6 Things We Learned About Montreal on a Food Tour

We always knew Montreal had great taste in food (that’s a given!), but writer Will McGough went beyond just tempting our taste buds to learn a bit of history, culture and fun facts about the Montreal food scene.

This summer I jumped on a food tour of Montreal with Ca Roule Montreal On Wheels. According to the program, and my expectations, I thought the tour would give me an overview of the city’s most popular cuisine and the food items that Montreal is known for across Canada and the States (hello, poutine!).

On one hand, that assumption was correct. We rode past and were given the low-down about Schwartz’s Deli – the infamous, always-packed smoked-meat sandwich restaurant (which I would try later, after the tour). We also learned about Montreal-style bagels, how they are thinner and sweeter than New York’s famous thick, doughy counterpart, and stopped off to try some at one of the city’s most famous bakeries, Fairmont Bagel (who competes with another local bagel-producing giant, St. Viateur). And, of course, we learned about poutine.

All that was fun and delicious, but honestly, the best part of the tour was what I learned between the cracks, when we stopped at the places none of us had ever heard of. Each one provided an insight into local life in Montreal, not only what its residents eat on a daily basis but hidden treats that you only learn about from the locals. Here are six takeaways from the tour:

Every Month, Montreal Has the Largest Food Truck Festival in Canada

The first Friday of the month from May to October, the largest food truck gathering in Canada takes place at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It’s not along the bike tour, but as you ride, ask your guide about the food truck scene, and watch him go on and on. The city has a strong association of food trucks that has been growing consistently over the years, becoming a popular option for locals everywhere in the city. You’ll most likely pass parks and street corners filled with food trucks as you ride.

Diversity Is Taken Seriously Around Here

Montreal – and Canada on a whole – is an extremely diverse place. Turns out, not only do residents demand diversity and acceptance amongst their population, they also are very fond of it in their food. Hey, perhaps the two go hand in hand. At and around the Jean Talon market, which is located in Little Italy, you will find an impressively wide range of food offers, from German brats to Mexican tacos, to French fine dining, to sushi rolls, to Moroccan dishes. Indeed, you could make a trip around the world by walking – and eating – your way in and around Jean Talon.

There’s No Shortage of Fresh Produce in This City – and It’s Affordable

One of the things that really surprised me was the amount of fresh food I came across at semi-permanent farmer’s markets scattered throughout the city. It wasn’t just the variety and the colours and the taste that made it impressive – it was the prices. Most of the produce came from farms just outside of Montreal and was surprisingly cheap, on par, if not cheaper, than what you’d pay at the grocery store. This is a far cry from many cities in North America, where farmer’s markets have become prohibitively expensive for many people.

It’s True – There’s a Lot of France in Montreal

Just a few weeks before my trip to Montreal, I had the pleasure of visiting Paris, which allowed me to have a cool perspective on French culture in Montreal. People always say that visiting Montreal is more like visiting Europe than Canada, and while I think that claim is oversimplified, I did notice a definite shared personality between the two cities and cultures. Biking around, we passed boulangerie after boulangerie, park after park, residents spread out on blankets, enjoying the leisure of the day and the time with friends. Hanging around and chatting with locals, a big part of daily (summer) life is hitting the markets and then finding a place to spread out and enjoy. Not to mention, celebrations like the Croissant Festival in May, when bakeries across the city sell their croissants for only $1.

You Can Find an Internationally-Unique Candy in Chinatown

In an easy-to-pass-by stall of Chinatown, a man named Johnny Chin has revived a Tung Dynasty candy recipe that was once made only for emperors. Known as “Dragon’s Beard,” Chin starts with a block of sugary gel (corn syrup), which he then kneads and stretches until it turns into long strings with the consistency of hair. Inside the “hair,” he wraps coconut, peanuts, and sesame seeds to create a bite-sized treat that you let melt in your mouth. You’ll want to hang around to watch the process – he’s making them consistently on site – before you buy a box to share.

 

Murals Are Taking Over the City – In a Good Way

Whether you see the city by bike, on foot, or by car, you’d have to be blind not to notice the dominating landscape of public art, mostly in the form of murals that have turned plain buildings into formidable works of creativity. Every summer, the city holds a Mural Festival, for which artists gather to create new ones throughout the city. But any time of year, you can see the fruits of that festival and of one-off projects. Most of it is centered on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and there’s a useful map to help you locate pieces of interest.

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