Friday, January 12, 2007

Fantastic News out of Montreal

The first ever Taco Bell has just opened in Montreal.
Congrats, Canada. The reasons to move to your country continue to unfold.

This is a great article. This is the second time this week, I've posted a newspaper column I've enjoyed. It has begun to renew my faith in journalism.

I've attached the link but feel it necessary to highlight the best passages because there are some good ones! As you'll see, Erik Leijon utilizes his descriptive skills, most likely drawn out by his admiration of the Taco Bell franchise and some of its menu items.

Thinking outside the bun

Junk food gourmands rejoice as Taco Bell arrives in Montreal


In highly secretive fashion, the first-ever Taco Bell crossed the border to our belle province on December 18, 2006. Finally, the days of disrupting one’s bowel movements solely on poutine are over, even if Quebec’s identity is further distorted by this American born-and-bred franchise’s arrival. Strange that after years of speculation and Mirror Best of Montreal polls suggesting a strong desire for greasy Tex-Mex, Taco Bell’s grand entrance would be anything but.

Not only is the Taco Bell Canada Web site’s French section still under construction, but the postal code restaurant locator search engine will yield no results (FYI, the inaugural purple shack is on the corner of Pierrefonds and Hymus in the West Island). Annik Labrosse, the Quebec marketing manager of Priszm, the company with exclusive licence on opening Taco Bell franchises in the province, says the official opening will occur in March, and currently they’re getting the kinks out.

“We’ve been discussing it for a year, maybe more,” she says. “Also, we’ve been busy opening Taco Bells in the rest of Canada. We opened in the rest of Canada first since we could advertise in the same language.”

Easy to swallow

Another pressing problem is that Montreal’s Taco Bell, which is also a PFK (both are served at the same counter), closes at 11 p.m. on weekends, and therefore the proud American tradition of filling up on chalupas after a night on the town hasn’t arrived yet.

Indeed, most Americans can’t imagine living without a Taco Bell (the first one opened in California in 1962) and cannot fathom someone never having tasted the sweet tang of TB’s artificial cheese. As a half-Mexican, I’ve consumed enough tacos to fill a casket, and to its credit, Taco Bell really does taste different from the standard fare.

Taco Bell’s primary cholesterol (35-60 mg) packed weapon is the “Gordita” (loosely translated into “chubby”), a taco featuring either steak, chicken or beef. The extra squeamish should avoid the beef, which, although usually blocked by huge pieces of iceberg lettuce, looks like an unappealing brown paste. The “Cheesy Gordita Crunch” (500 calories) is a hard shell taco, wrapped in a thin film of cheese and a soft shell.

Every fast food place has a signature taste or texture to foster familiarity, and Taco Bell’s is the contrast between the warmish meat and the cool sour cream, cheese and lettuce. The tightly-packed meat has a velvety consistency that makes for easy swallowing, and the yellow topping on the “Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes” is oddly translucent. Although ultimately the food is no more or less digestible than a Big Mac, the Taco Bell cheese and bread are filling enough that the average person will likely only need two tacos in a lunch sitting, and the price is on par with burger places.

Fat and fiesta

As a supposedly health-conscious fast food chain, Taco Bell has introduced the Fresco Style menu, which involves replacing the fatty sauce/cheese of any taco with fiesta sauce, “a zesty mix of diced tomatoes, diced white onions and cilantro.” Judy Campbell-Gordon, a registered dietician and Food Lab coordinator at McGill University School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, would prefer Taco Bell acolytes to cut the extras, citing that “things they add on, like sauces and mayonnaise, are usually what contribute [to excess calories], since they’re pretty generous with how much they put. Often the fat will come mostly from the meat or how they cook the meat, if it’s fried or deep-fried.” She does say it is possible to consume fast food occasionally as part of a sensible diet. Vegetarians can also replace any meat with non-fried beans (Taco Bell is known for its malleable menu).

Fat content was the last thing on the minds of Taco Bell’s dedicated first batch of guinea pigs. On three separate visits by this reporter, the line-up extended to the door and the drive-thru line of cars coiled around the building and extended into the parking lot. The general consensus from customers was that Québécois have been deprived for too long, while still being subjected to those Chihuahua commercials of yesteryear (the dog is no longer with the company).

Interest has been further piqued by Montrealers trying it elsewhere, an action that oddly felt like eating a forbidden fruit. Labrosse believes Mexican food itself was something of an enigma in the province until recently. “Ten years ago, there would only be a few items like taco shells in grocery stores, but now you’ll find an aisle full of Mexican food, and it’s becoming more prevalent to cook Mexican food at home.”

E.coli be damned

It won’t be called la Cloche, but the typical French language hurdles needed to be jumped during Priszm’s year of market research. The French slogan is already up on the Web site (“Sauve un pain à hamburger. Mange un Taco”) and there were some minor menu name changes. For instance, the popular Crunchwrap Supreme is now the “Wrap croquant suprême,” but burrito and taco slid past the trigger-happy correction pen at the language police offices.

Last December, just before the Montreal branch opened, an E.coli outbreak attributed to Taco Bell got 63 Americans sick and caused the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to report that Taco Bell Canada had removed green onions from its menu. That didn’t result in Taco Bell’s muted inauguration here.

“Right away, there were measures taken in the States and Canada to make sure the food was safe to eat,” says Labrosse, “and the news (of the outbreak) didn’t last very long in Quebec.”

Next time, maybe la nation will take greater personal interest. But by then, we’ll be complaining that there are no chipotles.


Blogger whipcreamy said...

we are SO there. montreal's not too far from my house in vermont!!!!

1:58:00 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

arcade fire is from there, too, right? so i think a combo trip for two great loves of ours would be fitting.

2:18:00 PM  

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