Meet four of Montreal’s greatest meals excursions
A Montreal food stroll may not be the first thing that springs to mind when living here. Our holy trinity of bagels, smoked meat and poutine is easy to discover: You already know the big players (and if not, we have an overview). But for those looking to delve deeper into the local food culture – local Montreal residents, newcomers and visitors alike – an afternoon spent on a food walking tour with an accomplished guide is a chance to learn (and taste) more.
These tours are run by Montreal residents obsessed with the city’s food scene. You can sign up as part of a group or organize a private tour (for any occasion), usually for two or more. Here are some of the best options that focus on keeping it small and connected to the community.
Beyond the Market (Spade and Palacio)
The co-founders of Spade and Palacio worked as accredited tour guides for years before venturing into their own business. “We were fed up with wearing uniforms and spitting scripts,” says Danny Pavlopolous. He and Anne-Marie Pellerin offer various “non-tourist” tours by bike and on foot, with a focus on art, architecture, history and cuisine. Your Beyond the Market tour is a three-hour exploration of the area surrounding the Jean Talon Market, with an emphasis on small businesses that are majority owned by women.
Tastings begin with Salvadoran pupusas in the Latino neighborhood east of the market, followed by a visit to the Jean Talon market for cheese, charcuterie, and ice cream, where a brief break is included to explore. Next stop is Brasserie Harricana for a cheese and beer tasting from Quebec. From there it goes to a coffee roastery of the third wave, which ends with a southern fried chicken picnic in the Parc de la Petite Italie when the weather is nice. “We knew that people would come into the market, but not necessarily explore too much nearby,” says Anne-Marie. “And that’s important.” They give all visitors a curated list of their favorite neighborhood spots (plus a branded bag for market shopping) to ensure attendees know exactly where to go next time.
Taste of Chinatown with a Food Writer (Random Cuisine)
Chinatown offers a compact zone to sample a range of local Chinese flavors, and Victor Yu’s tour is a perfect introduction. The tireless Yu offers a three-hour tour packed with information on the history of Montreal’s Chinatown and its food history. Booked through AirBnB as a Montreal Experience, Yu tailors tours based on the interests of its visitors, dietary preferences, and the level of spice they can tolerate.
A typical tour might start with bao – fluffy Chinese rolls filled with a variety of sweet or savory fillings – and continue to a Cantonese grill stand, followed by a seat in a local restaurant. From there, you can have Lanzhou noodles or a demonstration of spun rock candy, Hong Kong bubble waffles, or maybe a salty, crispy Chinese pancake snack. The highlight for many visitors is an extensive tour of the supermarket, during which Yu – a trained physicist – explains ingredients what real Bok Choy is (and what is not) and his tips for the best tea after too much fried food.
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Beyond the Bagel: Museum of Montreal Jewish
The Museum of Jewish Montreal has been offering historically informed food tours for the past five years. Starting from Cheskie’s bakery in Mile End (with a tasting of the cheese crowns Danish), the four-hour tour takes you down Parc Avenue to the Main and into the in-house Café Fletcher’s to try bagels and the iconic Wilensky special, traditional rye bread at Hof Kelsten, Pickles on the grounds of Mrs. Whyte’s original factory and smoked meat at Schwartz.
Beyond the bagel / Facebook
The information-rich itinerary is as dense and tough as a fresh bagel: Who would have thought that Moish’s origins can be traced back in part to a failed gambling bet or that the Fairmont Bagel Bakery building was owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses for decades? The course of the tour offers poignant glimpses of a community of street vendors, horse carts, and markets that have now disappeared.
Will travel to eat (Mayssam Samaha)
The award-winning blogger from Montreal, Mayssam Samaha, has been sharing her insights into the Montreal food scene for nine years and has won awards from Saveur magazine. Samaha shares her love for the Jean Talon Market through her own food tours (she is also a guide for the international outfit Context Travel). Samaha can organize private tours and moving celebratory meals tailored to special interests and occasions, such as wine, craft beer, and specific cuisines and foods: think of a curated Little Italy walking tour with arancini, bomboloni, pizza al taglio, and coffee.
Samaha adapts their market tours to the seasons, always stopping for local cheese and ice wine. She wishes more Montreal residents would explore the city’s food through these types of guided walks. “If you come with me as a native of Montreal, you will know where to buy the best cheese, the best fish and the best sausages,” she says. “It’s okay to ask questions, talk to the vendors to find out what’s next for the harvest. When these people come back, they can develop their relationship with the suppliers – and it can also become their own market. ”