Whatever the season, Montreal is the perfect city to explore: in the summer you can’t turn a corner without encountering a jazz or comedy festival.
In autumn there’s the beautiful changing of the leaves and apple picking; brave the fierce winters and you will be rewarded with tobogganing on Mount Royal or ice skating on Beaver Lake; step into spring and go for a walk in Westmount park and watch the flowers come to life.
With a multicultural population numbering over four million there’s so many food opportunities available in Montreal. Over the years there have been several waves of immigration and currently Montreal has one of the largest Jewish populations in Canada. The Jewish community has churned out some of the city’s best known eateries, the most famous of all being Schwartz’s Deli, established in 1928, making it Canada’s oldest deli.
Going to Schwartz’s is a rite of passage for most visitors. You will usually have to queue and once inside it is a small, noisy, steamy place with signed pictures from celebrity patrons adorning the walls. A waiter will gesture wildly at you to sit anywhere and will stare at you impatiently until you tell them your order (Schwarz’s waiters are famously rude, but that’s all part of the experience). The traditional order is a smoked meat sandwich on rye bread with mustard, french fries, a pickle, and a cherry coke. There are other things on the menu but if it’s your first time that’s really what you’re expected to order. The smoked meat sandwich is a thing of beauty – nowhere has ever put so much meat between two pieces of bread. It’s hot, with a smoky and peppery taste, and very indulgent.
The other Jewish hot spot of Montreal is Wilensky’s. Originally a cigar counter, Wilensky’s was a popular spot in the Jewish Quarter where men would come to smoke cigars and play cards. Legend has it that a customer requested a sandwich one day and The Wilensky Special was born: an “all-beef salami with all-beef baloney sandwich grilled to mouth-watering perfection on a tasty roll with a hint of mustard,” as their website describes it. Wilensky’s is no longer a cigar shop but they still sell The Special, and not much else. You can have The Special with or without cheese, but never without mustard and you can never ask to have it cut in half; those are rules. They also sell wonderful old style sodas, using homemade syrup and soda water. This strict, select little place has a wonderful charm about it and all the furnishings are from when it was established in 1932.
Finally, the most famous, if not least healthy, dish Montreal (or Quebec) is known for is poutine. It’s a very simple dish: French fries, smothered in gravy and topped with delicious cheese curds, often with other toppings thrown in. It may sound unsavoury to some readers but it is the most amazing comfort food. You can get poutine all over the city, from cheap greasy spoons to top-end interpretations of the dish: the lobster and goats cheese poutine at Lawrence, to the even more decadent foie gras poutine at Au Pied de Cochon. Whatever your taste, or budget, there’s a poutine out there for you!
If you’re looking for a different food experience get yourself over to Montreal immediately, I’ll be waiting for you at Wilenksy’s with a Special!