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Frustration with grocery chains in Montreal

I don't know what they're thinking at head office at most grocery chains in Montreal, but they're still easily 10 years behind, say, a Safeway in San Francisco.

In Montreal, you practically have to go to specialty stores for everything: habanero peppers (ANY peppers), corn tortillas, chipotles in adobo sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, pastas other than Barilla, Catelli or Del Verde, soups other than Campbell's, or (gods forbid!) frozen pearl onions.

They're so slow to come around. My Metro in Cote des Neiges only last year introduced cilantro by the bunch instead of those tiny, expensive pots. There's no deli, no butcher, their meat selection sucks, you can only buy three kinds of tomatoes, their garlic is old, they have a lousy "ready-to-eat" section (old, soft, tasteless ham submarines et al), a horrible, tiny cheese selection . . . need I go on? This is a major grocery store in a major city in Canada?

In Oakland, California, where I visit occasionally, the local grocery store has eight different kinds of chilies, every fresh herb known to man, twelve kinds of tomatoes, tomatilloes, potatoes, lemons, oranges, sixty different cuts of beef plus a butcher onsite, a seafood counter, a full delicatessen, 160 different wines and beers and ciders, 100 different kinds of freshly made ready-to-eat meals, a bakery with 150 kinds of fresh breads and pastries . . .

I know what you're going to say: Go to Super C or Loblaw's, but that means I have to get on the metro and expend carbon emissions.

I mean, don't mistake me, I love going to Kim Phat for galangal or fresh lemongrass, but what is it that Metro doesn't understand? Cote des Neiges has one of the largest immigrant populations in Montreal and the only fresh pasta you can get is Oivieri in a plastic pack.

Sorry for the rant, but it does get frustrating.

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  1. Different culture, different ways of doing things; different "ethnic" neighborhoods will have more of their "fare" than other 'hoods.

    I prefer having a nice series of smaller store, more "human-sized" stores that I can walk to when coming back from work.

    Côte des Neiges is not really italian ... and Little Italy is not caribbean (for example)

    anywyay, in my experience, I agree with you, supermarkets suck when it comes to vegetables and fruits when in season (summer/fall) and that's why I go to smaller stores and markets for that, and if I need "higher" quality of meat and other products I go to smaller stores.

    Also, In California, it's a lot easier, due to distance, to have a lot more variety of fruits and vegetables all year long. but when in season, go to Jean-Talon Market and there are tons of different kind of chilies adn tomatoes and all that jazz. after that, well, it's too cold to produce that. and most of our things must come from, you guess it right, California.

    M.

    -----
    Jean-Talon Market
    7075 Avenue Casgrain, Montreal, QC H2S, CA

    1. I agree entirely. I have access to Super C and IGA and both have a crappy selection of anything interesting. Just last night I needed corn tortillas and failed miserably to find them. Sure I can go to specialty stores...but if a particular mood strikes, I'm out of luck. And, btw, one doesn't need to go as far as California for any of those things. I stopped in Plattsburgh once, at a run-of-the-mill supermarket on the edge of town and was amazed by their selection of Mexican and Chinese products. They even had tomatillos, which can be hard to find here. It doesn't make sense given the population difference of the cities. Though of course it makes sense given the corporate cultures of the US and Quebec.

      2 Replies
      1. re: foodinspace

        As a New Jersey resident who visits Montreal often I know what you are talking about, I have access to 3 Supermarkets where I can find just about everything at a moments notice.
        That being said we visit Montreal sometimes just to shop at your Jean Talon and Atwater markets and an obligatory stop at your Costco before driving back across the border.
        The verity,freshness,and sheer quantity of seasonal fruit and vegetables,not to mention your cheeses,charcuterie,breads are amazing.Yes I can easily get most of these products by driving into Manhattan but I'ts just not the same.... So anytime you want to switch places, let me know.

        1. re: Duppie

          Duppie
          I understand completely. I miss the Jean Talon and Atwater markets but life here on the Vermont/Quebec border is simply marvelous for two retired curmudgeons whose family often comes hundreds of miles just to share the bounty of our foodie paradise.

      2. Preach on my friend. I completely agree.

        I'm from Toronto and there are things I have to go to Marche Jean-Talon to find or can't even find there that my parents can get at their suburban grocery store. I get so frustrated with the selection in supermarkets here. 50% of the time they don't even have cilantro in my supermarket and when they do it comes in a tiny little pouch for 3 bucks. I can't even find cornmeal and have a hard time finding any cheese that is not cheddar or a French cheese. The other day I asked for gorgonzola and they didn't know what that even was and I go to the supermarket with the best selection where I live. I could go on and on with the things that I can't find. It's a little crazy that when I go back to visit Toronto I come back with suitcase full of food.

