good. Hit a spot somewhere….

And for a sweet finish, I ordered the caramel waffle with ice cream.

Small, decadent and divine.

All in all, the food at this microbrewery isn’t really all that special. It’s one of those places that has a fun and chilled out atmosphere, making it a great place to hang out with friends. The food’s good, but nothing to write home about.

But I think I’ll be back.

Les 3 Brasseurs on Urbanspoon

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Carifiesta 2014 in Montréal, Canada

I was listening to one of Eckhart Tolle’s lecturers when I heard a knock on the door. Confused, I went to see who it was. I squinted one eye and peered through the peephole. 

There was a man there. Tall, dark….and….half-naked. 

Who is this muscular guy and what does he think he’s doing half-naked at my door? Is this someone’s idea of a joke? Am I in danger? What’s going on? Is that a male stripper? Why is he here at noon?

I stood there, frozen. As a female home alone, there was no way I was going to open the door. The stranger realises this. He rolls his eyes and walks away.

Relieved, I continue watching Eckhart’s lecture, secretly praying that he doesn’t return. 

My partner in crime returns home 10 minutes later and tells me that Carifiesta is going on outside. 

Cari-what?

A quick change of clothes later, I’m on Rue Sainte-Catherine, where just about everyone is half-naked. They’re dancing, singing and having a ball. 

Established in 1974, the event is coordinated by the Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association to celebrate Montreal’s Caribbean community. 

The gentleman who knocked on my door was probably trying to gather people for the parade.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d opened the door.

I can only wonder…

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Authentic South Indian Food at Thanjai in Montréal, Canada

Whenever a lot of people think about Indian food, they seem to inevitably reach for the butter chicken. I consider it more of an Indian diaspora dish. I never order it. And I never let anyone else order it either.

I am always on the prowl for a good Indian restaurant. After a raving recommendation from an acquaintance of mine, off I went to Thanjai

Friday night, 7.30pm.

The restaurant was half empty when I first arrived, but it quickly filled up and before I knew it there was a queue at the door. I was assaulted by the scent of a happy mix of familiar spices the moment I walked in. 

Thanjai’s menu largely consists of South Indian favourites like dosa, with a variety of different (and interesting) fillings, as well as biriyani and kothu parotha.

The speciality of this place is a six feet paper dosai. Imagine a dosa the size of a tall friend of yours. The TVs at this restaurant show how the chefs make this tall dish. Pretty crazy stuff. 

So I ordered samosas as a starter.

Piping hot, fresh, delicious, satisfying. They didn’t have mint chutney, much to my dismay. But other than that, it was all good. 

And then came the chicken kothu parotha, which the menu describes as chopped parotha with chicken vegetables, eggs and a spicy gravy. (Lamb, egg, vegetable options available.)

I must say, I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it. The spices tasted familiar, but the dish itself was really something unique. I ordered the medium spice level; and that prompted my partner in crime to order a lassi.

I didn’t think it was that hot, but everyone is different. 

And then arrived the dish I came to this restaurant for. 

Paper dosa!

A childhood favourite of mine. I’d make it at home, but it’s just not the same. I hadn’t had it in ages, but the moment the dosa touched my lips it felt like the most ordinary experience. 

I loved it.

All in all, great food, good service, nice ambience and reasonable prices.

I’ll be back real soon.

Thanjai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Refined Burgers at Burger Bar Crescent in Montréal

Whenever I think of a burger, there’s always one thing that comes to my mind. 

Grease.

As much as I love burgers, I don’t love grease. I don’t like that heavy, guilty, gross feeling that comes after consuming a burger with far too much fat, cheese and oil.

Enter Burger Bar Crescent

First impression: sticky table with crumbs. C’mon guys, you can do better.

After my initial irritation, I noticed that the restaurant has a lively and chilled out ambience. Perfect place to hang out with friends. 

I wanted to order the Firestorm burger, described in the menu as ‘AAA beef patty, spicy 911 sauce, banana peppers, spicy mayonnaise, tomato, jalapeno Havarti cheese, jalapeno relish’. 

The waitress who took my order talked me out of it by saying it’s ‘very spicy’ over and over again. She was also kind of impatient and rushed me into making a decision. She didn’t ask how we’d like our burgers (rare, medium etc). Maybe it’s restaurant policy not to, or maybe it was just her.

Who knows?

I ended up ordering the Mr Personality with Cheese: AAA beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion.

A minute after ordering it, a table next to me ordered the Firestorm, and boy did it smell good. I wound up with a horrible case of food envy. I tried to change my order, but the impatient waitress wouldn’t let me. 

Such is life. 

My partner in crime ordered the Bacon Royale with Cheese

The burgers were delicious. Not the best I’ve ever had, but they were good. 

Not greasy, not gross, and made with good quality ingredients. Good portions, but not particularly big. 

We also ordered a small side of sweet potato fries, which were GREAT.

Thankfully, we got another waitress at this point, and she was really friendly and fun. 

Good food. I’d be back here. But hopefully I don’t have to deal with the impatient lady again. 

And can I please get the Firestorm next time?

Burger Bar Crescent on Urbanspoon