It’s hardly a secret that I love food. I love thinking about it, shopping for it, having my shelves and refrigerator full of it, reading recipes, cooking – especially for a crowd – and eating. I like food so much that I don’t even really mind the clean-up after a big cooking frenzy.
My partner enjoys a good meal, but he is not as fascinated with all the other aspects of food as I am. He doesn’t understand the pleasure I take in planning menus for the week and finds it odd that, before I get out of bed every morning, I’m thinking about what I am going to cook that day and how I will fit it in around my other obligations. While he enjoys exploring food markets in faraway places, he is less interested in doing so closer to home.
Imagine my pleasure, then, when a friend who shares my keen enthusiasm for cooking and eating suggested a few years ago that we go to Ottawa for a day of exploring food stores. Thanks to the pandemic, it took almost three years, but the foodie tour finally happened last weekend.
It was a beautiful day when our partners waved us off in the early light of Saturday morning, no doubt thinking that there were far better ways to spend a sunny fall day than traipsing from one food shop to another. We left prepared for a full day with coolers, ice packs, grocery bags, some reference materials and our lists.
Girls just want to have fun
We collected another friend in Ottawa at Mamie Clafoutis, a bakery in the west end of the city where, over coffee (hot chocolate for me) and French pastries, we plotted a route through the city that would take us to as many places as possible with minimal backtracking.
And then, we were off. First, to wander through Chez Francois, just a block away, where I quickly found many items I hadn’t realized I absolutely had to have, including a large straw basket to hold them all.
Next, was an expensive visit to Chef’s Paradise, a commercial kitchen supply store. My list contained two modest potential purchases: a pastry brush and a loaf pan to replace the one that had exploded a few days earlier. Let’s just say that I left with considerably more than I came in planning to buy and leave it at that.
We had time for one more stop before lunch: La Brioche, a bakery specializing in Lebanese pastries. I loaded up on several kinds of baklava and a few pieces of knafeh, a delicious pastry made with a sweet cheese topped with semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup.
Loosen your belts
My friend had made lunch reservations for us at Thali, a downtown south Indian restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal. Thali is the word for a round platter, on which a meal is served in small bowls filled with different curries and condiments surrounding a larger bowl filled with rice and accompanied by bread. Often set up as a communal way of sharing food, it can also be served as an individual dish. I ordered chicken thali for $26 and brought as much home as I ate. We left with full stomachs and the chef’s cookbook, Coconut Lagoon.
What we all wanted to do more than anything at this point was to stretch out on a couch with a good book while we digested our lunch, but there was no rest in sight. We visited two Middle Eastern grocery stores in the east end of the city: Adonis and Mid East Food Centre. Our coolers and bags were close to full by the time we left the second grocery store, as we stocked up on lamb shanks, merguez sausage, tahini, labneh, halvah, ready-to-eat falafels and kibbeh and pita fresh from the oven.
Our final stop was at the T & T Asian supermarket on the south end of town. I needed one thing: ketjap manis, an Indonesian sweet soya sauce that doesn’t seem to be available in Kingston anymore. But how could I resist the still warm Chinese barbecued duck, barbecued pork, freshly made dim sum . . . ? Lesson learned: 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday is not the time to visit this gigantic store unless you want to stand in a checkout line that stretches up one aisle and down another several times over.
The day turned first to a beautiful sunset and then to dusk and full darkness as we drove back to Kingston; the car full of the competing aromas of our many purchases. Our conversation was a bit lethargic compared to the energy we had had in the morning: all that eating and shopping had worn us out.
What fortunate women we were, we reflected, to be able to spend a day in one another’s company; to laugh together; to think of nothing more important than whether to buy two or three kinds of mustard; to relax over a delicious meal that none of us had prepared or would have to clean up from, and to come home with enough food to keep our households well fed for some time to come.
There was nothing socially redeeming about our day, but I know that the pleasure it brought me reinvigorated me for the work I had to do the next day and the days following that. And, as we unloaded our purchases, we were already planning our next excursion.