This will be more than a language lesson, don’t worry. The day I enter a classroom in pinstripes and a pencil skirt and start talking about literary devices will be a cold day in Hell.
…I am going to ask upfront why two Singaporean/Montrealais brothers wouldn’t use a literary device to their advantage when the opportunity arose? Instead, they called themselves the “satay brothers.” Not as catchy, right? Sure, “siblings” may sound a bit too proper, and there’s no catchy French translation (“Frères et soeurs” is the best the dictionary can do, so clearly in the case of French, “Les Frères Satay” is more appropriate than “Les Frères et Soeurs Satay”). So I’m going to chalk it up to yet another French language business-naming issue (oh so common in Quebec) and cut these guys some slack regarding their lack of linguistic finesse. We all have off-days, after all.
Well, most of us. Fortunately, food-wise, an off-day at this Atwater Market outdoor food stall is rarer than several satay siblings slinging sliders.
It’s hard to miss with a year-round laksa soup full of shredded chicken, thick, circular rice noodles (some laksa use wheat noodles, so always ask), fried tofu puffs, shrimp, quail egg, bean sprouts, sliced fish cake (again, double check on whether or not it’s gluten-free), a homemade red curry paste (lemongrass, galangal, red chilies, shrimp paste, tamarind, turmeric, shallots, and maybe a sprinkle of sugar to balance the heat), plus essential cooling coconut milk and a tiny bit of cilantro (apparently not the North American variety, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference – aka my dad still wouldn’t like it). More of the homemade red curry paste sits on a large plastic Asian soup spoon so you can mix it in to your own tastes.
Not usually a fan of tofu in any form, the puffs were special to me. You have to eat them before they sink into the broth and get soggy, but when crispy, the crunchy, puffed up texture lands it somewhere closer to addictive sponge toffee than macrobiotic purgatory. Deep-frying makes most things taste better, after all. Mars bars? Debatable. They don’t sell those here, thank goodness. Not so Singaporean.
The coconut milk and pandan leaf sticky rice squares for dessert are made by the brothers’ mom, though. These green-coloured jelly-like squares are layers of slightly bitter pandan and sticky rice and sweetened coconut cream, making for one greasy, decadent, but cooling sweet. So maybe it should really be called the “Satay Siblings and Mom”. But it also seems as though the food stall at the Atwater market has a lot of workers – cooks and food runners – working Thursday-Monday.
They even stay open until 9pm on Fridays (the market closes a few hours before that) and serve entrées that don’t make the lunch menus: Nasi lemak Otah-Otah (spiced fish cake cooked in banana leaves with coconut rice. Next time I’m at the market I’ll have to ask where they get their candlenuts for the paste).
Other stuff they do: daily satay that varies between marinated pork, chicken, shrimp, beef, and even tofu, I think. Usually $2.50 each or 3 for $7 or thereabouts. They also do sandwiches – things likepork with daikon, shiitakes and black bean sauce, and marinated tofu, pickled cabbage and satay sauce. Basically they’re hitting all the sweet, sour and salty notes right on.
Plus there’s the green papaya salad, which is good even though you don’t necessarily see the guys mortar-and-pestle-ing the dressing to order. Fish sauce is a wonderful thing. Sorry, vegans. But they do have those tofu options…just ask what’s in the marinade because you’re probably SOL again…And for gluten-free, the only thing on the menu I could have was the soup without the fishcake and the coconut milk dessert square.
But they’re known for their pork steamed buns, which use MUCH better quality pork than anything in Chinatown.
One other heads up: Malaysian/Singaporean food is often full of healthy ingredients but it’s NOT low fat. All that coconut milk and coconut cream can inject up to 60 grams of fat into a single bowl of laksa soup. It’s good fat, yes, but it’s still a lot of it. While there are a lot of beauty pageant winners coming from those countries, it’s not a country of skinny people. Happy, smiling, food-loving people, yes. Depression is apparently not so much a thing over there, I read somewhere. Maybe we should all eat more laksa soup.
And PS, yes it’s summer and a hot soup is maybe not what you think you need, but chilies make you sweat and then the wind takes away the moisture along with some of the heat that the sweat extracted from your body. So eat up.
Atwater Market (138 Atwater), Montreal
Hours: Monday 10:30am-6pm, Thurs-Fri 10:30am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10:30am-5pm
How Much: Around $17 for soup and a papaya salad with tax and tip