Montreal, Quebec, is a city where cultures and eras clash together to provide a number of interesting results. With a French-Canadian society meeting head-to-head with the cultures of a variety of immigrants, whilst the traditions of the past are being forced to mesh with the current times, this has turned Montreal into a true melting-pot city. In recent years, this pot has fermented and begun to show results, with world class restaurants as well as great, little, local eateries.
Au Pied de Cochon
It’s hard to say anything new about Martin Picard’s homage to our porcine friends. It’s a place that’s been fawned over by almost every foodie who has been to Canada. Pig, duck and foie gras, are often served in a variety of outlandish combinations, amongst other delights. Make your reservations weeks, if not months, ahead of time or go hungry.
Cramped, dark, expensive, no set menu … but also insanely creative. Joe Beef is run by two fellows who have a penchant for heavy-handed food, the menu generally stars such dishes as Lobster Spaghetti, Lobster and Calamari, Steak Tartare and, of course, wonderful cuts of steak. Reservations are necessary, and you never know exactly what you will be able to choose from, but it can be guaranteed that the choices will be unlikely to be found anywhere else in the city.
The forerunner to Joe Beef, Garde Manger is a little harder to get in to, but well worth the effort. With the same idea of no set menu, so as to make use of the freshest meats and produce available, Manger tends to have a larger and more stable menu. Dishes that make very frequent appearances include the Lobster Poutine and the Braised Short Ribs, while the Veal Cheeks with Foie Gras on a Waffle are amazing, although quite rich.
With two restaurants, one in the city and one 20 minutes away in Chambly, this New France dining experience allows the customer to taste indigenous flavours that hark back to the 1800s. Sourcing ingredients from the local area, Fourchette puts together amazing new takes on traditional dishes. Sausages made of local game are served with side dishes of local produce, smoked fish and pemmican are tied together with a salad and sprinkled with spent brewers grains. The restaurants also serve as Unibroue’s unofficial brewpubs, so you can often find rare releases on tap. If you’re in a hurry, the location in the city is great, but if you’ve got the time and freedom, the chance to dine on the rear patio overlooking the Richelieu River with Fort Chambly lurking behind the trees is an experience that will be remembered.
If you are running on a bit of a tighter budget, there’s still some great food to be had that will give you a quality taste of what Montreal has to offer.
Resto la Banquise
A Montreal legend, where you can get prime examples of the most common provincial dish, poutine, cheese curds over french fries, smothered in brown gravy. At Banquise, you can get it done over 30 different ways. Whether you want four different types of meat on it or vegetarian-friendly, they’ll do it, and they’ll do it in large amounts, 24 hours a day. Daily specials bring along a variety of new flavours, and if gut-busting platters of cheesy, smothered goodness isn’t your thing, they’ve got other options. Even in the morning, you can get a solid Montreal breakfast complete with beans.
Qing Hua Dumpling
Similar to Banquise in their pursuit of doing one thing and doing it extremely well, Qing Hua has over 30 styles of dumplings. If you are willing to sit in the cramped front room, you can even watch your dumplings grow in the hands of their skilled cooks through the open pass window. A wonderful assortment of meats and seafood, including lamb, squid and mackerel, combined with other flavours in broth, or fried if you like. Pork and coriander dumplings are the star of the menu, but the lamb and green onion ones are close behind. For the more adventurous, try the pork with squid. Most dishes are under $10 (as at 2012) and selected dumplings are available to take home with you.
Brit & Chips
While Quebec is proud of their French heritage, the province still has reminders of their Anglo legacies. Brit & Chips hasn’t been around long, but has made people take notice with a small menu of creative takes on the traditional fish and chips dish. Whether frying up hake in a batter based around orange soda or haddock in a sweet maple syrup batter, they have discovered some tasty combinations. They’ve even borrowed from England’s other colonies, putting together Curry Fish Cakes and Tandoori Popcorn Shrimp. For the Brit longing for a taste of their homeland, they also carry the British chip shop beverage of choice, Irn Bru.
Take It Home
Maybe you just want to enjoy a meal in your hotel room or apartment, or to take a taste of Montreal home with you. They’ve got you covered for that as well.
Montreal Public Markets
Montreal plays host to four major, public markets, as well as numerous smaller neighbourhood markets. The two to concentrate on for food are Jean-Talon and Atwater.
Jean-Talon, the largest, plays host to a great selection of fish, meat and fresh produce—three things that are great to enjoy in the comforts of your hotel, but are normally not allowed to pass through customs. They also have great shops for chocolate, which you can take out of the country, as well as being the Montreal home of Intermiel, a producer of honey products, including international, award winning meads and liqueurs, which are also exportable items.
Atwater has great cheese, beer and maple product stores; products you can take home, although there are limits on the amount of alcohol allowed through customs and some countries don’t allow the importation of some food, including cheese, so check your country’s laws. A must-visit is La Fromagerie Atwater, which has possibly the greatest selection of cheeses anywhere. Imported or local, from the most pungent abbey cheeses to locally made cheddars. To accompany the cheese, they also have a beer room stocked to the top with ales, three-quarters of which are brewed in Quebec.
St Viateur Bagels
Famous Montreal-style bagels are chewier than the New York style and sweeter. They are unique, a must try. Hand-made fresh every day, right in front of the customer, these bagels are inexpensive, filling and you can taste the flavours of the city in the baking!
As can be seen, Montreal has embraced its place as a major world city that has many terrific flavours to be tasted and enjoyed. Whether sampling their heritage fare or experimenting on the cutting edge of today’s culinary boundaries, the dining experiences in this great city are to be sought out and savoured.
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