        My theory on why the food selection is so bad is that Montreal has a much lower immigrant population than other large urban centers and most Quebecois de souche just don't cook at home and when they do it is pretty basic things (i.e. not with "exotic" ingredients), while immigrants will consistently cook from scratch. If you look at a lot of French cooking shows and books the recipes are rather light on foreign ingredients and often they are pre-made mixes or pastes rather than individual items. No flames please, these are just my observations.

        31 Replies
        1. re: PadmeSkywalker

          Well your "theory" sound quite prejudiced considering that we are living in one of the most curious and diverse culinary culture I know.... Try getting "non-italian" food in Italy for example.

          While it might be true that Toronto is the most diverse city, Montreal is certainly not far beyond. I also guess that a Loblaws in Ontario probably has a similar selection to one in Québec.

          I have to agree that the selection in grocery chains over here is behind what you can find in Europe or USA. However, blaming that on "Québécois de souche" lack of sophistication sounds frankly xenophobic....

          1. re: Whygee

            i think a lot of the major american grocery stores have had a rude awakening in the last decade as whole foods and trader joes swiped a large portion of their market share. that being said, growing up in montreal, we went to plattsburgh maybe once every 2 months to stock up on superior quality products. it must be difficult to run a grocery store in canada - montreal in particular where the clientel readily travels to the US even for staple items but you can't sell them due to language laws. Then there's the unions - let's not even go there. The overhead must be incredible. There's no question that all the CDN grocery stores suck - but you'd find a similar level of suck in any working class neighbourhood in any US city. I've been to some super sketchy grocery stores in san francisco - that's for sure. I appreciate your frustration though, I can't tell you how many times i've gone to Provigo on Mt royal and St urbain and marveled at how such a big store could have such small selection.

            1. re: celfie

              I live in Stanstead about 300 meters from Derby line Vermont and less than 20 minutes from 4 major US supermarkets. I purchase the bulk of my groceries at the local IGA as do many of my American neighbours. The price for comparable quality for most everything is the same or better in Quebec. Great Vermont artisan cheese is not cheap and I'm certain that both the cheese available in Vermont and at our local La Station is as good as anything anywhere.
              I lived in major cities across North America and I know major supermarkets will not flourish catering to people looking for great food. I found the fruits vegetables and prepared foods at Whole Foods particularly vile but delighted in Trader Joe's and the opportunity to buy great food from Canada and New England.
              When I lived in Montreal I shopped at Akhavan and the small groceries and delis on the plateau. Jean Talon and Atwater markets are fabulous food destinations.Montreal has great bakeries and coffee roasters. Why would anyone go into a big city supermarket looking for food? Has anyone ever met anyone working in a big city supermarket who even cared about food? I can go into my local IGA, or Marche Vegeterienne in Magog or to the butcher shop in Ayer's Cliff's Traditionne and discuss food with staff members for hours food is not what city supermarkets are all about. I have visited the Provigo on Mont Royal and St Urbain and I cannot understand why you would go there more than once.

              1. re: Moedelestrie

                It's been a pet peeve of mine forever that the knee jerk reaction is "oh it's so much cheaper in the States". I've traveled extensively in the NE states and never thought my grocery bill was lower there than in Montreal. On the contrary my bill has always been higher.
                I think there's a lot of wishful thinking and post shopping justification that goes into the word of mouth idea the you save bundles shopping for food in the States. Yeah, you can get a great deal there but you can get a great deal here to.

                1. re: meagain

                  Yes, that's for sure. I have friends from NYC who visit us up here, and they find produce much cheaper and generally better here, despite the fact that we are practically due north of them, in a colder growing zone. And don't forget that there are certain cheeses they simply can't find due to punishing duties. I can't consume cow's milk so the availability of ewe and goat products are a boon.

                  Obviously wine is much more expensive up here, but that is taxation. If it all went into healthcare and education we couldn't complain, but there is a lot of "copinage" within the SAQ management, and, pardon the pun, lush spending.

                  Of course in the area where I live, near JTM, there are a lot of litle shops, both of the gourmet variety and "ethnic" shops. The latter often have better and cheaper vegetables than supermarkets do.

                  1. re: meagain

                    I think it depends on the type of customer you are and the type of food you buy too. Booze is much more expensive here, but we're extremly lucky when it comes to fancier fare like breads, cheeses, ect. My friend, who has a family though, who needs basics like milk and diapers and whatnot prefers to drive down to the Walmart just outside the border because things like that are nearly half the price. So yeah fancy foodie fare is greatly prices and of good quality here, but basic things a family needs in quantity aren't.

