Walking down the street in Montreal, English and French fill the air in equal measure, since most residents of this Quebec city are bilingual. The atmosphere is also filled with all manner of delicious sights and sounds, from the endless offerings at the outdoor farmers markets that stretch across a dozen city blocks, to the restaurants that dot every corner. In the tourist sections of town, there are actually approximately 149.7 restaurants per square mile. To put that in perspective, think about the fact that, as of the 2010 census, New York City had 65 restaurants per square mile.
With so many choices, it’s difficult to pick just five must-eats from all that Montreal has to offer. After all, there are so many iconic cuisines in this city, including poutine (French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, a dish that originated in Quebec province), a thriving Portuguese food scene, aged cheeses, and anything doused or cooked in Canada’s most infamous export: maple syrup. Here are our picks, but just know that there are plenty more Canadian delicacies where these came from.
A worker at Fairmount Bagel preparing the dough into recognizable bagel shapes. (Wikipedia)
Start your morning off right at one of the most iconic bagel shops in Montreal. But be forewarned: if you’re expecting a New York-style bagel, you may be disappointed. The Montreal bagel is traditionally sweeter and a little bit smaller than the New York bagel. Fairmount boils their bagels in honey-sweetened water and then finishes them off in a wood-fire oven. And at Fairmount, the bagels always come out fresh and piping-hot.
The charming primary color palette of Helena's accentuates the hearty meals served here. (Joanna Fantozzi)
You might be surprised to learn that the Portuguese culinary scene is really hot in Montreal right now, with lines forming out the door for bites of Portuguese-style chicken at casual joints. But you can sample some upscale Portuguese cuisine at Helena in the Old Montreal neighborhood. Under the helm of chef Helena Loureiro, the restaurant offers innovative Portuguese cuisine. We recommend the caldo verde, a traditional hearty soup made with potatoes, collard greens, and thin slivers of sausage.
The glaze on this maple-smoked salmon is really craveable. (Facebook)
It may sound unusual to recommend stopping by a specialty grocery store for some of Montreal’s best eats, but trust us, you won’t want to miss this urban market that only sells Quebec gourmet foods like freshly-made French pastries, unusual Canadian cheeses, and my favorite: maple-smoked salmon, which tastes like candied lox.
Schwartz's sandwiches are the most iconic in all of Montreal (Wikipedia)
Just like every New Yorker has their favorite dollar slice, and every Philadelphian knows the best place to get a cheesesteak, each Montrealite has a favorite spot to eat smoked meats. A good place to start would be Schwartz’s Deli. If you’re scratching your head wondering what smoked meats are, just take a bite of a sandwich at Schwartz’s and recognize the smoky, familiar flavors of pastrami on rye, with a hint of extra spiciness and kick known to connoisseurs as Montreal steak spice. In fact, Schwartz’s is often compared to Katz’s Deli in New York in terms of Jewish deli quality.
A tray-full of Patrice's infamous kouign-amann makes my mouth water. (Facebook)
You’ll probably want to end your culinary tour of Montreal with something sweet. We’d recommend going to one of the most well-known bakeries in the city, where you’ll find more than just the same old éclairs. Try the dense and semi-savory banana zucchini bread, or the flaky and sweet kouign-amann.
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi