Heading north to Montreal this summer? If you’re not, you should be.
Aside from being the three months out of the year when the city doesn’t look like a snow globe, summertime is festival time in Montreal. From June until mid-September, the newly laid-out Place des Festivals is aglow with lights, sounds, crowds, music and film.
The more well-known events, like Francofolies, a two-week tribute to French culture in Canada and abroad, and the Montreal Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 34th anniversary this year and has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin, have just ended, but that’s no reason to cancel.
All that partying tends to give one hunger pangs, and Montreal is happy to help relieve them. You’ve probably heard of poutine, the heart-attack inducing combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds, but what of Montreal’s Jewish food scene? Like the city itself, its Jewish fare is defined by the blend of English-speaking Ashkenazi heritage complete with a French-speaking Sephardic twist.
From juicy smoked meat to melt-in-your-mouth North African sweets, there’s something for everyone. If you’re new to the city, check out the map below to plan your post-festival food crawl.
Late Night Smoked Meat: Schwartz’s Deli
No Montreal night out is complete without a trip to Schwartz’s. Even at 3 a.m. (closing time for bars in the city), you will find a line snaking out the front door and onto the street, while tourists and locals alike wait to fill their bellies with smoked meat (the Canadian answer to pastrami).
Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, the “charcuterie hebraique” (Hebrew Delicatessen) is the oldest deli in the city, and has occupied a prime spot on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, a.k.a. “The Main,” for more than 80 years.
Each smoked meat establishment jealously guards its recipe, complete with a secret blend of herbs and spices. The good news? If you can’t get enough of the juicy blend, it’s now available in travel-friendly packaging in certain supermarkets around Canada.
Disclosure: Though the white-tiled interior and narrow tables stay true to the deli’s origins, the business is no longer under Jewish ownership. In 2012, Rene Angélil, Celine Dion’s husband and a lifelong smoked meat fan, bought the deli from businessman Hy Diamond.
Must Try: Smoked meat sandwich (when asked if you want it lean, the answer is most decidedly no).
3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec, H2W 1X9.
Taim, our favorite falafel shop in New York, is getting a second location. [Grubstreet
A how to guide for how to make Montreal-style smoked meat. Mmmm, our mouths are watering. [Serious Eats]
A restaurant in Lviv, Ukraine touts itself as a “Jewish themed” dinning experiences where hats with peyes are given to its guests, chopped liver is served and diners are asked to haggle over the price. This is perhaps the strangest and one of the more disturbing interpretations of Jewish food we’ve heard about. [Tablet]
The 10 best egg creams in New York. [The Daily Meal]
When Torontonian Zane Caplansky was 16 years old, his then-girlfriend, who was from Montreal, introduced him to the smoked meat of the famed Schwartz’s Delicatessen. Caplansky broke up with that girlfriend many years ago, but his devotion to good deli has been abiding. “My love affair with smoked meat has been long lasting,” he declared.
Now 42, Caplansky, who opened his eponymous Caplansky’s Delicatessen in downtown Toronto a year and a half ago, has wedded his name and reputation to his own version of cured and smoked beef brisket. Not to be confused with corned beef (the pickled and boiled brisket for which Toronto is traditionally known), Montreal smoked meat is more like pastrami — the main difference being that the former is made from brisket and the latter from the tougher navel cut.
When I grew up in Toronto in the 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of my classmates in day school were the children of recent transplants from Montreal, and they brought with them nostalgia for the Jewish foods of their home city like Montreal bagels and smoked meat. But I longed for a Montreal food of a different kind — a Montreal smoked turkey at Passover. Heavily spiced and delicious cold, we ordered them from Montreal and they were the centerpieces of our seders. It was a special treat, not in the least because smoked turkey wasn’t the kind of the thing you could make at home (at least not easily).
The tradition started with my paternal grandfather who was in the shoe business. He started receiving smoked turkeys every year from a customer who gifted hams to his other clients but knew my grandfather kept a kosher home (one year, he sent us a ham by accident). It became an integral part of our Passover dinner table and we continued the tradition for many years.