About the author:
For a second week, we decided to record some audio and let our featured blogger tell their own story. You can listen to the chat here
I landed in Montreal for the first time on December 21, 1991. It was minus a million degrees outside, or at least it felt like it to this freshly imported teenager from Lebanon… The first order of business for my family and I was to buy ourselves some down coats and winter boots. The second order of business was to find some labneh. Labneh is a strained yogurt staple of all Lebanese households. In my house, we eat it for dinner everyday with olives (Lebanese, of course!) and cucumbers (also Lebanese). Twenty years ago, the only place where you could find labneh in Montreal was at Adonis, which back then was a smallish grocery store on l’Acadie. So off we went to Adonis where we stocked up on labneh, Lebanese olives and cucumbers, pita bread, cheeses, zaatar and various spices, ground Lebanese coffee, and so many other things.
It wasn’t so much the labneh we were looking for but more a sense of familiarity and belonging in this cold, faraway city we were now calling home… Being a kid back then, I couldn’t care less whether or not there was labneh on the table every night but to my dad, it was important. It was part of his daily habits and he needed that even more now that he was in a new country. In the first few years we lived here, my parents always shopped at Adonis and my mom kept cooking all the traditional meals she had been making back home. Sure a few specialty ingredients and products weren’t always readily available but it was amazing how moving to Montreal didn’t mean we had to lose any of our culinary traditions.
Over the years, slowly but surely, Montreal grocery stores started stocking up on all kinds of international and ethnic fare. Today, hommos and baba gannouj are as popular as peanut butter in most grocery stores throughout the city as well as in a lot of households. I can get labneh, cheese, pita bread, tahini, Lebanese cucumbers and coffee at my local Loblaws. I can also find a Lebanese bakery, pastry shop and a nut roasting facility all within 15 minutes of where I live. And on the rare occasion that I do go to Adonis, I’m surrounded by people of different nationalities all shopping for Lebanese specialties.
It is still with great amazement that I observe how food can unite, comfort and create a sense of belonging. Montreal is without a doubt the city I belong in now but it’s comforting to know that I will never run out of labneh, just in case I feel homesick…
If you’d like to make your own labneh, it’s actually very easy. Place some good quality yogurt (full fat is better) mixed with salt in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl overnight in the refrigerator and in the morning, you have labneh! Make yourself a traditional Lebanese labneh sandwich in pita bread with a few mint leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some zaatar mix (thyme, sumac and sesame seeds) and a Lebanese cucumber. Sahtein!