Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


A dented but perfect inheritance

March, 2011

Uncle Matt’s fish poacher is battered and stained. It once contained my world, not all of it, but enough to fill my head with memories of feasts and family.

These are the best memories, the ones with deep roots, of holiday meals, Friday night family suppers, and visits to our extended family in the States. We were a tribe that marched south and north. Other families may have had Toronto or B.C. or Maritime connections; but ours was a family of longitudes stretched along the eastern seaboard. When an occasion arrived, we would pile into a station wagon and head down the coast.

Often, our destination was New York City. Uncle Matt and Aunt Lee were the sophisticates in our family. They were the New Yorkers (first the suburbs and then the city) and we were the Montreal groupies.

Matt’s supermarket was the streets of the city. He would take us out for pushcart hot dogs, for sushi served from conveyor belts where you grabbed what passed by, for anything that caught his attention. At his home, nothing was unusual and, in some ways, all of it was. He made my first steamed clams, in a steamer with a faucet at the base, letting me get more clam juice for slurping. My first wok stir-fry was under his supervision: “Here, add these shitake mushrooms and more hot peppers. Wham!” Matt was decades ahead of the iron chef. Aunt Lee, a former model and eternally rapier thin, may have been his muse, but I proudly became his eater. These were my teen years, when I was beginning to realize that there was a world of great stuff to eat beyond my home. Not that things were bad at home, but this was the early ’60s and Caribbean roti joints on Victoria, Szechwan restaurants in Chinatown, and Italian food beyond Piazza Tomasso were just starting to percolate in Montreal. I had arrived at the right time and Matt’s New Yorker approach to eating was my inspiration.

March, 2011

This approach is worth noting, because we often take it for granted that eating and dining are pretty much the same. Dining is formal; there is an order to the cutlery and rules. Dining is done in dining rooms and states that there is a hierarchy as to how food is served and who serves it. Dining can be fun but that is a by-product. However, eating can always be fun. Eating requires no rules and not necessarily any order. Tastiness precedes decorum. There is a Spanish saying: Life is short, start with dessert. I don’t have a problem with that.

Matt is still around, heading into his 90s and planning to move to California. The weather is warmer and the last of his family is there. He is packing up. The other evening my brother drove back from Manhattan with enough used kitchen equipment to compete with Sally Ann. He stopped off at our place and hauled out the fish poacher. “Matt wanted you to have this.”

It’s from another era: aluminum with cast aluminum handles, about 20 inches long. The lid has a couple of small dents so it won’t fit perfectly. That’s all right. When you get past a certain age, a few dents are expected. I’ll have to check it while cooking. That’s fine. Older things deserve to be checked up on. The first time I’ll use it will be for something special but simple: a wild arctic char that I get once a year from Nunavut or live farm raised catfish, which I can sometimes find in Chinatown. I’ll add a little soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine and enough water to keep it at a slow boil. A dash of sesame oil, a few slices of ginger and a couple of scallions should be good too; Matt would like it that way.

You can reach Barry Lazar at



Post a Comment