Montreal is the cultural capital of French Canada and the city has a culinary scene that’s quite a bit different from other Canadian cities like Toronto. But more than just the juxtaposition of cultural influences from French and English Canadians, there have also been a number of immigration waves to the city that have altered Montreal’s food landscape.
One interesting way visitors to Montreal can explore the different flavors of the city is with a walking tour from Fitz & Follwell Co. Their “Flavours of the Main” Montreal food tour takes a small group of visitors on a five-hour walking tour of Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal’s main drag, and stops at a number of restaurants and cafes along the way where special tastings have been arranged.
Saint-Laurent is a fascinating street and is a sort of microcosm of Montreal history and culture. It stretches across the island of Montreal from its base at the Saint Lawrence River in the Old Port of Montreal and along the way passes through several immigrant communities like the city’s Chinatown and Little Italy. Throughout the tour the friendly and knowledgeable guide provides insights and fun facts about the city’s history and food.
The tour starts at 11 a.m. with an exploration of Chinatown. Though not as big as other Canadian Chinatowns like those in Vancouver or Toronto, there are nevertheless several cool places to visit.
After some Chinese sweets and teas, the journey continues onward to the Plateau section of Saint-Laurent. It should come as no surprise that Schwartz’s Deli and its world-famous smoked-meat sandwiches are featured on this part of the tour. Founded by a Jewish immigrant from Romania, this deli has been going strong for almost 100 years now and the lines regularly stretch down the block. The tour, however, conveniently avoids the queues.
And what exactly is it about these smoked-meat sandwiches that have people so enthralled? Well, the deli cures its own meat for ten days before smoking it in their smokehouse. The sandwiches themselves are stacked with an almost impossible amount of smoked meat and served with mustard on rye bread.
Moving on to the Mile End neighborhood, the tour checks out a well-known diner and visits the city’s two most famous bagel shops – Fairmount and St-Viateur. The question of which one makes the more delicious bagel has bitterly divided Montreal for the last 60 years and is truly a matter of personal taste, as both shops are rather incredible.
The tour comes to an end nearby in Montreal’s Little Italy, where the group stops for espressos and enjoys a visit to the Jean-Talon Market.
Montreal’s farmer’s market, Jean-Talon is open year round, but is most active during the summer when local farmers bring their organic superfoods to sell in the city. Besides its numerous produce stalls, there are also cooked food shops, bakeries and Quebec food stalls that sell things like maple syrup, cheese and ice wine.
All in all, the tour is a great way to sample a small taste of what makes Montreal’s food scene so great. Short-term visitors to the city will definitely come away with a great deal of information on the city’s history and culture, while repeat visitors to Montreal will have a host of restaurant ideas for their next trip.