Montréal, je t’adore: Jean Talon Market
Bonjour! It’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning, so what does this usually signal? Why grocery shopping or going to the farmers market, of course! 🙂
When I was living in Montreal, one of the most bustling spots to be on weekend mornings was at le marché. There are several good ones in the city, but the one I used to frequent the most was the famous Jean Talon Market. Even though it was crazy on Saturday mornings, it was a real spectacle, like going to the fair or attending the circus. You’d hear the vendors calling out to you in French ‘to step right up’ and try their deliciously fresh produce. (Needless to say, no one needed much coaxing!)
One such produce kiosk I remember very well was the Tomato Man’s. Everyone knew he had the best tomatoes, and he was always first on the list of stops whenever I would accompany my aunt on those busy Saturday mornings. You couldn’t just buy the tomatoes either. Oh non, that would be très impoli indeed! You had to stop and sample the perfectly cut up slices he would display so beautifully on a plate, and of course, compliment him on how good they tasted (which they always did).
Although I am not a vegetarian per se, I do tend to eat very little meat. I like it (though mostly avoid red meat), but I find I can’t eat it as often as I once did; it’s just too filling. I do enjoy fish, however, (halibut is probably my favourite, but it’s expensive so remains a treat) at least weekly and used to buy my fish at a great Lebanese fish market in Montreal (Sirène de la mer); thankfully, I have found another great fishmonger in Ottawa (The Pelican).
But getting back to the vegetable scene at the Jean Talon Market, my favourite items to pick up were haricots (green or yellow), peppers (all variety of colors), corn on the cob (the peaches & cream variety), baby carrots, green asparagus, beets (golden beets are especially delicious!), and fresh (unshelled) peas. A word about peas: you can’t beat the taste of fresh peas. As a bonus, if you like popping bubble wrap, you will love popping peas out of their pods. It’s so much fun! I can still remember those summers spent at our seaside family cottage as a little girl and how much fun I used to have helping my mom and nanna shell all those peas for a big, extended family supper that evening. To this day, I gladly volunteer to shuck/shell peas. 🙂
When it came to fruit at the Jean Talon Market, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. (You’d think I was feeding a family of twelve — not an uncommon size, however, for a francophone family ‘back in the day’ in Quebec.) I particularly loved picking up melons (cantaloupe or watermelon), fresh quarts of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, Bing cherries, peaches, wild blueberries (if you’ve never tried the wild variety, you are in for a treat: they may be small, but they are mighty in flavor; unmatched by other varieties, in my opinion), pineapple, Ataulfo (yellow) mangos, and seedless grapes (red or green).
When I was living in Montreal, my uncle got me into fresh pineapple (and showed me how to spot the juiciest, sweetest ones). He also introduced me to those sweet yellow mangos (once you go yellow, you’ll never go back). My brother-in-law agrees. He spent part of his childhood in Jamaica, where mangoes are plentiful. He fondly remembers picking mangoes right off the trees as a treat upon his return home from school.
After spending all my money at this carnival-esque visual feast — along with sampling a few amuse-bouches here and there — I would inevitably return home, arms loaded with bags full of bounty, having been completely seduced by the freshness and colors of all the fruits and vegetables — not to mention, herbs (Mmmm… Smell that fresh basil!..), dark chocolate, gelato, crème glacée artisanale (Havre aux Glaces is a must-stop), and those wonderful miches campagnards from my favourite Montreal boulangerie (Première Moisson). It’s a good thing I was (and still am) a runner! Now if you’ll excuse me, all this food talk has made me hungry. Bon appétit! 🙂