                    1. re: pkzilla

                      Do you know what that family would pay for daycare in the US?

                      And are they factoring in the gas for the drive to Plattsburg and back?

                      1. re: pkzilla

                        I don't know what milk costs in Plattsburg but this senior living on a fixed income finds little difference in the price of basic commodities. I can buy a gallon of milk for about 3.69 premium brand on special or 3.29 for regular quality but even the 6.00 4 litre Quebec milk at $6.00 when you take in 5% difference in size and over 10% difference in the dollar cannot compensate for the time and gasoline of going south. The quality and taste are are also a factor.
                        The family allowance, social safety net and the security we enjoy living on this side of the border should also be factors in the decision.I live on the border and when I see the difference in what it means to live on the margins I would gladly pay a little more.
                        With the rise of dairy prices in the US and the excess of production in the states I am still in shock that yogourt, butter and cheap cheese are now cheaper in Canada.
                        I admit to doing cross border shopping but we pay US Federal income tax which gives my wife the right to vote. I understand the desire to save on diapers but they are subject to tariffs.
                        Families in Newport Vermont who must buy cut price diapers don't drive cars.

                2. re: Whygee

                  The Provigo on Mt-Royal sucks bad. It's incredible, considering it's on the Plateau.

                  1. re: AnchovyBourdain

                    No need to venture into that wasteland - just go about 4 blocks east to the Intermarché on Mt-Royal. It's a bit cramped and ghetto, but they have WAY better stuff, especially the pantry items and meat (due to their on-site butcher). The produce is a bit lower grade than elsewhere, mind you, but other than that this store is great - I always manage to find obscure treasures there, all while crossing off about 80% of the other stuff on my list.

                    1. re: anachemia

                      I'm writing four years later, but find that the Intermarché at the corner of Mont-Royal and Boyer often has excellent produce, much better than the larger chains.

                      There are three Intermarchés on Mont-Royal: just east of Papineau, corner of Boyer (the largest and fanciest, with many products from France for the large "Français de France" population thereabouts, and the Portuguese Intermarché at the corner of Coloniale, not far east from the Mont-Royal Provigo. All have the same owner or franchiser. There always seem to be far fewer customers at that Provigo than at nearby Supermarché PA, which is much smaller but usually has a better variety.

                3. re: PadmeSkywalker

                  I don't see what is "xenophobic" about observing, discussing and theorizing about cultural differences. I didn't see anyone using terms like "lack of sophistication," just commenting on facts.

                  Regarding PadmeSkywalker's comments, the proof is in the pudding. If the dominant Quebecois culture had been inspired to cook with exotic ingredients 15 years ago, the market for these ingredients would have developed in parallel with the rest of North America, but clearly we see that it hasn't.

                  The market responds to what consumers demand; if they're not demanding something, it's valid to question what forces make it so (especially when the rest of North America is so utterly homogeneous).

                  I suspect it is caused by a single attribute: openness to trying new things (which, incidentally, requires a certain threshold of disposable income and free time). If you are a grocer and the majority of your customer base is just not interested in experimenting, you lose money every time you bring in a new item and it fails to be adopted. So you have to operate more conservatively and wait until enough people demand it to know if you have a sure thing.

                  In an area where the customer base is more novelty-driven, you actually NEED to be seeking out the next new thing, otherwise you fall behind. You can also drive demand by presenting new things that your customers will try and buy simply because they are new.

                  The big grocery chains are anything but out of touch - they are the ones that eat it (literally) if stuff doesn't sell, so they invest millions in market research each year to ensure they are delivering what the majority of their customers want. You can beg the store manager for fresh cilantro till you're blue in the face - but you're just one guy and if the numbers don't agree, there's no reason for them to carry it (at least until Ricardo gets more people curious about it).

                  Smaller independent stores do their market research by directly observing their customers. Talk to the owner and you'll probably see the item there in the coming months. It can be more of a hassle to shop this way, rather than at a single big-box store, but realistically it's your best bet for finding all the special stuff.

                  1. re: anachemia

                    I agree that there's nothing xenophobic about arguing, but what is flabbergasing me is your lack of knowledge of what you called "Quebecois" culture about food. I don't know where you do your grocery, but I find whatever exotic product I want. From my point of view, your "pudding" theory is narrow and wrong and doesn't deserved and elaborated reply.

