Friday, January 12, 2018

My First Pizza

Montreal Memories

Terasse Lafayette: Integrated into a residential building as I had remembered it. The outdoor staircases, particular to Montreal, also bring back particular memories, which includes sitting on them while chatting with your friends, perhaps while enjoying a slice of pizza.
Photo Credit: Air Canada En Route

The first time I had a pizza was from Lafayette Pizza, now called Terrasse Lafayette, which opened in 1962, and is still at the same location as when it first opened, on the corner of Villeneuve and Jeanne-Mance in Montreal’s Le Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, which was then working-class. This was a few minutes from our house on av du Parc between Mont-Royal and Villeneuve.

I remember my two brothers and I taking home a hot, just-from-the-oven all-dressed pizza, which included pepperoni. It was a hot summer day in July while my father was hard at work. This fact is important, because I also remember my mother telling us to keep this a secret, and not tell our father. I was seven or eight. It was the first time that I ate pepperoni; it was the first time that I and my brothers knowingly ate non-kosher meat. It tasted different, but we all enjoyed it. The meat with the melted cheese is a delightful combination; it is hard to argue otherwise just on taste alone.

We used to get our meat delivered by a kosher butcher; I can still remember the reddish brown packaging paper in which the meat was was wrapped arriving every Thursday. But with this pizza, my mother made a statement of sorts. I also remember her winning that particular battle with my father, and soon after we were no longer getting meat from a kosher butcher; we were no longer worried about eating pizza as a secret indulgence. My father used to have a slice here and there, but not often.

I am not sure why my mother made this change, since we as a family did not discuss such things. It might have been her strong desire to fit in and assimilate and make us Canadian, which I heartily agreed with. It might have been her desire to have a broader palate of foods to enjoy, kosher having many restrictions. It might have been her desire to save money, given that kosher meat cost significantly more than non-kosher meat, and still does (i.e., double or triple the cost). It might have been all of these things, but economics might have been the major reason.

We were not wealthy, after all. It might have seemed foolish to pay extra for food only as a nod to tradition. Kosher might be ok for the wealthy but not for the poor or working class, which we undoubtedly were. My father, who came from a working-class family of small-time merchants, as did my mother, was not religious but found his raison d’être in the values of Bundism, a secular Jewish socialist movement which originated in his native land of Poland. I don’t remember ever having a religious conversation of any kind with my father.

Such arguments, whatever they were, were all unknown to me and my younger self. What I did know was that I fell in love with pizza; we bought pizza from Lafayette many times during those early years. I have bought pizza from many excellent pizza joints, including in Little Italy in Montreal, in New York City, in Chicago, and in Los Angeles. As well, there were the many mouth-watering pizzas made in the kitchens by the mothers, aunts and grandmothers of my Italian friends, work colleagues, and class-mates. Some are truly memorable.

I have not been back to the original place since we moved out of the neighbourhood in 1970. Taking a trip down memory lane, I wonder if my adult tastes would match my childhood memories; perhaps I might make a visit the next time I am in Montreal, which I hope is this summer. This restaurant has special significance for me, not only as a good memory but as a place where I first discovered other foods, other cuisines. Now that I think about it, my mom might have had the right idea all along.