We were recently in Montreal for a few days. It was a wonderful trip despite the grey weather (and a nightmarish travel day to end it after we missed our early morning nonstop flight back to Minneapolis). We hung out with some old friends who work there, walked around the city and saw a couple of really good exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts (one on Toulouse-Lautrec and another on Robert Mapplethorpe). And we ate some very good food. When it comes to food in the French vein, traditional and contemporary, there is probably no better city in North America than Montreal. There certainly isn’t a better city for bakeries and patisseries. I’m going to start my report though not with a bakery or a restaurant but with a visit we made on the morning of our second day there to the famous Jean-Talon market. In case you don’t know, Montreal has a number of public markets that combine traditional farmers’ markets with restaurants/food stands and various purveyors of cheese, pastry, meat, fish etc. And Jean-Talon is the most renowned of these markets.
We took the metro from the Downtown area down to Jean-Talon station and it’s a very short walk from there to the market. (Both the station and the market are named for the street they’re on.) If you’re thinking that late October is really no time to go to a mostly outdoor market in Montreal, well, you’re both right and wrong. It was a chilly and moist day but at this time of year there are enclosures put around much of the market making it a semi-indoor market. There were a large number of flower and produce vendors on our visit who were still outdoors (under tarps) but most of the market was completely indoors—the food purveyors certainly all were—and it was dry and warm there. Not having been there in the spring or summer I can’t speak to what it looks like then, and nor do I know what it’s like in the dead of winter, but I can tell you that late October is a perfectly fine time to go to Jean-Talon.
This is true even if you are staying at a hotel and don’t have a kitchen at hand. This because the food there is worth a trip in its own right: in particular, as good as our formal meals on the trip were, the oysters at La Boîte aux Huîtres were among the highlights. (I’m not saying that a trip to Montreal is worth it for the food at Jean-Talon; I’m saying if you’re in Montreal you should go to Jean-Talon and walk around the market and eat no matter what the season.) That said, if you do have a kitchen at hand (if you’re doing the Airbnb thing—which we were not) you’ll be very happy as the fish, meat, cheese and mushrooms on hand are of an order you can’t find at American farmers’ markets, and certainly not for these prices. As far as the vegetables and fruit go, if you have an excellent famers’ market near you (like the Santa Monica farmers’ market, for example) you probably won’t be over-impressed by Jean-Talon’s offerings in that area.
I took a lot of pictures. So many that putting them all up in one post will make for a gallery so large that even I will be fatigued by the thought of looking at them. Accordingly, I am dividing my Jean-Talon report into two parts. This first part will cover everything except the places we ate at; the next report will cover the places we ate at (that will follow in a few days or a week). I generally avoided getting in the way of actual paying customers and so with some exceptions these are not the best photographs of all the available wares. I hope the pictures will give you a sense of the market though—and if you’re a Montrealer who can fill in more information, correct any errors or make recommendations, I invite you to please do so in the comments.
That’s it for the first report. I should emphasize that this is far from an exhaustive report on the vendors and food outlets at Jean-Talon. There were many, many more that I did not photograph: far more produce stands, more cheesemongers, more butchers, more food vendors that we did not patronize. This is because I couldn’t photograph everything. I’ve probably missed a number of iconic vendors/counters/stands, and if so please let us know which those are. Even if I don’t get to go back to Montreal anytime soon, it will be of use to others reading this post.
Coming up soon: the food we ate at Jean-Talon and the counters where we got it.