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Mim Meets Montreal

by Mim Kempson October 7, 2014
Mim Meets Montreal

Episode 3: In which the Aussie drinks the magical mystery julep

Watch out James and your giant peach, because Montreal’s got a giant orange. You can’t miss it. It’s somewhere just off Décarie, the dreaded highway of rush-hour doom. Sitting on the horizon like a radioactive rising sun, this gigantean orange is known as Gibeau Orange, or in English, Orange Julep.

Picture a three-storey high spherical snack bar with waitresses gliding across the car park on rollerskates to deliver your fast food meal. It’s the year of 1932. You can order anything from hotdogs to veggie burgers, spaghetti to poutine, but the trademark product is – yep, you guessed it – orange juice.

It was only in 1945 that Orange Julep had its makeover. Hermas Gibeau, the founder, swapped his regular rectangular restaurant for a gigantic concrete orange sphere. The building was revamped again in 1966 with the addition of orange plastic pool parts. This is the snack back we see today. People say that he intended to live there with his wife and children. Think, the Old Woman who lived in a shoe. Ol’ Hermas lived a fairy tale.

Photo by Nathalie Laflamme

“What makes this particular orange juice better than any other?” I asked my friends who excitedly drove me to Orange Julep one afternoon. They couldn’t tell me, nor could anyone else, because the age-old recipe is a guarded secret.

When we pulled into the car park I noticed that Orange Julep attracts all kinds of folk – families, bikies, tourists, die-hard orange julep lovers. The much-loved institution continues to welcome loyal regulars.

Despite being smack-bang in the middle of a grey, urban desert, the giant orange seemed to bring summer into eternal orbit. And wildlife. Seagulls eagerly hovered nearby, giving the car park a beachy vibe. Julep-thirsty bees brought the feeling of being in a flowery field (much to the dismay of my insect phobic friend). And the colourful triangular flags transformed the whole scene into a kitch kind of kid’s party.

Inside, taking centre stage above the counter, is a large, transparent cylinder containing a light orange liquid. Silver pipes, as if fashioned from a spaceship, extend from its top and bottom. I wondered whether the juice was being channeled from heaven; considering the way that people raved about it, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I asked the waitress behind the counter (sadly no longer on rollerskates) whether the orange juice contained added sugar. She looked at me blankly. “I don’t know,” she said with innocent stupor. Someone must be guarding that recipe with their life, I thought.

There’s also the option of adding ice cream to your Julep juice. Rumor has it that the juice contains egg whites, which give it a frothy appearance. With all its mystery ingredients, at first I was hesitant to try it. But when I took a sip I was pleasantly surprised – it wasn’t sweet, but rather refreshing. I can’t quite explain it so you’ll have to try it yourself (if you haven’t already). Perhaps you’ll be the one to solve the mystery, the question on everyone’s lips – what really is in Orange Julep?

On a final note, we have a giant pineapple in Australia. But it’s not nearly as big as Montreal’s orange, nor does it offer anything as magical as Julep’s mystery juice.

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