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Food, City

Les Freres Sakaris : Multiculturalism Manifested

Posted by Julie M. / November 25, 2013

A few years ago in Barcelona, I was prattling on about food with a young Catalan, telling her I had an intense craving for spanakopita. I asked her if she knew where I could find some good feta and phyllo. She gave me a blank look. She had never tasted Greek food. No tzatziki, no souvlaki, not even fast-food gyro. I was really, really surprised, considering Spain's proximity to Greece is a hell of a lot closer than Canada, as well as the substantial community of Greek expats in the city. Come to think of it, I don't think I saw one pita joint during my stay. It was then that I realized how much I had taken for granted the multiculturalism in North American cities, and how, in Montreal particularly, this cultural interaction is manifested in the diversity and availability of a plethora of international cuisines.

Nothing stands as a testament to this diversity more than my grocery store. I say "my" just like someone says "my butcher." This is where I do most if not all of my groceries, where I can find almost any ingredient, whether I'm making okonomiyaki, jerk chicken, coq au vin or fish tacos. Les Frères Sakaris is on St-Laurent Blvd in-between Mont Royal and Marie-Anne, where the staff always has a "hello, how are you" for me when I come in. It's where one of the owners once told me how she tasted many, many Canadian prosciuttos until she found one that tasted almost as good as Italian, but doesn't have the price tag of an import. However, she convinced me to get the Greek feta over the Canadian, and the slight cost difference is totally worth it; it's creamy and rich and not too salty.

This kind lady is Chinese. She's informed me that her father bought the business from - as the store name suggests - a Greek family. The employees are a group of people from all over the world, and the diversity of products represents that. When you first walk in, you see a bunch of different tortilla chips. They're hanging out right next to some highly addictive Thai seaweed snacks. The bulk section at the front carries my favourite semi-indulgence, a trail mix called "Equilibrium" of dried berries, pumpkin seeds, raw almonds and dark-chocolate covered cranberries. The salty, smoked almonds are another vice of mine, and are perfect with blue cheese and dried apricots.

You make your way down the "emerald aisle" (pun unapologetically intended) and find a landscape of green - Swiss chard, kale, collard, rapini, watercress, lettuce, fresh herbs and more.

The middle part of the store carries EVERY SINGLE KIND OF SAUCE YOU COULD EVER NEED. I currently have eight bottles of hot sauce, four kinds of pickles, and three kinds of mustard in my refrigerator. Oh, and a big container of kimchi. I blame Sakaris for this nonsense.

Having a dinner party but need to economize? Get your antipasti from Sakaris' deli counter. They have a great selection of well-priced cheeses and charcuteries. There's Chèvre de Neige at half the price of a chain grocery store, and kefalotyri, a hard, salty Greek cheese. You'll find standard cheddar, camembert and brie, as well as vats of olives and Portuguese lupini beans. The parmesan, mozzarella, coppa, salami and prosciutto are delicious yet affordable. Montreal's own Nonna Maria would love it there.

You don't really go to Sakaris to buy high-end steaks, but you can get chicken that is extremely fresh yet cheap due to high turnover, and it's from Quebec and grain-fed. They also have an amazing Portuguese chorizo available in regular or spicy. Sakaris also carries my favourite brand of hummus, MarMina Santé, which is also a product of Quebec. Its texture is very close to what you get in Lebanese shish taouk joints and it comes in a variety of flavours. If you're like me, who goes through a litre bottle of Valentina sauce in no time, try the spicy jalapeño. When it's time to keep it real, the original is perfect.

Sakaris is certainly your one-stop shop, regardless of whether you're making beef vindaloo one day or linguine carbonara the next. Here is an example of a small haul from there. It's culturally schizophrenic and magically delicious.

With some guidance from my Greek friend, Fotini, here is a treat I prepared with the feta from Sakaris:

Kopanisti (Red Pepper Feta Spread)

Ingredients:
2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
250 g Greek feta, crumbled
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
Red chili flakes to taste

Directions:
In a food processor or using an immersion blender and a mixing bowl, purée peppers and garlic. Add feta, mint and chilis and pulse a few times. Stir in olive oil until blended. Transfer to a serving dish and serve with toasted Greek pita.


Discussion

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