Now that the city is opening up again, visitors and locals alike want to know more about where to go and what to eat. Our holy trinity of bagels, smoked meat, and poutine is easy to explore; we’ve got the scoop on that. But for those keen to delve deeper into local food culture — native Montrealers, new arrivals, and visitors alike — an afternoon or evening spent on a food walk with a savvy guide is a chance to learn (and taste) more.
These tours are run by Montrealers obsessed with the city’s food scene. You can sign on to be part of a group or set up a private tour (for any occasion), usually for two or more. Here are some picks of the best options that focus on keeping it small and connected to the community.
Spade and Palacio’s co-founders worked as accredited tour guides for years before taking the plunge with their own business. “We got tired of wearing uniforms and spewing scripts,” says Danny Pavlopolous. He and Anne-Marie Pellerin offer various small group, unscripted tours by bike and on foot, focusing on art, architecture, history, and food. Their Beyond the Market tour is a three-hour exploration of the area surrounding Jean-Talon Market, with an emphasis on local small businesses.
Tastings start with Salvadoran pupusas in the Latino neighbourhood east of the market, followed by a visit to the Jean-Talon Market for cheese, charcuterie, ice cream, and whatever else looks good: a short exploration break is included. From there, it’s off to a third-wave coffee roaster, finishing up with a southern fried chicken picnic in the Parc de la Petite Italie, weather permitting. “We knew people would come to the market, but wouldn’t necessarily explore too much nearby,” says Anne-Marie. “And that’s important.” They give a curated list of their favourite neighbourhood haunts to all visitors (plus a branded bag for market shopping) to ensure that participants know exactly where to go next time.
Chinatown offers a compact zone for tasting a range of regional Chinese flavours, and Victor Yu’s tour is a perfect introduction. The indefatigable Yu offers a three-hour tour peppered with information about the history of Montreal’s Chinatown and its food lore. Booked through Airbnb as a Montreal experience, Yu tailors his tours to his visitors’ interests, dietary preferences, and the level of spice they can tolerate.
A typical tour might start with bao — airy Chinese buns filled with various sweet or savoury fillings — and move on to a Cantonese barbecue stall, followed by a sit-down at a local restaurant. From there it’s some Lanzhou noodles or a spun sugar candy demonstration, Hong Kong bubble waffles, or perhaps a salty, crunchy Chinese pancake snack. The attraction of Yu’s tours — a physicist by training — is his thorough explanation of ingredients, his knowledge of various Chinese cuisines, and even his tips for the best tea to drink after too much fried food.
The Museum of Jewish Montreal has been offering historically informed food tours for the past eight years. Setting off from Mile End bakery Cheskie’s (complete with a tasting of its cheese-crown danish), the four-hour tour wends its way down Avenue Parc to the Main, sampling bagels, the iconic Wilensky special, traditional rye bread at Hof Kelsten, pickles at the site of Mrs. Whyte’s original factory, and smoked meat at Schwartz’s.
The information-rich itinerary is as dense and chewy as a fresh bagel: who knew that Moishes’ origins are in part due to a failed gambling bet, or that the Fairmont Bagel building was owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for decades? The tour’s trajectory offers poignant insights into a community whose street vendors, horse delivery carts, and markets have now disappeared.
Award-winning Montreal blogger Mayssam Samaha has been sharing her insights into Montreal’s food scene for the past nine years, winning accolades along the way from Saveur magazine, among others. Samaha shares her love of the Jean-Talon Market through her own food tours (she’s also a guide for international outfit Context Travel). Samaha can arrange for private tours and moveable feasts tailored to special interests and occasions, such as wine, craft beer, and specific cuisines and foods: think of a curated wander through Little Italy with arancini, bomboloni, pizza al taglio, and coffee.
Samaha adjusts her market tours to the seasons, making stops for including cheeses, ice cider or craft beer, and local specialties that are unique to the market. She wishes that more Montrealers would explore the city through these kinds of guided walks. “If you come with me as a native Montrealer, you’re going to know where to buy the best cheese, the best fish, the best charcuterie,” she says. “It’s okay to ask questions, to talk to the vendors, to find out what’s next, crop-wise. Then when those people come back, they can build on their relationship with the vendors — and it can become their own market, too.”
A day with Melissa Simard, the owner and lead tour guide of ‘Round Table Tours, offers a window into several key food cultures in the city. She’s been doing her (very filling) Jewish Montreal and Chinatown tours for the past ten years, sharing how history, immigration, and identity play a role in the these food worlds. Newer tours on her roster are deep dives into the city’s chocolate makers, coffee brewers, tea steepers, distillers, and mixologists; and green initiatives — some available to the public and some upon special request for groups.
Simard’s tours reflect her own interests in Montreal’s diverse communities: She has an Honours degree in Canadian Studies, worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years, is an accredited tour guide, and by her own account is still “digging and learning.” Her customers range from Montrealers wanting to know the city better, bachelor parties, family groups, and just regular visitors who want to learn more about exactly who makes our city’s food world tick.