No good vacation goes without savoring some of the specialties of the place you are visiting. If you are as passionate about food ( and wine!) as I am…a passion only superseded by my love for design and art…you will certainly understand why I signed up for a walking tour through the ethnic neighborhoods of Montreal
while my husband and I were up there. Besides which, in 17 degree weather, there is nothing better to warm the heart and soul than a good walk and some delicious food!
The tour is called “Flavors of the Main” and is run by Fitz & Folwell, and I might add it is run very well! FYI: Fitz & Folwell offers all kinds of guided tours, all throughout the year, and you can experience the spirit of Montreal on foot, bicycling, or even on skates and skis , depending on the season.
The tour is based around Montreal’s central boulevard called “The Main” by the locals but actually named St Laurence/ St. Laurent Boulevard…depending on your French or English heritage. Since the founding of the city, every wave of immigrants, from the original French and English to the Chinese, European, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Latin Americans and North Africans all have left their mark on this street.
“The Main” is actually the dividing point between Ouest Montreal … the English speaking side… and Est Montreal…the French speaking side, with all of the different immigrant communities situated down the middle of the boulevard.
As you walk up St. Laurent Boulevard with the tour guide, not only are you treated to tasty delights but you are given a fully detail accounting of the important architectural,cultural and historical details of the neighborhood and the significance of the food you are eating. The whole 2 hours on the tour is jam packed with information that makes this area of Montreal come alive in a way it would be hard to experience by yourself.
The tour began in the Chinatown section…does every large city have a Chinatown?… and a walk inside the infamous Wing Company, the originators of the (Canadian)Chinese fortune cookie, complete with fortunes in French. Then on to a Chinese bakery to taste a scrumptious egg custard tart…didn’t know the Chinese made such yummy desserts!
After devouring the tart it was on to a more modern Chinese establishment called “My Cup Of Tea” where they serve Blooming Tea in the most exquisite glass teapots and tea cups. It was indeed special to see the elegance and sophistication the owners had brought to drinking a cup of tea.
The last Chinese treat was at a hole in the wall called Dragon Beard Candy. This is a one and only store front where Johnny K.F. Chin whips up an irresistible treat first made for the Chinese emperors ages ago. We watched Chin whip up a batch of this delicious treat, which apparently he is not only infamous for recreating but seems to be the only one around doing so.
After a quick segue to the “absolute best store for Vietnamese spring rolls”at a joint called Cao Thang…a place you would have never stopped in on your own…we walked through the old “red Light” district, known now as the “Supper Club” district. Here we got to taste Poutíne, a signature French Canadian dish…think french fried potatoes covered in cheese curds and gravy! This was an experience, as was the place that was serving this popular dish, which I know I would never have ever entered! But this was the real McCoy, and as they say, “When in Paris……..”
Onward to Librairie Espagnole, a Spanish newspaper/ book store that converted into a Spanish delicacy store in order to serve the needs of the Latin population where we munched on several Spanish cheeses and took in the tremendous assortment of other Spanish treats.
From here we hit the highlight of the tour, a place called Schwartz’s in the old Jewish neighborhood. The place is the size of a small bedroom, and the line of people waiting to get in is around the block. They serve this smoked meat sandwich, which is outrageously fabulous on fresh rye bread with mustard and to eaten with a big sour pickle and washed down with a cherry coke.
You mustn’t show off that you think it tastes something like a good corned beef sandwich you ate in New York City. This is French “smoked meat” with a Jewish past, but unique unto itself. Eating all of this while standing in the street in the cold was kinda fun and definitely worth the calories!
The last stop was in Little Portugal, and we get to taste another egg tart, only this time a Portuguese one, at a place called Coco Rico Rotisserie. The cooked meats and prepared food here look absolutely divine and if not for being well fed and content at this moment I would have loved to taste some of the other specialties.
After this gastronomic tour we took a brief walk up to the edge of Mount Royal, the park in Montreal design by Frederick Law Olmsted…think Central Park in NYC…which was a much needed bit of exercise…think: need to burn off some calories! This was the end of our excursion, but several others joined the group at this time for the second segment which includes Little Italy and a visit to the huge open market in Montreal called Jean-Talon Market.
I was sorry we could not continue, as we had such a wonderful time on the first segment, but our time in Montreal was over and it was time to head home. With stomachs full and heads filled with all sorts of interesting information we were both totally satisfied (and satiated) with our last day in Montreal.
Au revoir jusqu’à la prochaine fois!