Visiting the Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal’s Little Italy district, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop; overwhelmed by stall after stall piled with beautiful, fresh, brightly-coloured produce, I didn’t know where to look next.
Punnets of tiny physalis, known locally as cerise de terre (ground cherries) sat next to the last of the season’s blueberries. Bowls of aubergines ranged in colour from the almost-black of a midnight sky through day glow purple to white; the latter a reminder of why Americans call them eggplants. Peppers glistened in traffic light colours of red, orange, yellow and green. Cabbages, leeks and all manner of greens sat next to red and white onions as big as a baby’s head. Teetering piles of plump cantaloupe melons released a heady scent, as did sun-warmed figs. More exotic fruits such as prickly pears, mangoes and papaya vied for attention with grapes, plums and luscious peaches. There were boxes, buckets and baskets of brussels sprouts, green and yellow beans and multi-coloured carrots. Courgette flowers with no hint of a wilt must have been picked just hours before. Ropes of garlic and chilli hung like garlands above the rest. Stall-holders invited shoppers to taste the season’s tomatoes, finally ripened much later in the year than usual.
The majority of the produce was locally grown either in Quebec or neighbouring Ontario, with just a few of the more exotic items sourced from further afield.
Jean-Talon Market, originally known as the Marché du Nord, opened to the public in May 1933. It soon took on the name Jean-Talon after Jean-Talon Street along its northern boundary. The street commemorates Jean Talon, Count d’Orsainville, the first Intendant of New France in 1626 – the French colony that comprised a swathe of modern-day Canada and the United States.
In 2004, renovations provided parking beneath the market and created a semi-enclosed structure to one end of the market space; this now houses speciality food shops. Here you can find a fishmonger, a bakery and various patisseries, a number of butchers and charcuteries, a juice bar and an oyster bar, a maple syrup specialist, a marvellous stall specialising in foraged foods such as wild mushrooms, a fresh pasta maker, a dairy shop, a cheese deli, a sandwich bar (known locally as a brûlerie), an artisan ice cream maker and many, many other delightful delis and shops.
I had a lovely meeting with Arik de Vienne at his family shop, Épices de cru, during which I learned all about how his parents came to source spices from around the world to sell in Montreal. He and his sister have now joined the business, expanded to include her specialist teas and his hand-made ceramics. I’ll be sharing more on Épices de cru soon.
Unlike many farmers markets, Jean-Talon is open year round, albeit vastly smaller in size during the coldest months – in winter the newer permanent area is fully enclosed against the elements and the outdoor fresh produce stalls sit vacant.
During my visit, local shoppers are busy buying groceries, eyeing up produce from different stores to pick the best quality or most keenly priced. In amongst them, foodie tourists like me gawp in utter envy.
Kavey Eats visited Montreal courtesy of Destination Canada, with the assistance of Tourisme Quebec. I was shown the foodie delights of Montreal by Mélissa Simard, founder of Round Table Tours; Mélissa offers a range of guided culinary tours of Montreal.