I was the only ten year old girl with a tanned Moroccan complexion, long pitch black hair, and a subtle French accent. I was the only kid who ate Foxy’s kosher pizza at birthday parties while everyone else enjoyed their slice of plain or pepperoni Dominos pizza. What seemed like a grain of pepper amid a pile of salt, I grew up in the West Island of Montreal, one of Canada’s fastest growing Jewish communities and a hub for mainly secular Ashkenazi Jews. Born and raised in a Sephardic Modern Orthodox household keeping strictly kosher, I sometimes stood out from my less observant classmates.
Growing up kosher in Montreal in the 80’s (let a alone in a suburb called the boonies!), meant settling for the tiny supermarket Glatt meat corner, driving a minimum of twenty five kilometers for Klein’s Kosher Quality breads, knishes or trademark gefilte fish (And yes! Sephardi’s learned to appreciate Ashkenazi gastronomy!). Kosher certified products consisted of the minimal Israeli and New York imported brands i.e. Manischewitz, Mehadrin, Elite etc. More specifically, the kosher restaurant scene meant patiently waiting half hour line-ups on Sunday evenings at Foxy’s - the only kosher pizza shop I knew of. Although most kosher restaurants from back-in-the-days closed down, over the last two decades, Montreal’s kosher scene has become an extremely flourishing and joyous one. Today, the city accounts over 20 kosher restaurants, 18 kosher bakeries, a dozen IGA, Loblaw or Metro supermarket aisles, a few kosher bagel factories... The community is exposed to such an abundance of kosher, from diverse MK certified products, mouth-drooling supermarket baked goods, ‘koshered’ multicultural food genres, quaint Parisian style take-out counters, refined minimalistic catering… the list goes on.
The cold-cuts and hot dog refrigerator. Just one of the four Loblaw's kosher fridges in the meat section in Montreal West
La Marguerite’s selection of French pastry. From Crème Brûlée, Paille, Mille Feuille, mousse, apple or fruit tarts and, a personal favorite, lemon meringue pie
Metro's in-store Selection & Irresistibles branded baked treats. These cupcakes are my kids favorites.
Montreal Certified Kosher Products
The number of kosher stamped products has skyrocketed. The MK, Montreal’s Va’ad Hair heksher, has certified countless amazing Canadian-based products. Some of these include Italian Saputo ricotta cheese, irresistible Leclerc cookies, Au Pain Doré artisan breads, acclaimed David’s Tea flavoured teas, and Montreal’s Wafu, authentic Japanese style dressing. These items are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to kosher.
Italian Saputo Ricotta Cheese, Wafu Asian Style Dressins, and Leclerc's Celebration divine milk chocolate cookies all certified by MK.
The Heart for Kosher Montreal Dining (click here for a list of Montreal Kosher restaurants)
“Montreal's Jewish community is one of the oldest and most populous in the country, numbering about 100,000 in 2001” (Wikipedia.org). Most kosher restaurants are centralized in the Cote-des-Neiges-NDG borough, and actually has Montreal’s first ever kippah-wearing Mayor. This area is home to the Lubavitch community and is includes Hampstead, Cote-Saint-Luc and Outremont with ethnic Jewish populations spanning Breslev, Sephardim, reform, Belz and those culturally Jewish.
Fleishigs – Meat and Fish Eateries
Montreal has a copious selection of meat eateries, these include: Chez Benny’sgrill, Le Grill, Ernie’s, Fuego restaurant, CHOPS Asian fusions, Shalom Glatt Kosher restaurant and more.
CHOPS is Montreal's priciest restaurant serving-up contemporary grilled Asian fusion fish and steaks, and unique French fries.
Yakimono is Montreal’s premier kosher sushi bar and terrace. Serving their exquisite seaweed salad (featured above), Edamame, Spring Roll entrees, the place offers over 75 different Japanese specialties to choose from. Personal favorites are Bengal Tiger, Geisha, Chef’s Special (featured above) and Volcano. Their Molten desert cake and fried chocolate cigars are dangerous indulgences.
Chalavi - Dairy Bistros
Unlike during my childhood, today’s generation can benefit from over 7 main kosher dairy restaurants or pizza shops, namely: Pizza Pita, Pizza Gourmetti, Cavendish mall’s Kosher Pizza food-court vendor, Tatty’s pizza, Adar Pizza, Exceptions II, Milk & Honey and Mozart Café (and these are in addition to our supermarkets dozen’s of frozen boxed pizza options). If you get to visit Montreal, don't miss Pizza Pita's dairy interpretation of a Poutine (pictured above), a must try. Poutine is a classic Quebecois French-fry, cheese curd and gravy dish.
Delectable Kosher Specialty Shops
Even more, the Jewish community appreciates a variety of specialty goods. Some of these include:
Amsellem Charcuterie’s array of liver pâtés, seasoned packaged kabobs and fine cold-cuts
Mount Royal’s or Cote-Saint-Luc’s bagel factories classic sesame or poppy seed bagels as well as all-dressed, cinnamon, chocolate chip, blueberry or plain whole wheat bagels. Cote-Saint-Luc's Bagel Factory sells hot bagels every morning.
Similar to Menchie’s self-serve non-fat frozen yogurt, Sprinklz offers a great chalav yisrael alternative, with a choice of toppings in a kid-friendly environment.
Cote Saint-Luc (often jokingly termed Cote-Saint-Jew) is a hub for Parisian inspired bakeries, take-out counters and catering such as, La Marguerite, Exceptions, Adar and Westminster Gourmet.
The Plateau’s 11 year old Satmar owned heimishe bakery, Cheskie’s, has mainstream Quebecers raving over the chocolate babkas, breads, sugar cookies and rugelach. They showcase their warm and fresh vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, jam and nut and poppy seed rugelachs. Aside from selling fresh hamentashens, sufganiyot, sugar cookies… their small dairy refrigerator displays divine cheese muffins, cream cheese filled bars, marble cheese cake, chocolate truffles and dairy chocolate glazed wafers
Also in that area, Candy & Chocolate treats and food baskets are a premier Purim mishloachmanot vendor.
Throughout my life, I’ve closely witnessed the way Montreal’s kosher food sector has evolved. Having directly benefited from mainstream food leaders who have adopted kosher signs on their packaging, I am proud of being a part of a community that recreates authentic multicultural cuisine, within their kosher home. Tasting new kosher cuisine, experiencing it and unveiling it as it unfolds is true Joie de vivre.