250 Place Du Marche-du-Nord, Montreal, QC, 514-278-2424
If you're a food fiend and make the occasional trip to Montréal, it's probably safe to say that you're a fan of Jean Talon Market. I know I am. I get overwhelmed walking the aisles of the literal super-market, from Boucherie-traiteur Prince Noir with its meats organized with cards printed with pictures of rabbits and elk, to Chocolats Privilège, with its basil and lime truffles.
That's the only excuse I can come up with for why it's taken me so long to try Boucherie An-Nasr. One of two halal butchers right next to each other in the left-hand outdoor corridor of Jean Talon, An-Nasr always has the slightly better smells emanating from it.
Both aromas are intoxicating, but while next door there's a strong odor of charcoal, at An-Nasr, it's pure, spicy meat. Another advantage of An-Nasr, especially this past weekend: It has indoor seating right inside the warm, friendly little shop.
Like most butcher shops that cook their wares for you, An-Nasr has no menu. The middle-aged Moroccan butcher will make you a sandwich with one of three fillings: chicken, kefta or merguez.
During the slower winter months, these are also the only meats available to take and make at home. The case is filled with those meats, as well as preserved lemons and olives.
Each sandwich costs around $2. Once you order, the butcher grabs a warm mini baguette from a chafing dish, slices it in half and throws in your meat of choice from another warming tray. He then dresses it with your choice of lettuce, tomato, onion (all from the market, natch), his own sliced olives and spritzes of mayo and hot sauce (called harissa). He finishes the deal by quickly pressing the sandwich. It's somewhere between the Moroccan equivalent of a classic panini and a banh mi.
I tried the chicken first (right). The meat had a slight crispness from the grill and a burst of light lemon flavor in each bite. The extra tang from the mayo and light heat of the harissa gave the flavorful chicken extra punch. I'm not an olive fan, but a few found their way into my sandwich, having fallen in with the tomatoes. This was fortunate. There was just enough of that salty, cured taste to give the sandwich a deliciously unique character.
I've eaten my fair share of kefta, but this was something special. Even when I've added my own fresh herbs and spices to ground beef, it has never tasted this sparklingly alive. The ultra-fresh meat was accented by onions and parsley chopped so fine they were barely visible to the naked eye. Cumin was responsible for the earthy flavor, while paprika accounted for the reddish color and hint of smoky spice. Once again, the undercover olives were a nice surprise that added great complexity along with the creamy mayo, peppery harissa and fresh veggies.
I've never been to Morocco. But after that quick but satisfying meal, I feel like I've had some of the best street food Marrakesh has to offer, only inside and much closer to the North Pole.
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