Top five iconic Montreal foods

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Montreal boasts more restaurants per capita than any other city in Canada – making it a prime contender for the nation’s foodie capital. If you need further proof, check out some of the outstanding eateries participating in the city’s restaurant week, MTLàTABLE, this November. Put simply, Montrealers are obsessed with food. So it’s no wonder the city has developed distinct dishes of its own. Let’s take a delicious stroll through five iconic Montreal foods.

1. Montreal Bagels

Montreal bagels are – yes – better than New York City bagels. There, we said it. Thinner, denser and sweeter, and with no salt, Montreal bagels are hand-rolled, blanched in honey water and always baked in a wood-fired oven. In the hip Mile End neighbourhood, you’ll find the city’s two most famous bagel places about a block apart. St. Viateur Bagel (263 Rue Saint Viateur W.) has been producing 12,000 bagels daily since 1957, and Fairmount Bagel (74 Avenue Fairmount W.) has been at it since 1949. The line-ups at each place tell you all you need to know, but it’s oh so worth it when you sink your teeth into one of their fresh, doughy circles of hand-rolled heaven.

2. Smoked meat

Sweeter than pastrami and distinct from corned beef, these smoky, sweet-and-salty sandwiches are piled high with tender, finely marbled brisket bulging between two slices of rye with a smear of yellow mustard. And while there are many places in Montreal to get a good smoked meat sandwich, you have to go to Schwartz’s (3895 Saint Laurent Blvd.). Since 1928 this legendary deli has been serving their preservative-free, hand-sliced brisket that’s marinated for 10 days in herbs and spices before being smoked. Add some fries and a Cherry Coke, and you and your companions can savour a classic Montreal smoked meat experience.

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3. Poutine

Though traditional poutine consists of fries, fresh cheese curds and gravy, there are now enough variations on the basic recipe to make a poutine purist pop. La Banquise (994 Rue Rachel E.), in the borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, offers more than 30 varieties. Try La Boogalou, with pulled pork, coleslaw and sour cream. For a more up-scale experience, try Au Pied de Cochon (536 Avenue Duluth E.), where chef Martin Picard launched the idea of haute poutine. His foie gras poutine in unbeatable; a rich and bold offering topped with a cream sauce fortified with foie gras and egg yolks, crowned with cheese curds and singed nuggets of foie gras. Haute stuff!

4. Wilensky’s Special

Revered by locals and international chefs alike, Wilensky’s (34 Fairmount Ave. W.) is a modest Mile End lunch counter still going strong after more than 84 years. The main draw at Wilensky’s is The Special, a grilled sandwich with slices of salami and baloney pressed between pieces of sweet egg bread, topped with cheese and a hint of mustard. But like other institutions, this one has rules: The mustard is mandatory, never ask for mayo or ketchup, and don’t even think about getting it sliced in half. At Wilensky’s you just don’t mess with tradition.

5. The steamé

Steamed hot dogs are a Montreal and Quebec casse-croute (snack bar) restaurant tradition. Known locally as a steamé (“steamie” in English), these simple, after-hours staples are usually top-loaded in one of three ways: All-dressed (mustard, chopped onion, sometimes relish, and either coleslaw or chopped cabbage), Michigan style (meat chili sauce or spaghetti sauce) or Supreme (bacon and cheese). For a classic Montreal steamé, head to the venerable Montreal Pool Room (1217 Saint Laurent Blvd.), in operation since 1912, or try Chez Ma Tante (3180 Rue Fleury E.), another steamé standout that’s been around for 75 years.

What about you? Are you a passionate poutine proponent? A smoked meat samurai? Which of these iconic Montreal foods is your favourite?

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