Food in Quebec
Montreal is a great food city, full of excellent restaurants, and food from all over the world. But we also have our own special foods that you won’t find anywhere else in Canada or North America.
Fast Food Snack
Poutine is a high-fat, high-salt, high-calorie fast food snack. Some people think it is disgusting, but millions of Quebeckers (and visitors) love it. There are different kinds with different sauces and meats, and you can get it in almost any small, independent fast-food restaurant in the city.
There is a famous 24-hour poutine restaurant in Montreal called La Banquise. They have 30 kinds of poutine. It is at 994 Rachel Street East near Lafontaine Park.
Poutine is everywhere in Quebec, and it is spreading to other parts of Canada, but it doesn’t have a long history. There are many stories about who invented it, but one of the most popular is that it was first made in 1957 in the small town of Warwick, northeast of Montreal.
Fresh Cheese Curds
A good poutine must have freshly made French fries that are hot and not too oily, and gravy that has a good flavour. The most important ingredient is the cheese curds. Cheese curds are freshly made white cheddar cheese grains. It is very important that they are made the same day. You can usually buy today’s cheese curds in supermarkets, but they are not refrigerated. You can tell if they are fresh by the “squeak” when you bite them. If they are too old, they don’t “squeak” on your teeth.
Another Montreal specialty is smoked meat [viande fumée]. It is beef that has been spiced and smoked.
It is similar to a deli meat in New York called pastrami. It originates from the Jewish immigrants who came to Montreal around a hundred years ago. Tourists in the city often want to have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich when they are here. It is usually served warm and sliced in a thick sandwich on rye bread and with mustard.
Maple syrup is famous all over the world for its sweet taste and beautiful amber colour. Over 75% of the world’s maple syrup is made in Quebec from the sugar maple trees (there is a maple leaf on the flag of Canada).
What is Maple Syrup?
Like all trees, maple trees have sap (liquid) inside them. In the spring, when the temperatures get above freezing (0° C), the sap in the sugar maples starts to move inside the tree. If you make a hole in the tree, the sap will run out into a bucket. If you collect a lot of the liquid sap, and then boil it for many hours, it is reduced to maple syrup.
Real maple syrup is very sweet and delicious, and it is expensive. It is normal to pay between $7.00 to $10.00 for a can of syrup, with the price changing every year because each year’s harvest is different. The lighter grades are usually more expensive, too.
Quebeckers have made many different treats with maple syrup – maple sugar, maple butter, maple candy, and sugar pie. Sugar pie is a favourite traditional dessert in Quebec.
A popular springtime tradition is to go “sugaring off” at a sugar shack [cabane à sucre]. Most sugar shacks are in small towns outside the city. They show visitors how to make maple syrup the traditional way, and they make maple taffee by pouring hot, thick syrup on the snow to cool it.
This is followed by a big, traditional Quebec meal with ham, bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, pea soup, pork rinds [oreilles de crisse], and maple sugar pie. In most sugar shacks, there is usually traditional Quebec folk music and dancing after lunch. If you get a chance to go sugaring off, you get an idea of traditional Quebec culture.
You can learn more about maple syrup production, culture and health benefits here: Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
Montrealers love their bagels, and they will always tell you Montreal bagels are better than the bagels from other cities like New York.
Fairmount or Saint Viateur
Montrealers usually have a favourite bagel shop in the Mile End neighbourhood: Fairmount Bagel (74 Fairmount West, near the corner of Saint Urbain Map) or Saint Viateur Bagel (263 St. Viateur West, near the corner of Jeanne-Mance Map).
How To Eat
A real Montreal bagel is baked in a wood-fired oven after the dough has been boiled in water. Montreal bagels are chewier and denser than the other bread “bagels” you sometimes find in supermarkets. The most popular kinds are sesame seed and poppy seed.
When they are fresh and still warm, they are delicious to eat plain. You can slice them and toast them in a toaster. People love to put cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers or onions on a half bagel for a special breakfast or lunch.