Guest writer: Eve Kitching
North America is all about diversity, whether you call it the “melting pot” south of the Canada-US border or the “mosaic” to the north of it, from coast to coast in every cosmopolitan city there lays a beautiful tapestry of harmonious communities who have passed down the traditions of their native country from generation to generation.
From the bustling Chinatowns to the Jewish delis, the real charm of North America is engrained in the flourishing boroughs and districts that rejuvenate old ways with the new world. The result of this marriage is a bountiful and eclectic integration of exuberant festivals, refreshing fashions, and incredible, palate-seducing food.
On the Move
This year Canada’s cultural capital has reintroduced the food truck: aka “street food.” Montreal has been busy. While vamping up its already vibrant festival season, it’s got a new planetarium to boot as well. But the prospect of yet another great cuisine endeavour, provided it runs successfully, tastes irresistible. It is a commercial venture which can only enrich an already impressive legacy in fantastic cuisine.
But there is more to Montreal than food – ranking 8th in the world’s top 10 travel cities of 2013 by the Lonely Planet, the cosmopolitan hub has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment, and staying there has never been easier. Montreal’s excellent selection of hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts make it an affordable place to stay for tourists and backpackers alike, whether you prefer the downtown core or surrounding neighbourhoods. An efficient, user-friendly public transport system including a newly developed bicycle network and a compact layout makes travel within the city fairly easy. Flights and transfers to Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport are frequent and good bargains can be found on tickets when booked in advance, as well as on tailored travel insurance policies, and the city has a good tourism information network placed to help travellers find their way. Largely fluent in English as well as French, it is a safe, welcoming, and friendly destination. So make time to check your taste buds and surrender to the many delights of Montreal’s gastric heaven.
Student Ghetto and the Quartier-Latin/Plateau: Urban Heartbeat
Just east of Canada’s most prized academic institution, McGill University, there lies a couple blocks known as “the Student Ghetto.” Actually, there is nothing ghetto about it – it’s just urban slang. What you’ll actually find – between the odd skyscraper – are colourful, bay-windowed apartments with terraces and winding stairs, a characteristic which has come to define the cityscape. You’ll also find some of the best kept cuisine secrets like Italian restaurant Amelio’s on Rue Milton, responsible for the most mouth-watering slice of five-cheese pizza you’ll ever know. Its amazing menu, quick delivery service and excellent prices make it the grand savior of hungry students, especially for those pulling long all-nighters.
Travel a little further east and you’ll run into Juliette et Chocolat on Blvd. St. Laurent and Rue Prince Arthur – a quickly-growing establishment entirely devoted to the rapturous world of chocolate. Crepes and desserts galore, every mouth is a meal unto itself. It is best to fast beforehand. Travel up towards Mount Royal and you will come across legendary Hebrew deli Schwartz’s, a smoked meat palace that has kept its vintage décor and often sees long-line ups outside it doors every weekend. Just a little further, and you have St. Viateur Bagel, which is in the running with New York for creating the most delicious bagels to date.
Should you return to Prince Arthur, the entire street past St. Laurent turns from road into one long terrace, illuminated by lights, dancers, musicians, and restaurants from all over the world – perfect for a summer evening. Even further on Rue St. Denis, which is a street of perpetual patios and colourful windows, several restaurants and cafes beckon in either direction, including the trendy Turkish Café Gitana (shisha, tea, and foodextraordinaire). Bistro a Jojo always has a strain of classic wailing blues pouring out the window, and the Distillerie serves up some swanky, eclectic cocktails in a multitude of flavours.
Rue Ste. Catherine and Rue Crescent: A Beautiful Blend of French and English Cool
One of the longest commercial strips in the world, Rue Ste. Catherine is similar to St. Laurent in that it has just about everything from everywhere. Bright lights, big glassy structures, old churches, new clubs – all make up the unique persona of this gritty, beautiful street. From the cafes that serve up a stellar breakfast into the early hours of the morn after an electric night out clubbing in the Gay Village, to the glam establishments of the downtown business district, you won’t be without. Check out the animated 3 Amigos for some delicious drink, Tex Mex food and a great atmosphere; if you love eggs, check out Eggspectation a little further up on Rue Maisonneuve. For something a little different, there is O.Noir – featuring a diverse menu and served entirely in the dark, it is an experience you won’t want to miss. Travel west, and you will find premium jazz sounds at Upstairs Jazz Club; if you miss the pub atmosphere, head to Rue Crescent for some authentic British and Irish establishments like Thursdays.
If it is market produce that you enjoy, the Atwater Market is famed for its excellent selection of produce and is a grand rival to the Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy.
Old World, New Ways
Further down, you will pass through Chinatown – the best stop for gourmet dumplings, fine sushi, and silky bubble tea. It’s a great detour for making your way to the Vieux-Port – the largest cargo port in North America. Gorgeous architecture adorns the cobbled streets that wind around the parks and lead to Place Jacques-Cartier, a plaza which explodes in summer with terraces and live music. There are several amazing places to eat here before you catch a show at the Big Top with the local Cirque du Soleil, if you crave a refined serving of cheese-coated escargot or cream cheese and smoked salmon, or want to go tourist and try the excessively sweet beaver tail or savoury poutine. Either way, the experience of fulfilling one’s palate is made complete, combining heavenly taste sensations with aesthetic surroundings (such as the Jardin Nelson) to achieve the height of dining or snacking pleasure.
The World Eats to Live; the French Live to Eat
Of course there are several more establishments worthy of finding themselves on any guide to Montreal. Every year new restos find their way into the mix that makes the city buzz, raising the stakes in making the region’s best coffee and crepes or serving up new platters to challenge the eager connoisseur. From coast to continent Montreal has got the perfect dish to satisfy everyone, and now that the city is letting loose and putting some of those platters on wheels, its menu just got a whole lot bigger and better.