For food lovers, one of the things that makes Montreal a great city is its public markets. These year-round markets stock all kinds of products, from fresh fruit and flowers to artisan cheeses and premium meats. They’re a feast for the eyes – and definitely a place where you (as well as the city’s chefs) can stock up for a real feast.
The largest and best-known market is Jean Talon Market. Located in the Little Italy district of Montreal, it has been operating since 1933. The building that the market occupies was originally a bus station, and it was the constant flux of people that prompted vendors to start selling their goods there. The market grew in size over time, and as the bus station was phased out and the market eventually took over the whole space. It is a huge draw for locals, who pack the market every day of the year. The summer, when vendors are all stocking colorful fruits and vegetables, is the peak season for the market, but the market is open even during the winter, when vendors simply move in closer to the market’s main building and walls are placed around them to keep out the cold.
The vendors are all extremely upfront with where their products come from and clearly label their goods as coming from Quebec, elsewhere in Canada or as imported. Quebec products are typically identified with a blue fleur de lis on their signs, while Canadian products are marked with a red maple leaf. Anything imported is identified with a small airplane. Walking through the market, you’ll definitely find more fleur de lis than anything else, and the shoppers are proud to go out of their way to buy local.
In addition to the stalls, there are a number of more permanent shops around the perimeter of the market that tend to specialize in baked goods, ice creams and savory snacks, as well as in packaged products. One in particular that is worth stopping in to is Le Marche des Saveurs de Quebec, a shop that only stocks locally produced goods.
The shop is bigger than you might expect, but that just goes to show you exactly how much good stuff is produced in the region. There are sausages, cheeses, a huge variety of packaged sauces, spices and rubs, and even a wine shop. Now, Quebec isn’t known as a major wine-growing region (they really seem to prefer microbrews in Montreal) and you’re not going to have the same kind of variety that you would in, for instance, California. There is one beverage that is unique and well worth tasting: ice cider. Ice cider is much like ice wine, and is produced from apples that have been frozen before their juice was extracted and fermented. It is sweet and syrupy, with a distinct apple flavor that is downright addictive. It’s great for sipping, and even better for pouring over a cup of ice cream. You can sample some in the shop before you buy, too.
Atwater Market is another large market across town from Jean Talon, in the Saint-Henri district of the city. Locals will tell you that this market attracts a slightly more upscale clientele than Jean Talon, and you can see a difference in the offerings at the market. Atwater is still packed with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables, but inside the lovely market building are shops that stock an impressive number of meats, seafoods and cheeses, and a much wider variety of prepared terrines, pates and other foods than you could find at the other market. You’ll also find very gourmet items, such as foie gras, displayed in the regular meat cases. There are bakeries, chocolate shops and a coffee roaster that serves up freshly roasted, small batches of beans every day.
The shoppers at Atwater seem a little bit more laid back than the shoppers at Jean Talon, interested in shopping but also in spending time enjoying a coffee and a pastry on a sunny afternoon. It helps that this market is right up against a beautiful park alongside the canal, and offers some beautiful spots for spending the day if you have some free time to relax and enjoy it.
Both markets are easy to access and worth a visit even if you’re not a foodie, but if you are you just might find yourself at the market all day long. You can really get a flavor for the city at both markets, and of course you can pick up some truly delicious food at both.