From fresh basil to tinned tomatoes: Milano

By: Sara
At first glance, it is almost difficult to find the entrance to Fruiterie Milano, which is located on St Laurent Boulevard, between Ste Zotique and Jean Talon. The reason for this is that since its opening in the 1950s, the store has expanded multiple times within its city block. The entrance isn't the first door, blocked by the produce section, nor is it the second door, blocked by the sodas. The third door, clearly its the original entrance back in the day, is the doorway to this crown jewel of Little Italy.

The store itself is what I'd call an organised mess. When entering the store, I feel almost claustrophobic - shopping carts and cash registers directly to my left and an overflowing row of imported pastas on my right. The direct route to bakery fresh bread is a quick squeeze past the carts and express lane. I used to pop in on a Sunday morning before work, ready to shop for my week's groceries, but not before shopping for that day's lunch. I'd hop over the carts, grab a fresh loaf and hustle to the deli counter for some freshly sliced parma ham, marinated egg plants and buffalo mozzarella, the combination creating a mouthwatering sandwich and the best lunch ever. For less than the cost of a trio at Subway, where they claim everything is fresh, I'm guaranteed a delicious meal. Once my lunch was ready, I was ready for a leisurely browse through the rest of the store, a tradition I still follow every weekend.

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As the entrance to the store is in the middle, and the deli counter to the right, I continue on to the far right of the store, which is the produce section. The section itself is your garden variety section with your basic fruit, veg, fresh basil and other herbs. What is interesting about this section is the tools that line the walls: a dozen or so sizes of espresso cafetieres, coffee cups emblazoned with Italian soccer team logos, tomato strainers for making fresh sauce and everything in between. My mother, a foodie who has passed on her passion to me always makes a point of stopping in this section, but continues to refuse my request for a set of Inter Milan FC espresso cups.

Next, we're back at the deli counter, which houses more than just sliced bologna. Prosciuttos crudo and cotto, sopresatta , fresh cheeses like trecce and parmiggiano, as well as marinated olives, seafood and peppers line the refrigerators. A turn to the left of this brings you into the second of the store's two pasta sections. A corner the size of a nursery is filled from floor to ceiling with colourful boxes of every brand and type of pasta imaginable. The fridge nearby plays host to the fresh pastas: cannelloni, ravioli and others I can't even name, but look great.

The butcher's section is up next, taking up a section the size of this class room. A counter houses fresh cuts of meat, prepared that day by a butcher whose father once worked that very same counter. Vats of tuna fish cans and premade meals lead the way to what I like to call the overflow section -- tomato sauce, condiments and household goods. Crushed, pureed and whole tomatoes in tins line the rows, accented by dozens of varieties of balsamic vinegars and olive oils, bottles of wine a few steps away from bottles of laundry detergent.

If you time your journey right and travel the right way, you can make a circular trip through the store bringing you back to the cash registers at the front of the store. My mother makes it a point to speak to her cashiers in Italian. The ones she singles out must have arrived in Montreal over fifty years ago, just like her. The language bug may escape me, but I can see the novelty in being able to speak your mother tongue in another country with a like-minded individual. As long as Milano will still be there, I'll still be going. For me, it's not a place to simply pop in and out, but a place to discover new things and rediscover old favourites.

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