09/01/2012 08:07 EDT | Updated 11/01/2012 05:12 EDT

A Foodie Tour of Montréal

Quentin Bacon/Food&Wine

When I first visited Montréal, I couldn't believe that there are four markets in the city which are open every day of the week. These markets are treasures and offer an amazing glimpse into Montreal's unbelievable food culture.

SLIDESHOW: A Foodie Tour of Montréal

After seeing the reviews on Susan Semenak's Market Chronicles - Stories & Recipes from Montréal's Marché Jean-Talon, there was clearly only one place to start the day. And here's my first tip for those that follow: start early, as the traffic and parking into this living shrine of gastronomy by late Saturday morning can be a bit daunting! It's worth every bit of the wait, though. I simply can't believe I had never visited before, and can assure you it won't be long before I'm back. This is truly a full day experience if you love food!

We started at "Marché des Saveurs du Québec", a shop showcasing the rich diversity of products from Quebec foodmakers. We came away with an armful of purchases, having discovered some great new finds, as well as some trusty favourites.

Outside, we gravitated to "Les Jardins Mil'herbes." Organic strawberries, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes - all beautifully displayed in old-fashioned wooden fruit and vegetable baskets. Made you want to buy one of each!

Next stop was "Chèvrerie du Buckland." This reminded me of being in the mountains of France -- well aged Tomme, pure white goats cheese with an ash coating, creamy Reblochon. Delicious!

We couldn't pass by the lobster mushrooms at "Les Jardins Sauvages" -- they'll be great in a risotto this week! Huge, colourful, perfect.

Wandering down the aisle we arrived at "Les Cochons Tout Ronds" -- an array of pork charcuterie from Iles-de-la-Madeleine like you've never seen! Patrick Mathey seems to have had a love of the pig since a small boy. He did much of his training in France, and has won international awards for his efforts. You'll have no trouble filling your charcuterie board here!

The next stop was "Olives & Epices." Philippe and Ethne Vienne of Epices de Cru have a long background as chefs, which led them to travel the world looking for the best spices. Now they have a thriving business in Montreal - so much for retirement - packaging the world's best spices and spice blends. Being the best, they are not the least expensive, and Philippe assured me that the little paint cans used as containers are guaranteed to keep these amazing scents fresh for five years - so worth paying a bit more. I couldn't resist the aromatic Ethiopian Berbere. And then the 1001 Nights - an ancient blend from Baghdad that Philippe suggests will make an addictive lamb stew.

We're not out of the first aisle and time is running short! We take a brisk walk through the rest of the market, buying fresh herbs and fruits, and then decide we have to move on.

Next it's over to Fairmount Street. First stop is "Cerise sur le Gateau" -- a tiny patisserie, with viennoiserie, beautiful tarts, and homemade jams. Mikael was in the back working pastry on a board. Most of their products are organic, and they have a great variety of gluten free too.

And have you heard of the famed "Fairmount Bagel"? Descendants of Isadore Shlafman have been rolling bagels by hand and baking them in a wood fired oven in Montreal since 1919. It's an art to extract a dozen or so bagels on a wooden spatula from the hot oven and casually toss them in a basket! And if you're hungry - a bagel with salmon and cream cheese will surely hit the spot. The biggest problem is choosing which kind of bagel, but you'll have time to ponder while you wait in the lineup going well out the door!

Next, a quick visit with Franco at "Drogheria Fine" -- olive oils and Salsa della Nonna, just like a Calabrian grandmother! A quart jar of orangey red tomato sauce later and we are on our way.

We meant to have lunch at "Café Sardine," but we are well past serving time, so move on to "Boulangerie Guillaume." Beautiful breads with organic flours. It's hard to choose, but we come away with chocolate, fig, and apricot and nut breads -- a great selection for the Sunday breakfast basket.

Off we go to "Dinette Nationale." I was totally unprepared for the precious dolls and knitted socks which I believe Erica designs and has made locally. But our focus is on Christine's array of sweets. Consider chocolate and black olive shortbread -- an incredibly unexpected and delicious mix of flavours; a tartinade of dark chocolate with fig; meringues with hibiscus and pistachios; not to mention some of the best caramels I've tasted.

Leaving Mile End, we head for the Plateau and Patisserie Rhubarbe - a charming café on a well treed residential street, with a perfect blackberry cake in the display. I hear Stephanie's Baba au Rhum is to die for. And I can't resist the apricot and fig jams, not to mention the delectable financiers. Best head to the gym tomorrow!

Only time for one more spot - tough decision, but we're walking distance from "Point G" -- macaroons with flavours you've not seen. What to choose? Can you imagine foie gras and iced cider, or curry-coconut, or balsamic vinegar? Or something sweeter, perhaps, like lavender-blueberry, or poppy flower. And Julien surprises with a flavour of the month, currently cranberry vodka! A totally new take on a long-time favourite. Well done!

So, it's time to sit and enjoy a glass of rose, on a third floor terrace (sorry, a private home, with spectacular views of the city), and rest our feet before heading off to dinner. Quite a day -- and a promise to be back soon!

A Foodie Tour of Montréal

A Foodie Tour of Montreal

A Foodie Tour of Montréal: Where to Go

Marché des Saveurs du Québec, 280 Pl du Marché du Nord

Les Jardins Mil'herbes, Marché Jean Talon

Chèvrerie du Buckland, Marché Jean Talon (étal no 116)

Les Jardins Sauvages, Marché Jean Talon

Les Cochons Tout Ronds, Marché Jean Talon

Olives & Epices, 7075 avenue Casgrain

Cerise sur le Gateau, 107 avenue Fairmount Ouest

Fairmount Bagel, 4 avenue Fairmount Ouest

Drogheria Fine, 68 avenue Fairmont Ouest

Café Sardine, 9 avenue Fairmont Est

Boulangerie Guillaume, 17 avenue Fairmount Est

Dinette Nationale, 69 rue Villeneuve Ouest

Patisserie Rhubarbe, 5091 rue de Lanaudière

Point G, 1266 avenue du Mont-Royal Est