A foodie’s guide to Montréal City

A foodie’s guide to Montréal City

by Karen Burns-Booth 17 February 2017

Montréal is full of diverse cultures with a wonderful array of food on offer, and while it’s most famous for its bagels, poutine and smoked meat sandwiches, there’s so more to it than that. Karen Burns-Booth uncovers some of the best spots in the city.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients. She is a member of the prestigious Guild of Food Writers and regularly contributes to a variety of print publications and online recipe sites, as well as creating bespoke recipes for numerous major brands and supermarkets in the UK and Europe. Key brands Karen has worked with are: McCormick, Organic UK, Maille, Cath Kidston, Churchill China, Le Creuset, Le Parfait, Tala, John Lewis, Celebrity Cruises, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Sainsbury's, Tesco and many more. Karen specialises in preserving, baking, seasonal fare and healthy low-calorie recipes having recently lost weight on the 5:2 intermittent diet. In addition to writing for her own site, the award winning “Lavender and Lovage” blog, she also writes for Great British Chefs and runs a seasonal cookery school in SW France. When she is not in the kitchen she can be found travelling the world with a camera and notebook, searching for new ingredients and recipe inspiration.

I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Canada; it is without doubt my most favourite country to visit, with its towering mountains, frozen arctic terrain, wild coastline, verdant fields, vineyards and vibrant multi-cultural cities – there are still many places I’ve not visited that are on my list! And, if I’m honest, as a food and travel writer, it’s always the food that is a big draw for me too. Food often showcases a nation’s culture and identity, and Canada has a wealth of different nationalities as well as its First Nations peoples, so you can expect a very unique approach to food (and wine) when travelling around this vast country.

Montréal in Québec has always fascinated me, especially with my links to France where I live most of the year. This predominantly French-speaking province in eastern Canada is connected by the Chemin du Roy highway along the Saint Lawrence River. The city of Montréal is named after Mt Royal, with a triple-peaked hill at its heart, and is one of my favourite cities in Canada. Even in France, as well as Canada, it is known for its original and exciting food scene – I’ve heard French friends talk fondly and with passion of memorable meals and trips in Montréal, as well as its famous food markets.

So, what is the food scene in Montréal? Well, I always think of it as a cornucopia of different immigrant’s cultural and historical recipes, with more than a pinch of modernity added (especially when you venture up the foodie ladder to the fine fining end). For me, Montréal is the hub of good food and wine, which is amply represented by its numerous food markets, of which Marche Jean Talon is my favourite. It has the most amazing array of fresh and preserved produce, cafés, book shops and cook shops, with a riot of colour and tempting aromas to lure you into small side streets at every turn.

Marche Jean Talon
Marche Jean Talon is one of Montréal's most famous food markets, with an incredibly array of fresh produce on offer
Premiere Moisson
Première Moisson is known for its breakfast offering, with dozens of pastries and good coffee to tuck into

It’s not just a market for fresh produce; there are numerous bistros, kiosks and restaurants there too, where you can enjoy a small snack or sit down to a freshly cooked meal, no doubt made with some of the produce on sale in the market. Montréal’s smaller market, Marche Atwater, is also worth a visit, if only for breakfast or brunch at the Première Moisson – here you can enjoy a freshly made almond croissant or cinnamon bun, whilst sipping a bowl of creamy café au lait and watching the world go around.

After breakfast or brunch, why not lunch at Olive et Gourmando in Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal); situated just down from Hotel Nelligan, the fabulous boutique hotel I was staying in, this popular café-cum-bistro is charmingly situated on the corner of two streets with a warm and friendly atmosphere, as well as a wonderful array of ‘daily plates’, freshly baked pastries, sandwiches and the most amazing fresh coffee. I enjoyed the house speciality of house-made ricotta, which is served with seasonal garnishes and assorted grilled breads. The ‘Mac + Cheese’ is legendary and comprises mushrooms, caramelised onions and truffle tapenade baked with Parmesan and breadcrumbs; a real ‘le must have’! Breakfast is also served here and I loved their ‘Poached egg on your face’, which was spicy poached eggs with herbs and mayonnaise, Louis d'Or cheese, speck and slow-roasted tomatoes one cold and frosty morning.

