Québec is renowned for its regional foods from le terroir (“the region”). Everything from foie gras to organic vegetables is available dans la belle province. Happily, fresh local fare is easy to find at bustling farmers’ markets. One of the best things to do in Montreal is to try the superb cuisine. There are more than 5,500 restaurants in Montréal alone. I will mention a few of the best restaurants in Montreal later.
Tip: Don’t be concerned if you don’t speak French – my husband Eric and I have lived here 25 years and aren’t fluently bilingual! A smile bridges language challenges and many residents speak English.
Montreal farmers markets
Eric’s and my favourite foodie hangouts are Montréal’s vibrant farmers’ markets.
Dating from 1933, this is North America’s largest open-air market during June through October.
We love it because of Marché des Saveurs du Québec which sells Québec products.
Find maple-wood smoked venison, maple products (Québec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world), tourtière (meat pies), blueberry and other preserves plus much, much more.
Tip: Maison des Vins & Boissons artisanales du Québec presents liqueurs, microbrewery beers, wine and cider made in Québec. Don’t miss tasting ice cider.
Ice cider is produced from apples which freeze on the trees prior to harvesting and processing. Freezing concentrates the sugars, hence, these ciders are velvety and flavourful.
Look for Neige Cidre de Glace (Snow Ice Cider) – our all-time favourite. It is made at La Face Cachée de la Pomme, an orchard found just south of Montréal, in the beautiful, rural Montérégie region.
Atwater, also founded in 1933, is in a historic Art Deco building. Here sample some of Québec’s gold-medal artisanal cheeses, bread, and meats which include dried sausages, smoked fish, and duck confit.
If you’re a cheese aficionado, visit Fromagerie Atwater, an Old-World-style cheese shop. Try Cendrillon, a goat cheese covered in black ash.
Equally delicious, Pied de Vent (foot of the wind) is made in Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a windswept archipelago in Québec north of Prince Edward Island.
Made from “Canadienne” cows (a rare breed), it’s a truly Canadian cheese!
Tip: Take your camera. Atwater has the largest flower selection in the city so the colours are mesmerising.
Best restaurants in Montreal
Here are our top picks of the best restaurants in Montréal.
1- Au pied de Cochon
A local hangout for Québec’s heart-stopping indulgence, poutine (poo-teen). What’s that? Take hand-cut French fried potatoes.
Put melted cheese curds on top. Pour on homemade gravy. Delicious. Au pied de cochon offers sinfully extravagant foie-gras poutine.
2- Les Filles du Roy at Maison Pierre du Calvet
Perhaps the most historic old inn (1725) in the Montréal’s Old Port houses what we believe is the most romantic restaurant.
Choose le terroir gastronomic menu.
We first tasted organic lamb from Québec’s Charlevoix region here; it’s particularly tasty because the animals graze on grass that’s salt-enriched, because of the sea breezes from “la mer.”
That’s what the Québecois call the St. Lawrence River, whose waters are salty here, where that mighty river widens to eventually join the Atlantic.
Even more upscale, Montréal boasts twoRelais & Châteaux tables: Europea and also, Toqué.
At Toqué, discover why co-owner, chef Normand Laprise is considered the pioneer of new Québec cuisine – for which he was appointed a Knight – the highest honour the Québec gives to anyone.
These ideas only touch the surface of fine cuisine and good eats in Montréal… We’ve not mentioned, for instance, the bring your own wine restaurants, the experimental FoodLab, which changes its cuisine monthly…
Foodie events abound here, too: for a complete list of culinary events, workshops and more, visit Montréal Culinary Events and Tours.
First Nations Gardens
Montréal’s Botanical Gardens
On the less-known foodie path, visit Montréal’s Botanical Gardens (Espace pour la vie) where you can visit the unusual First Nations Garden.
Learn how Canada’s native peoples grew the three sisters (corn, beans, squash), and discover medicinal, culturally significant (spiritual), and other food plants such as cedar, hazelnut, maidenhair fern, and lingonberry.
Quebec Traditional Foods
There’s nothing like biting into a fresh bagel, hot from the oven, especially so in Montreal. Montreal’s first bagel recipes were brought to the city by Jewish settlers from Poland in the 1900s.
Over the last decade, making bagels has evolved into an art form and consuming them has become a religion.
St-Viateur Bagels has been in business since 1957 and is a favourite haunt of Celine Dion.
Their ovens work 24 hours a day seven days a week and they sell over 1,000 dozen bagels a day. Each bagel is hand rolled and baked in a wood-burning oven.
Fairmount Bagel Bakery was the first to open in Montreal in 1919 and sells more than 20 different varieties of bagels.
Fairmount’s bagels went to outer space when Canadian astronaut Gregory Chamitoff packed 18 sesame bagels for his expedition to the International Space Station in 2008.
In the Jewish area of Boulevard Saint-Laurent, which is a historic artery connecting Montreal’s ethnic enclaves and the immigrant corridor where Jewish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese and Greek immigrants first settled, Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen is a favourite local hangout for smoked meat on rye.
The smoked meat, which is marinated for ten days and smoked daily, is prepared the old-fashioned way using a recipe of herbs and spices that has been in existence since 1928.
The province of Quebec consumes more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world and the sugar shack experience is an essential cultural experience here.
In Quebec in winter, people flock to sugar shacks (cabane à sucre) to fill up on sausages, baked beans and scrambled eggs covered with a generous coating of sticky-sweet maple syrup.
The experience often includes traditional music played during the meal, a much-needed walk through the maple forest after the meal and eating hot maple taffy on fresh snow.
Maple taffy stands can be found in the markets and there are hundreds of sugar shacks within driving distance of Montreal’s city centre.
A dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, poutine is a fast food that was invented in Quebec in the 1950s.
You’ll find poutine everywhere in Montreal, including inventive poutine creations such as butter chicken poutine, Greek poutine and donut poutine with duck gravy.
The best time to get your chops into poutine tasting is during Montreal Poutine Week in February.
Old Montreal Restaurants
If it’s your first time in Montreal, you’ll want to stay in Old Montreal. The good news is there are plenty of wonderful restaurants in the historic quarter.
Taverne Gaspar offers comfort food inspired by the British Gastro Pub tradition with French and Quebecois accents. House specialties are scallops with pork belly and butterflied Cornish hen.
Barocco has a rich atmosphere and a menu of meat dishes, such as a steak with chimichurri that ranks among the best in town, as well as studied full-course meals such as guinea hen with cognac and truffle sauce, with purple potatoes and manchego.
Olive + Gourmando is a top spot for breakfast or lunch. Here are some more suggestions on things to do in Montreal from local Instagrammer @yellowillow.
Did you know Hugh Jackman’s favourite pie shop is in Montreal?
When in Quebec, it’s worth visiting Quebec City, which is around 250km from Montreal and has a fun winter carnival.