Sitting on an island in the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is the worlds second largest French-speaking city – and damn proud of it. The French architectural influence makes it a gorgeous looking city and it is very user friendly, with 47 square kilometres of green space, 500 kilometres of bike paths and over 5,000 restaurants. Really, if you can’t find a good feed in this town you are doing something seriously wrong.
There are various food tours available in the city including a walking tour called “Flavours of the Main”, conducted by Fitz & Follwell, a tour and bicycle store. Their bike tours look like fun, but my cycling days are behind me so I was happy to take off on foot to discover the richly diverse culinary heritage of this steadfastly French city. Led by informative guides with an obvious passion for the local food scene, the walk is centred around Saint Lawrence Boulevard, Montreal’s main commercial artery and the traditional divide between the predominantly English-speaking population to the west and French-speaking population to the east. Nicknamed “The Main”, the boulevard runs through many of the city’s ethnic communities and the tour visits some of the local specialty shops and delicatessens which chart the culinary history of the cultural groups.
Our first stop was at Wing’s Noodle & Fortune Cookie factory in Chinatown. Wing’s is one of the largest manufacturers of noodles and fortune cookies in Canada and the factory is said to be one of the oldest buildings in Montreal’s Chinatown.
From there we wandered along to an open shop-front where a woman was making this unusual, hand-made, spun sugar candy called Dragon’s Beard Candy. Once made only for emperors, this sugar dough is worked into fine threads which are then wrapped around nuts, sesame, coconut or chocolate and is tooth-achingly sweet.
One of the most famous smoked meat sandwiches can be found on “The Main” in Montreal. They have been serving seriously good smoked meat at Schwartz’s, using the same secret recipe, since 1928. They smoke it daily and use no preservatives and I guess whatever they are doing works, as the day I was there the hungry punters were queuing 30 deep to get in the door. Family owned since 1928, the business was recently sold to a consortium which includes Celine Dion and her husband. Many of the locals expressed concern about the possibility of the brand being damaged by their plans to market a prepackaged supermarket version of the meat and this news backs up those concerns. It seems the old way is still the best way to get one of the most amazing sandwiches I’ve ever tried – so join the queue folks!
We paid a visit to a Spanish delicatessen which, surprisingly, also houses a Spanish library .
And, of course, we tried poutine. A Quebec original, poutine is common in Canada and has even been known to sneak over the border to the US. This delicious combination of crispy chips, squeaky fresh cheese curds and gravy is just about the perfect late night snack after an overly indulgent evening. It may not look all that appetising, but I assure you – as far as junk food goes, this is a winner.
Another place I can’t keep away from when travelling is the local markets, so I happily spent an afternoon wandering around the Jean Talon Market in the Little Italy district of Montreal. While it might be Little Italy now, the land the market sits on was, up until the early 1930’s, originally the Shamrock Lacrosse Grounds – nothing very Italian about that! The market is open seven days a week, including during the freezing winter. It has expanded over the years, now occupying 3 1/2 city blocks and is popular with the local residents, rather than just tourists, resulting in better prices and a more genuine product.
It houses a range of fruit, vegetable and flower stalls, plus gourmet shops, butchers, wine, artisanal products and a gorgeous store selling only products sourced in Quebec. My heart still belongs to the Adelaide Central Market, but how could I not love a market that sells bison burgers? And, yes – I’ll have frites with that.
Fitz & Follwell’s hours are – Mon & Tues: Shop Closed, Tours still available! Wed: 11am – 6pm, Thur-Fri: 11am – 7pm, Sat & Sun: 11am – 5pm and you can find them at –
115 Ave du Mont-Royal West
Ph. +1 (514) 840-0739
Jean Talon Market is open 7 days a week, except Christmas, and is at the corner of Henri-Julien and Jean Talon, Montreal QC, H2S 3S3.