Smoked meat
A smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's Deli is a must-try in Montréal – remember to order a can of cherry cola on the side
Montréal-style bagels are smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser than the more common New York variety

Montréal's famous foods

It’s probably time to engage with Montréal’s most famous dish now – a Montréal-style smoked meat sandwich. Montréal smoked meat, simply called smoked meat in the vernacular, it's a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with specially mixed spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked for the final step. It’s typically served in light rye bread, with mild (yellow) mustard and a sweet dill pickle, as well as a can of cherry cola. The most famous smoked meat deli in Montréal is Schwartz’s Deli, which is co-owned by Celine Dion, although Reuben’s Deli in downtown Montréal is also a great place to enjoy this iconic dish.

If smoked meat sandwiches are one of Montréal’s most famous hot meals, then you cannot leave the city without trying (and buying) a Montréal-style bagel. Smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser than a New York bagel, it is always baked in a wood-fired oven, which I had the opportunity to see as well as shape and bake a full batch at St-Viateur Bagel bakery. There are two main bagel bakeries, St-Viateur and Fairmount, and in true competitive fashion, they both claim to be the original bakery and to have the best bagels! Both bakeries also sell all the ‘fixings’ for a quick snack – Lox (smoked salmon), sour cream, capers, pickles, sliced onions, etc. so you can pop in to buy a bag of bagels for breakfast and grab a snack at the same time. Both bakeries are open twenty-four hours too.

Other Montréal food specialities are pâté chinois, a local dish that is similar to cottage pie or the French hachis parmentier; it’s made from creamed corn, minced beef with spices and mashed potatoes and is often served with tomato ketchup. Another favourite of mine, and I enjoyed this in a small bistro at Marche Jean Talon, is tourtière, a spiced minced meat pie, usually made with a combination of beef, pork and veal with a flaky pastry crust. It’s often served at Christmas and New Year and every home cook has his or her own special spice mix; my friend who lives in Montréal swears by celery salt as her secret ingredient, whilst others say that a good tourtière has to have mixed spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in it. I enjoyed mine with a spicy relish, similar to ketchup, with mounds of mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.

Olive et Gourmando
Olive et Gourmando serves up its own homemade ricotta as well as lots of other small plates designed for sharing
Restaurant Toqué!
Restaurant Toqué! is one of the most popular fine dining restaurants in the city

One last recommendation before I sign off – one of the best ways to see, taste and enjoy the Montréal food scene is to go on a food tour. I was lucky enough to go on a half-day tour with the amazing Melissa from Round Table Tours – she took me around Jean Talon market before a trip to a cheese shop, lunch at Schwartz’s Deli, a chocolate tasting session at a local chocolatier and ending with a hands-on cooking experience at St-Viateur Bagels. Melissa is very knowledgeable about the history of the Montréal food scene and her Jewish Montréal and China Town trips are often sold out, so you need to book well in advance.

I hope that my whistle-stop tour of Montréal’s’ food scene has inspired you and will encourage you to visit this fabulously foodie city, as well as try some of the local specialities I have mentioned. For haute cuisine, I can heartily recommend Restaurant Toqué! for edgy modern food with a fabulous wine pairing menu, a great option if it's your first time and you'd like to try a little bit of everything. I also enjoyed a cookery demonstration with acclaimed local chef Marc-Oliver Eloy of Au Petit Extra Restaurant, and dinner in the Ritz Carlton with my friend who lives in Montréal. Wherever you go or whatever you eat in Montréal, it will be fabulous, as I never encountered a bad meal during my two stays in this food-orientated city – bon appetit!