It’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with vast selection of seasonal produce and other local products at Jean-Talon Market. However, with around 300 vendors, it can be overwhelming, this coming from someone who visits on a weekly basis. Planning your trip ahead of time can help keep you on track. Here are some of the top places to check out when you visit one of North America’s oldest and largest outdoor marketplaces.
Meats and seafood
The minute I get to Jean-Talon, I high-tail it to Les Cochons Tout Ronds to stock up on all of the porky deliciousness it offers. Its cured figatelli and chorizo sausages are must-haves for any charcuterie board. If you’re looking for an alternative to bacon, try its ventreche. It’s pretty much pure pork fat so it just disintegrates on your tongue when you eat it. It’s sweet and nutty and amazing as a garnish for basically any savoury dish (read: you can put that shit on anything!).
Keeping on with the swine theme, Porcmeilleur is a great source for uncured pork products. Quebecois do love their pork after all.
Switching from land to sea, if you’re in need of oysters, check out La Boîte aux Huîtres. You can buy a couple dozen to take home, or eat them on premises (the staff there will shuck them for you, of course).
When snow crab, Nordic shrimp, and lobster are in season, Les Délices de la Mer is the place to go to stock up for your shellfish feasts. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
No trip to a French marche would be complete without a visit to the local fromagerie. The two mainstays at Jean-Talon are Fromagerie Hamel and Fromagerie qui lait cru. My personal favourite is Hamel, mainly because it lets you taste absolutely anything and everything you want before you make the purchase. It supplies a vast selection of both local and international cheeses, including everything from Quebec’s (and my) beloved Bleu d’Élizabeth, to the polarizing, runny Époisses.
There are also many vendors that specialize in specific varieties of cheese, like chevre. Fromagerie La Moutonniere has a great sheep’s milk blue, as well as other fresh and aged sheep’s milk cheeses.
There really aren’t any bad choices for produce at Jean-Talon, especially during the heart of the harvest when everything is about as fresh and seasonal as it gets without being out in the field yourself. That being said, different stalls do have their specialties.
Birri is an incredible source for lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, as well as specialty products like baby zucchini, zucchini flowers, pink oyster mushrooms. It also has a garden centre so you can pick up plants and seeds to grow at home.
Ferme Mattheeuws (a.k.a. my designated “cauliflower guy”) is famous for its cauliflower, which it has been growing and selling for over 50 years. I can say without a doubt that it grows the most beautiful cauliflower (regular, purple, yellow, romanesco, you name it) I have ever set eyes on. The heads are often so large that you have to cut them into smaller pieces just to fit them into your fridge.
Le Potager Mont-Rouge sells tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant by the bushel. If you’re in the mood for making a big batch of tomato sauce, it’s got plenty of San Marzano tomatoes to get you well on your way.
Ferme Daniel Oligny is your one-stop shop for Quebec potatoes. Its la ratte potatoes are like little baby kipflers and are pretty much perfect simply boiled and tossed with butter, salt and pepper. They’re also the ideal potato for salad Nicoise.
For those with a sweet tooth, La Fournée des Sucreries de l'Érable will satisfy it and then some. Virtually everything it makes is loaded with Quebec maple syrup. From maple syrup pie to maple syrup and nut squares, it leaves you with a sugar high to last you the rest of the day.
One of my favourite stops at Jean-Talon is the boulangerie Joe La Croute. In my opinion, its bread rivals the Guillames and Hof Kelstens of Montreal’s food scene. I absolutely adore its flavoured rolls like the Le Popeye, stuffed with spinach and chevre, or itsLe Romeo with chocolate, pear, and almonds. You really can’t go wrong with any of its offerings.
Specialty food stalls
Made at Mamba is the surprisingly addictive Haitian specialty, spicy peanut butter. It has a variety of spice levels, from mild to blow-your-brains-out hot, so there’s something for everyone. It adds a kick to any sweet or savoury recipe.
And you can’t make anything with some spices. You’ll be hard pressed to leave without finding what you are looking for at Épices de Cru. Whatever you’re in the search for, it likely has spices that you didn’t even know existed.
Translated as “square heads” and used as a slur to describe Anglos in Quebec, Les Têtes Carrées is serving up delicious grilled flatbreads made with seasonal ingredients straight from the market, naturally, not to mention it’s a chance to take a break from struggling along with conversations in French because as the name suggests, the place was founded by a native English speaker.