Montreal post 1: Bagels and Borscht


I’m back in Canada again. Don’t ask, it’ll just make you sad. And strangely – instead of being in Toronto with my family, I’m in Montreal (a city I lived in for five years … five years ago) having a mini-vacation. Again, don’t ask – suffice to say, in two days I’m heading to Toronto to take care of some sad family affairs.

But for now, I’m making lemonade with lemons, visiting old friends and old eating favourites, and it’s interesting to hunt down my previous tried and true eating experiences on a cold, 5-year-old trail. This seems to have affected bar selection most, but I had a few nasty surprises when I tried to track down that old hole-in-the-wall eating place only to find it closed. Fortunately, there appear to be some institutions that continue to stand the test of time.

Any former Montrealer, when returning to the city, immediately sets his or her internal homing beacon towards one thing: BAGELS. True Montreal bagels are baked in one or two shops (although there are many imitators around the city that do relatively good versions): Fairmount or St. Viateur. While there doesn’t appear to be a war between these two bakeries – there seems to be more than enough business to go around – most people tend to prefer one over the other. I ALWAYS go to St. Viateur. … mostly because Fairmount seems to be too crowded whenever I try to expand my horizons or compare.

St. Viateur

See how that bagel man beckons you like a creepy Japanese cat? It is truly a siren call, my friends.

Now, let me add that Montreal bagels differ from New York, or conventional, bagels in many ways. They are much smaller and chewier, they come in only two flavours (poppyseed or sesame) and they are cooked in an old-fashioned wood oven. Many a debate has been fostered over which types of bagels are superior: large numbers of New Yorkers have come to Montreal, seen the wiry, chewy tiny bagels and proudly proclaimed that these were no bagels they could recognise. However, I love Montreal bagels for several reasons: you can taste the old wood oven in the smoky nuttiness of each bagel, and furthermore, they’re the right size. Really, who needs such giant bagels? Last time I was in NYC with N, eating one bagel with cream cheese would leave me stuffed for 5 hours – and plug up the plumbing to boot! No, my friend, Montreal bagels are where it’s at.

Bagel OVen, St. Viateur

Here are the proud workers packing up my dozen sesame bagels and setting up a new line of little dough bagels on those long planks before plunging them into the oven. When the bagels are ready, the oven-man pulls the plank out and dramatically swings it up in a vertical stroke; the bagels fly through the air before landing happily in the bagel-dock. It’s masterful.



They came to me warm from the oven, a golden, delicious and chewy gift from heaven. Thank you, St. Viateur, and thank you Montreal bagels. (I might add that the other wonderful thing about St. Viateur is that it’s open 24 hours a day. I can’t name the number of 4am missions we went on in university in order to get some fresh out of the oven.)

St. Viateur

As I walked away from the bagel shop, I noticed a church having a bazaar. Never one to turn down randomly discovered kitsch, I wandered in only to find this menu:

Menu Bazaar

It was a Ukranian Catholic Church, and it was full of people chowing down. I decided on Borscht, saving my appetite for future adventures. I ordered it with meatballs, and I was given a sweet, steaming mug of bright pink thin borscht with a couple of delicious meatballs hidden at the bottom:


It whetted my appetite for the tastes of Eastern Europe so easily found all over Canada (everyone has a grandmother who makes pierogies, or barring that, a friend’s grandmother who makes pierogies and gives you frozen Ziploc bags full of them) … and I set off down St. Laurent to search for the perfect vareniki (pierogies) … which will have to wait for another post.

Happy Birthday (to me!) and Happy Halloween!

This entry was posted in Neither Here Nor There, Obeisance at the Altar of Gastroporn, Restaurants, Safaris, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Montreal post 1: Bagels and Borscht

  1. VegeYum says:

    Happy birthday to you! Great photos. I enjoyed reading your post. I do hope that life evens out for you soon. Hey, I have eaten pierogies, from one of my E European friends! They were great!

  2. dancingkitchen says:

    Montreal is magic!!! Good for you.

  3. Just came back from Vancouver, Canada a few months ago. I wish I had more time to try out the amazing restaurants we found walking throuhg downtown.

    I know what it’s like to go somewhere years later and your favorite hole in the wall restaurants are closed. My husband and I havel learned to not call a restaurant “ours” since it typically goes out of business if we do.

  4. leena! says:

    I’ve never been to Canada, but judging from your posts, there are plenty of great places to eat, even if they are a bit random. Great post–it makes me hungry!

  5. I agree with you on bagel size! I grew up in Chicago, with delicious normal-sized bagels every Sunday. Making them bigger does not make them better. My favorites are sesame bagels, and your photos are great – the sesame bagel, mouthwatering! Great post and happy birthday!

  6. Debbi says:

    You can order bagels on line from St. Viateur… it is very expensive but if you truly have a craving, this may be your solution. Unfortunately I think their minimum order is 6 dozen, so you either need a friend to share or a big appetite! I know they ship all over Canada, maybe they ship internationally too! I’m tempted to place an order right now.

  7. bageldiaries says:

    I love Montreal bagels, they are the absolute best! My favorite place, Mount Royal Bagel Bakery is home to Montreal’s finest bagels. Far superior to St.Viateur and you can order them as well. Mount Royal Bagel will ship to anywhere. For a more reasonable rate, you can get a better product. Call their toll free # (1-877-LEBAGEL) What are you waiting for?

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