Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 06.07.04
Stanstead, Quebec


Which way to the wasabi?

STANSTEAD, QC | I used to live in Montreal and often tell people that the only thing I really miss about the city is the food. Not just the restaurants but the ability to walk a block and find whatever I needed food-wise at whatever hour - fruits, vegetables, turkey gizzards, mysterious things in hygienically questionable vats, or even star anise (just because saying "anise" makes me giggle).

I've missed that.

You have to adapt when you move to the countryside and rely on a single major grocery provider. Sure, our old grocery store provided the essentials, but nothing too exotic, unless you consider bags of ready-made salad exotic.

Plus, the local sensibility is such that if you go up to the counter and say, "Excuse me, do you have any cilantro?" you do feel a bit, well, swishy.

Two weeks ago, though, a new IGA opened here in Stanstead. A big store and a big deal. So big, in fact, that a neighbor kid ran up to me enthusiastically and declared, "It's like you're half in Stanstead and half in Magog!"

You bet it's exciting!

A bigger store, more selection, aisles wide enough that you can pretend to run down them in slow motion with arms outstretched and embrace your wife (she wasn't impressed). I've never seen so many happy shoppers, all of them pushing their carts with a dazed look on their face as if to say, "What did we do to deserve this?"

See? That's just not something they would appreciate in the city, where they take their goodies for granted and crankily approach cashiers demanding, "How can I demerge this carton of eggs?" That's human nature: you don't miss your watercress 'til your well runs dry.

So no wonder local shoppers were thrilled.

Many of these food items had never before been seen in Stanstead. On our first trip as a family, I immediately sent the kids on a quest for the weirdest thing they could find. Kate zeroed in on the mini-bananas, which she insisted we buy because they were so-o-o-o cu-u-u-te! They tasted, by the way, just like… mini-bananas. Next to them were kumquats, which I think is the best-named fruit in the world (kumquatkumquatkumquat).

The meat department provided us an opportunity to play "What's Your Cultural Bias?"

Among the beef, pork, and chicken were bison meat and horse meat. Emily, my oldest, conceded that she might try bison but never the horse. We've had this conversation before. On the rare occasions Deb and I have lamb chops, I like to hold up the meat and go "Baa-a-a…," which usually generates a sneer.

"How do you like your lamb, Em?"

"Alive," she replies.

"Come on, you'll eat cow and chicken and fish…"

"They're not fuzzy."

I guess we all have our limitations. I, for instance, enthusiastically ate a rabbit paté at Christmas time but left behind the big flubby truffle in the middle. At least I think it was a truffle.

Nor am I an enthusiast of tofu, especially tofu disguised as meat. I mean, if you're craving salami that much, why not just have salami and avoid the disappointment?

But one shopper's creepy is another shopper's delicacy. And we found plenty of both at our new IGA. Nothing too outrageous -- no vats - but enough of the arcane to impress the kids. Unfortunately, they're all too old now to convince that jarred pimentos are pickled lips.

Yes, we're very excited about our new store, because you never know when you're going to have a craving for peeled white asparagus spears. Now if only they would sell eggs with little mayonnaise centres, I would be really impressed.

* * *

Speaking of lambs, especially the sacrificial kind, I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Paul Martin could be Canada's greatest prime minister since Kim Campbell.