Arabia, Meet Montreal!

A spur of the moment weekend trip to Montreal this past weekend had me asking: am I in Montreal, or Marrakech?

OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but there is a large enough Middle Eastern presence in this francophone Canadian city to wonder whether to have poutine (Montreal’s most popular dish) or shwarma for one’s meal. An Arab restaurant seems to grace every rue, and I passed numerous girls in all types of hijab styles walking on the street or sitting enjoying the pond in the Vieux Port.

Despite its frigid north location, Canada is a popular country for immigrants thanks to its more open immigration policy and democratic mores. No doubt the fact that French is the official language of the Quebec province (which includes Montreal) and is also spoken in many Middle Eastern countries like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia make it an attractive spot for those who are bilingual, despite the fact that Canadian politicians have been questioning whether or not the wearing of the burqa should be allowed (see my previous post on hijab banning).

Thus, a large Middle Eastern population has sprung up as a result, with immigrants hailing from a number of MENA pays and bringing their traditions with them. There are several mosques all over the city, including the Al-Salam mosque, which was housed in a non-nondescript building wedged among other international-flavored businesses on rue Stanley. My husband and I met an Iraqi and a Palestinian, both with beautiful greenish eyes, who were working in a tourist shop who’d been living in Montreal for over 10 years. I went to Montreal expecting, of course, to hear French, and instead heard my husband conversing in Arabic. The world is wonderfully diverse!

Hookah fever has also swept to Montreal, which boasts several hookah bar, although not all of them serve alcohol. We listened to two Arabic-speaking Egyptian men  smoking hookah at the Habibi Hookah Bar on rue Bishop, a casual joint with outside seating and good sangria. The restaurant also served Arak, an extremely potent alcohol popular in the Middle East and Turkey. Kahwa is a popular bar located near Mont Royal whose facade is decorated with two white rhino heads.

Equally popular are Middle Eastern-flavored restaurants, ranging from Moroccan establishments with bellydancing performers to modern Syrian cafes in the Vieux Port. Amir is a popular chain restaurant with several locations serving Fast Food. Al-Taib, a Lebanese restaurant my husband and I ate at during our first night in Montreal, was a pick-up-at-the-counter and take-your-seat type of place full of families fasting, the men and women dining separately and the children getting tables of their own; the french fries dipped into hummus were superb.

But best of all was Boustan, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on touristy rue Crescent which is popular with the late-night drunk crowd. My husband and I ordered chicken pitas and Boustan’s special “french fries,” actually potato cubes drenched in a garlic sauce. I was so enamored that after we went out to a bar we went back to get more fries and sandwiches. Boustan gets 2 thumbs up from me, and if I ever visit Montreal again that’ll be the first place I go!

To conclude my post on the MENA in Canada, I’ve posted a link to an interview with the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie below. In case you’d never heard of it, LMotP was a pretty successful comedy that ran on Canadian television for 6 years back in the ’00s which focused on Muslim life in Canada and, incidentally, was pretty funny. A play on the Little House on the Prairie American TV series, Little Mosque showed the lighter side of Islam as it followed a Muslim community trying to integrate into a tiny Canadian town unsure of what to make of them. An interview with the creator below; enjoy!


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