                  2. re: PadmeSkywalker

                    Your are completely wrong. As a "Quebecois de souche", I cook a lot, as well as my family and friends. We are open to all kind of food and we have all the exotic ingredients you can find. I don't know were come your observations, but what I can tell, they are wrong.

                    1. re: FoodieDan

                      Montrealers tend to believe that their city is the be all of food, which it is not. It does some things really well and some things less well. I quickly googled statistics and Montreal's immigrant population is around 25%, Toronto's is 50%. In 2004 the United Nations Development Programme ranked Toronto second behind Miami with the city with the largest foreign born population. That is a huge difference in terms of diversity and the people who will buy more "exotic" ingredients. This means that they are more readily available and there is a bigger variety. Can you find ingredients in Montreal? Yes. Can you find everything? No. But I don't think everyone either lives near Marche Jean-Talon or wants to trek to 4 different stores all over the island to make dinner. And just for the record there are some things that I can't find in Toronto either. Saying that "exotic" products are hard to find doesn't mean that people here aren't willing to try new foods, it just means it does not form a large part of their diet.

                      1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                        Having traveled quite a bit, especially around North America, Montrealers have pride in their city for VERY good reason. In fact, I decided to settle here over anywhere in the country partially on the basis of food. Coming from the prairies, I find that it is very easy to locate almost anything that I want to cook with (with the possible exception of some seafood) and I cook just about everything from everywhere. Going from local specialty market to market in the summer is quite the joy (assuming you do it by bike) and I would never replace it with large homogenous supermarkets. This is also something that is rather special; it's very hard to think of another city with such diversity that is so easily traversal on foot or with a bike. Is there anything in particular that you would like to find?

                          1. re: celfie

                            Toronto is hell for cyclists. I'm a boomer-aged woman, not so many years south of pensionable age, and anything but an "agressive cyclist" and get honked at and told to pull over whenever I cycle there. Here in north-central Montréal (Mile-End, Petite-Italie, Villeray) ycling shop to shop, market to market today, when it was all of 5 degrees above freezing, there were a lot of cyclists older than I am doing the same.

                      2. re: FoodieDan

                        FoodieDan, was this the case 15 years ago?

                        I was not arguing that things are still like that now, necessarily. Just that it's been slower to arrive here.

                        Also, I was not saying that *all* Quebecers are not interested in trying new things. Just that as an entire population, the demand and interest in new ingredients was clearly not enough to support lots of experimentation by the large grocery chains. If the demand and interest had been there, we would have had more variety over the last 15 years.

                        Recently they have been starting to change in response to increased and varied demand. But it is recent. (How long has the Zeste channel been around, after all?)

                        1. re: anachemia

                          Well well anachemia. Do you think french speaking Montrealers just wait to have a french channel like Zeste (which by the way sucks) before being interested in food? Come on. You know, I live in NDG since 3 years. Before that I was in Le Plateau. NDG is a mixe of Anglos, Frenchies and many ethnic communities. Le Plateau ends is french , and Mile Ends is a mix of. But in the food matter, NDG is far behind Le Plateau in term of food diversity and refinement. So you argument about Quebecers doesn't stand. And anyway, do we have to waist time about that kind of argument?

                          1. re: FoodieDan

                            Companies go to where the demand is. Food Network was launched in the US in 1993, Food Network Canada was launched in 2000 although we could get the US version already and Zeste was just launched this year. Had there been a greater demand for that kind of specialty channel in Quebec before there would have been a channel a long time ago. Same thing with grocery stores, if people were more interested in "exotic" products there would be more on the shelves.

                            1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                              Blaming "Quebecois de souche" as you said about the lack of diversity of exotic product in grocery stores is not fair. tonobo0422 is arguing about Cote-des-neige which is composed of a mix of all kind of communities. Your just too narrow and square to understand that. Cheers.

                              1. re: FoodieDan

                                I never "blamed" anyone, I just gave my observations. Unfortunately you seem far too defensive to hold a conversation about this subject.

                                1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                  Ok. Let start another 5¢ theory about the lack of exotic. food supply in Montrea. I think it's probably because of the Anglo population on Montreal which feed them with burgers and souvlakis. Do we need more exotic food with that kind of refinement. Is it what the kind of argument you are looking for? It's a pity.

                                  1. re: FoodieDan

                                    That is exactly what the OP was asking: why the lack of exotic food in big grocery stores. I would be curious to hear your actual thoughts on this topic (rather than reactions to what other people have posted).

