The Jewish Nomad: How I taught a Torontonian to eat like a Montrealer

St-Viateur Bagel shop in spring.

My boyfriend Ari is a Toronto Jew—a fourth-generation one, no less.

I, myself, grew up in Montreal—where I’ve been for the last month or so, rehearsing and now performing the play Mazel Tov. And so, this was an opportunity for Ari to spend time with me in my hometown. 

However, early into our stay, it became apparent to me that he had a few gaps in his knowledge of Montreal’s Jewish culture… especially in relation to food.

Forget about the fact that he never heard of a cheese bagel, he’d never eaten a Montreal bagel fresh out of the oven (!!!).

Reader, because I’m so generous, I’ve decided to share some of my insider knowledge with you. 

(Ari, please take note.)


Ilana: Ari! Did you bring your Lactaids? You MUST try a freshly baked cheese bagel, from Montreal Kosher Bakery!!!

Ari: You mean… a bagel with a slice of cheese on it?

Ilana: (trying not to roll eyes too far back into her head) That is mildly offensive. 


Ilana: A cheese bagel! Flaky on the outside, doughy with creamy cheese on the inside?!


Ilana: Oy vey.

(For the record, we haven’t actually made it Montreal Kosher for the legendary cheese bagel yet. I’ll report back soon. But the Montreal Gazette recently published Talia Kliot’s article about how mysterious their origins are. Check that out.)


Ilana: Oooh! How about Karnatzel? Have you tried that?! 

Ari: Kar-what?

Ilana: (keeps trying to be patient) It’s like a meat… stick? Kind of spicy?

Ari: I don’t like jerky.

Ilana: No no, it’s not jerky! It’s like salami, sort of, but long and thin. Yum.

Ari doesn’t eat red meat, so that one’s off—but if you, reader, have the chance to try Karnatzel, you should. I have fond memories eating my first, at a family friend’s house on Shabbat. Dried kosher meat! Who knew?


Ari and I have argued about this one extensively.

However, I consulted my grandfather, who grew up in what’s now called the Plateau, and he confirmed my statement that EVERYTHING’S A DANISH.

What do I mean by that? Well, what would you call this?

Or this?

Sure, in other places, they might have a few different names. But if you answered danish—ding ding ding! I see you, fellow Montrealer.

Aside from Cheskie’s, which is a New York-style bakery, you’d be hard pressed to find a kosher bakery in Montreal that calls layered chocolate anything but a danish.

Round with peel-apart pieces of chocolate gooeyness?

A danish.

Long with many layers and a chocolate glaze?

A danish.

Crumbly on the inside, doughy on the inside and covered in powdered sugar?

A danish.

CASE CLOSED. Beat that, Torontonian!


Montreal bagels are the only real bagels. Don’t you dare fight a Montrealer on that.

Bagels from other Canadian cities are laughable–they’re what we locals call “a roll with a hole in it.” 

Real Bagels (™) are boiled with honey, made in special wood burning ovens, have large holes and are chewy, sweet and decadent. 

Bagels are such a pivotal part of our Montreal Jewish culture, to the point where locals fight between which bagel shop is best. (I personally vote for St-Viateur. Sorry, Fairmount fans…)

You haven’t had a bagel until you’ve taken a stroll up to the Mile End, home of the famous bagel shops. 

(I’ll huff and puff till the end of my days, on this subject.)


Have you ever been to a Jewish wedding or bar mitzvah in Montreal? 

Ever notice the ever-present platter of little deli sandwiches?

Take a closer look and what you’ll see are little rolls with pressed salami bologna slices, slathered with mustard.

Originating from Montreal’s famous deli spot, Wilensky’s, this style of sandwich has gone beyond its storefront.

The restaurant itself isn’t kosher, but observant Jews have made it a staple at simchas.

It’s the opposite of fancy cuisine, though. When I was in the elementary grades of Hebrew Foundation School we had these at least once a week, a highlight of every “hot lunch.”


Juicy cured brisket slices slapped between two pieces of rye bread?

In New York, they might call this pastrami. But in Montreal, it’s smoked meat. The difference being that we use the whole brisket to prepare it, leaving on all the fatty bits. (Pastrami is made from the cow’s navel area.)

Now, most of the smoked meat the city is known for, like Schwartz’s–which even had a musical written about it—aren’t from kosher restaurants, although they were all founded by proud Jews.

This always seems to boggle my non-Jewish friends, who can’t process the difference between kosher and kosher-style. (Didn’t have to explain that to Ari, though. Phew!)

But, if you do keep kosher, I highly recommend Deli 365, on Bernard Street, near du Parc Avenue. Not only do they have classic smoked meat sandwiches, they have (cheeseless!) smoked meat poutine.


Ari has, thankfully, gotten beyond his Torontonian ways. 

In fact, I may have created a Montreal Jewish food monster. He’s constantly saving his spare change to get a mouthwatering hot bagel from St-Viateur. (Pro tip: they only take cash.)

You hear that, fellow Jewish Canadians? If you actually needed to look up a photo of any of the aforementioned food items, get your tuchus down to Montreal, pronto!


“We Are the Stories We Tell”

The Toronto International Storytelling Festival is featuring a night of traditional and contemporary Jewish stories, on May 10 at the Leah Posluns Theatre (4588 Bathurst St.).

Performers include Born to Kvetch author and Yiddishist Michael Wex, award-winning Israeli born theatre creator and storyteller Raphael Rodan and the festival’s founder Dan Yashinsky. Guitarist, pianist and composer Brian Katz will elevate the tales with music.

For those who aren’t ready to venture into big crowds yet, rest assured: this event is also being streamed online.

“We Are the Stories We Tell” is being presented through the Prosserman JCC, from 8-10 p.m. on May 10. More information is at this link.

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai