Carmen Montes never thought people would go wild for pierogies, but she was happy to be proven wrong. Fourteen years ago, when she and her husband Arturo’s longtime downtown Bangor cafe and catering business, Montes International Catering, began offering International Weeks, they first served up a variety of dishes based on the cuisines of Mexico, Italy, Germany and Poland.
“We made 900 pierogies, and we sold them all,” Carmen Montes said. “We just didn’t expect there to be such enthusiasm, or that there was such a huge Polish population that responded so favorably. It was kind of shocking, actually.”
In the decade and a half since, Montes has expanded to offer eight weeks of international cuisines, including the aforementioned four, Jamaica, Greece and, this week, France — expect crepes, quiche, Salade Nicoise and eclairs. The two-month culinary world tour began last week with Italy and will end the week of March 26-30 with Morocco and North Africa.
“We get tons of suggestions each year for different cuisines and dishes people want us to try,” Montes said. “It’s really nice to know that people in the Bangor area are so excited about and open to trying new things. It’s one of our busiest times of the year.”
The Montes family — which includes Arturo and Carmen’s three sons, Carlos, Rickey and Cisco — and their employees are proud of the fact that during International Weeks, they try to stick to traditional ingredients and recipes. Carmen Montes visits a market in Boston each January to pick up special things to make the food the right way. If a Hungarian dish calls for paprika, she wants the right kind. If there’s a specific kind of chile or things such as tomatillos or pepitas for Mexican food, she wants that, too.
“When we did an Indian week, I had to find fresh curry leaves. We have to get the right lemons for preserved lemons for Morocco week. We want real, homemade Italian sausage and pasta for Italy week,” she said. “We take pride in doing it the right way.”
For their patrons, the fun is in trying something different each week. For the Montes family, it’s seeing people get excited about food — and in turn, getting excited themselves.
“Food is such an emotional thing. It brings you to different places and times in your life,” she said. “Who knew that people in Bangor would be thrilled to have Moroccan food? We can’t even get to all the countries we’d like to. We’d have to have an international year.”
Montes International Weeks
Feb. 6-10: Italy
Feb. 13-17: France
Feb. 20-24: Jamaica
Feb. 27-March 2: Mexico
March 5-9: Germany and Hungary
March 12-16: Poland and Russia
March 19-23: Greece
March 26-30: Morocco and North Africa
Montes, located at 72 Columbia St., is open for eat-in or take-out lunch and for take-out dinner until 5:30 p.m.