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Patties are Jamaican snack food, lying somewhere between a Latin American empanada and a Cornish pasty. All three of these hand-held savoury pies share common ideas about how to make a delicious snack out of a little pastry and some chopped meat or veggies.

However, it is as hard to find a good pasty in Montreal as a hen's tooth. And while we do have plenty of empañadarias (which strikes me as good a term as any for shops that make these treats), the quality, filling and size of empañadas vary so much that this merit a separate discussion.

What's great about patties is that there are only a few basic ways of making them. Once you know what you like, you should be able to walk into any Jamaican or West Indian grocery store or restaurant and order one, having a pretty good idea of what you will get.

Patties start with a simple pastry crust. The main ingredients are flour, water and lard or shortening. Curry and turmeric are sometimes added. The crust should be golden, crisp, light and flaky. It should almost melt in the mouth.

The filling is usually one of three varieties: beef, chicken, or vegetable, and these are made mild or spicy. Common additions to the fillings include thyme, onion, garlic, tomatoes and curry powder. The result can be juicy or dry, depending upon how much liquid is added.

Although many Caribbean stores sell patties, this is really a Jamaican snack food. The give away is that there is invariably some degree of heat in the filling. This can range from comfortably mild to full blown Scotch bonnet pepper. Ask how spicy a patty is before you buy it.

Many depanneurs in communities with large Caribbean populations have a small, glass warming tray filled with patties. These can be good. It depends on where and when they were made. However, if there is a dep selling patties, there is probably a local place within a few blocks that is baking them daily. Well made patties freeze well and heat up beautifully in a toaster oven or microwave.

On Sherbrooke Street, west of Decarie Boulevard, there are several patty bakers. Ma's Place at 5889 Sherbrooke West (phone 514-487-7488) and Nuf-Niceness, across the street at 5716 Sherbrooke West (phone: 514-488-5151) each has its fans. Similarly, there are several places making their own patties on Victoria Avenue between Jean Talon and Van Horne. A favourite in LaSalle is Caribbean at 408 Lafleur (phone: 514-368-4808).

© Barry Lazar 2002

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