“Here, try this,” was a familiar refrain heard during my visit to Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market. Vendors smiled widely and extended their arms to offer taste-tests of plump Peruvian figs, crisp Lobo apples, hunks of decadent Gruyère cheese, slices of juicy oranges and the promise of “The best tasting mangoes in the world.” They tasted as promised.
The market was opened to the public in 1933 and is the largest open-air market in North America. During the peak summer period, between May and October, its open-air stalls are occupied by about 300 vendors, mostly farmers from Montreal’s countryside. The market is open year-round and walls are placed around the central section of the market to keep Montreal’s brutally cold winters at bay.
The season’s best produce, flowers, spices, oils, cheese, meat and fish provided dizzying sights and smells. The merchants were knowledgeable and passionate about their produce and were more than willing to exchange banter on the virtues of the where’s and the how’s of chanterelles, cèpes or morels.
As I threaded my way through the traffic of people, I got a real sense of a city’s culture and community. I liken it to a village, a place where people from all over the world have gathered and generations have grown up, merchants and customers alike. One thing above all else was clear. It didn’t matter where you are from, we all speak the international language of food.
The Jean-Talon Market opens at 7 a.m. 7 days a week.