While I had a wonderful time doing tourist things in Montreal, the real draw for a foodie was the Omnivore Food Festival World Tour that was taking place. The Omnivore Food Festival is a fantastic festival that began in France in 2003, and has since expanded their schedule to visit a dozen cities world wide this year. This is food festival that isn’t going to attract a person looking to snag the autograph of a celebrity chef. It’s a food festival for those who love to eat, love to cook and those who get inspired by food.
The Omnivore festival is dedicated to the celebration of “la jeune cuisine” – which is to say, young cuisine. It attracts younger chefs that are on the cutting edge of their field, innovating new methods of cooking or reinventing older classics with a more modern approach.
Omnivore event in Montreal had an incredibly intimate feel to it because you weren’t in an auditorium with hundreds of other people listening to a lecture about food you can barely see up on some stage. The event was focused on cooking demos, where you could really see the chefs at work, up close and personal. Each chef prepared one or more dishes while they talked with the moderator about their approach to cooking, their ingredients and their inspirations. The majority of the participating chefs were local to the area – and the few guest chefs still represented “la jeune cuisine.”
Maple syrup is one of the most delicious things that you can eat, and much of the time we only use it to top waffles and pancakes. There is no doubt that maple syrup is perfect for pancakes, but it can be used for so much more and in Cooking with Quebec Maple Syrup, author Anne Fortin explores the many possibilities of maple.
The cookbook is packed with more than 60 recipes recipes that either feature maple or use it as a major component. It starts out with traditional recipes, both sweet and savory, that have been associated with maple syrup and the actual harvesting season for decades. This includes recipes like Maple Taffy on Snow, which is a long-time classic of the “sugaring shack”, and Baked Pork and Beans. Other chapters include Fruits & Vegetables, Meats, Poultry, Fish, Desserts and Drinks. You’ll see maple syrup used in familiar ways – such as glazing meats and sweetening up squash purees – and in ways that may be less familiar, adding sweetness and a depth of flavor to meat pies, salad dressing and all kinds of baked goods. If you start with one, it should probably be the Old Fashioned Maple Syrup Pie, which is a sweet pie where maple syrup is the star. The introduction to the book also gives a short history of maple syrup production and a look into how maple went from a barely-know local specialty to a world wide favorite.
The photos in the book are beautiful and all of the dishes look mouthwatering. There are a few extremely charming vintage photos that show scenes of the sugar harvest from earlier in the last century, as well. Quebec is the largest maple producing region in the world and maple is definitely well-loved by the residents, and this book really gives you a sense of why once you see how versatile (and how delicious) maple syrup can be.
The author of the book runs a fantastic bookshop, Librarie Gourmande at the Jean Talon Market in Montreal that specializes in cookbooks. You can pick up copies of this book online, but if you are in the neighborhood by any chance, you can also pick one up at the store and have Anne sign it for you before taking it home to cook with.
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.
Montreal is a fun city for a weekend getaway, packing in plenty of beautiful and historic sites, as well as lots of good food. You could easily spend a week in the city, enjoying the slightly slower pace of life and the many festivals that they host throughout the year, but it isn’t always easy to take a long vacation and there are times when you need to pack a little more into a shorter time frame. Fortunately, while it isn’t always possible to try every great bistro in the city, it is very easy to try some of the foods that the city is best known for in a short time period.
My foodie day in Montreal starts off with bagels. Montreal is known for their bagels and there is quite a rivalry between bagel lovers there and in NYC. St Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel (263 St Viateur W. and 74 Ave. Fairmount W.) are the two best places to pick up a real Montreal bagel. These two shops never close their doors and bake 24-7, 365 days a year. The bagels are all hand-rolled, boiled briefly in a slightly sweet wash, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Both bagel shops have their supporters (I personally like the Fairmount bagels), but you can’t go wrong with a bagel that is straight from the oven at either place. You can pick up cream cheese or lox, but they don’t need anything when the chewy sesame bagels are still piping hot and fresh.