Some cities are synonymous with a certain kind of food. Philadelphia has their cheese steaks and St. Louis has their ribs, for example. Most of the time, these foods represent the traditional cooking traditions of the people who originally settled or immigrated into the area. Sometimes they are instead the product of recent happy accidents which experienced a surge of popularity and put themselves on the map. Montreal, with its influx of residents from many different cultures all around the world, in combination with French Canadian cultural heritage is a definite mixture of the two.
There are a few popular foods that are unique to Montreal and Quebec, yet still maintain a link to the past. The most obvious of these is maple syrup, which is made by tapping the sap from maple trees and then boiling it until it has reached a thick, sweet consistency. Maple syrup is consumed as a condiment on everything from bacon to pancakes, and candy, taffy and butter are also popular variations on this food. Baked beans are also a traditional Montreal staple, and can be eaten at breakfast, lunch or diner, usually with either a healthy dollop of maple syrup or pork fat.
Shepherd’s pie, or ‘pate Chinois’ rounds out the list of traditional Montreal foods. Despite the name, this combination of meat covered in potatoes and peas has been around since the early days of colonization.
Foods That Came To Us
Interestingly, two of Montreal’s most recognizable culinary contributions were not homegrown. Bagels were brought to North America by Eastern European immigrants who arrived on our shores in the late 1800’s. Montreal has long been home to a sizeable Jewish population, and their traditional bagels quickly became an important food staple in the diet of Montrealers – so much so that the city became famous for the quality and ubiquity of its bagels.
Smoked meat has a similar history. This deliciously fatty beef is also a contribution from the Hebrew community in Montreal, and restaurants like Schwartz’s and the now-departed Ben’s have made this meat their own. The Montreal style of cooking and serving smoked meat has become notorious around the world.
Foods That Came Out Of Nowhere
Finally, perhaps the most bizarre Montreal-specific food is poutine. This decadent combination of french fries, thick gravy and curd cheese has puzzled food historians for years as to its exact origin, with a few books even been written about the subject. Over the past 20 years, poutine has morphed from its simple beginnings into a veritable universe of different versions, with meat sauces, expensive cheeses and of course smoked meat all finding their way onto the plate of poutine-craving Montrealers.
Montreal Foods Of The Future?
Given that Montreal has a tradition of adopting and popularizing the culinary traditions of its immigrant population, one has to wonder which food will be the next to be stamped with the Montreal seal of approval and then sent out into the world at large. The two strongest contenders would have to be either Lebanese food, which is extremely popular as both a quick snack and a full meal, or Greek Souvlaki. Time will tell if enough momentum will gather behind either to stitch them into the city’s permanent menu.