                                    1. re: anachemia

                                      you'd think the foodie crowd would be overjoyed to have less products travel from half way around the world anyways

                                      i don't have a car yet i manage just fine to get everything i want. crying about what provigo has or doesn't have is senseless

                                      those that have chosen to live in the suburbs also chose to be far from many of the benefits (mixing pot) that the city has to offer

                                      you can't have everything - there are tradeoffs - i live in plateau/mile end specifically for convenience

                                      for those complaining about quebecois this and that, one should take note that as you travel further east down mont royal, and laurier - towards an area that is increasingly francophone quebecois, both blvds become more and more cosmopolitan . Quebecois are as worldly as any other urban people. me thinks you would be hard pressed to find lemongrass at shop n' save in gary indiana

                                      1. re: celfie

                                        There is no Shop n' Save in Gary, indiana, but the Wal Mart Super Centre there carries lemongrass!
                                        I had a frustrating day this weekend trying to find lemongrass along Mont Royal in the Plateau.

                                2. re: FoodieDan

                                  Nice. Gotta love the personal attacks, always an effective way to get your point across.

                                3. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                  But you are starting out from a US model there...

                                4. re: FoodieDan

                                  Whoa whoa whoa - you are reading something other than what I said. I am not talking about English versus French, or anything to do with Montreal and its neighborhoods. And I agree with you that there is and has probably always been a segment of Quebec society that is open to experimentation and global influences.

                                  However, I am talking about the mainstream society in the entire province. If the overall Quebec population had showed a strong and widespread demand for exotic stuff, we would have seen those ingredients already carried throughout our large chain stores, and we would have had a channel like Zeste (and perhaps with better content) much earlier.

                                  Television companies don't launch channels nobody wants just to push new ideas - they only spring up when there is enough demand and enough people who will WATCH them. The Food Network in the States launched in 1993; the English version in Canada launched in 2000; Zeste did not get launched until 2010. Obviously there was some interest in food before then, but not enough to launch a dedicated channel. Do you have an alternate theory about this? If so, I am all ears.

                                  Please note, I am NOT commenting on the content of these channels or comparing them - just pointing out that demand for that kind of content by the mainstream population is a recent phenomenon. Same thing with ingredients - our grocery chains are lagging behind those elsewhere in North America which have been catering to a more demanding crowd for a longer period of time.

                                  1. re: anachemia

                                    let's not forget that a supermarket in toronto (ie: loblaws) is virtually identical to a loblaws here.

                          2. personally, I'm always happy to support the little guy, so going to Andes for chilies, for example, makes me HAPPY. demand controls supply, and you can't please everyone.

                            1. There is no place in North America which can be compared to SF. It is the mecca for foodies. Your comment can be applied to most cities in North America, not only Montreal. And honnestly, when you know this city and all is multi-cultural neighbourhoods, you can find whatever you wanted.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: FoodieDan

                                You know, I agree with everyone, and don't mistake me. Nothing pleases me more than taking the time out to go to Maya at Jean-Talon to get freshly-made green salsa and corn tortillas and wandering the aisles to look at all the cool salsas and other Mexican products, or wandering Atwater or Jean-Talon and stopping by the little stores and artisanal butchers and fromageries, but sometimes I have a recipe I want to make and I just don't have the time or the energy to get on the bus or metro and go all the way there when there's a huge grocery store three blocks from my house.

                                It's just . . . the selection is so PREDICTABLE. Like I said, they're coming around and I give them credit for trying, but obviously they go on customer demand and obviously there isn't a great need, for, say, chipotles in adobo sauce.

                                Not that anyone there would even know what that was.

                                But great comments, everyone. Thanks. I was afraid I'd get a torrent of flames.

                                1. re: tonbo0422

                                  In a way, it's precisely *because* the big guys don't offer that much outside the norm that our city can support so many more narrowly-targeted little guys. Even though it's much less convenient to traipse around town to 6 stores trying to find that bottle of liquid smoke, for example (as I did last month), it's also somewhat of a privilege, and turns it into a fun treasure hunt instead of a simple grocery errand. (Which, as you point out, can become a huge hassle when you're not in the mood for a treasure hunt.)

                                  It's a tradeoff: if the big guys DID manage to carry everything our little hearts could desire, the little guys would cease to exist. Frankly I'm not sure I would prefer having the market dominated by just the big chains...

                                  1. re: anachemia

                                    Well, in a way, you're right. I was looking for live shrimp in Montreal and couldn't find a lick of info, but I certainly wouldn't expect Metro to have live shrimp.

                                    But I think in a way it's silly (remember a few years ago when they passed that stupid law saying only 4 employees could work in grocery stores after 6 p.m. on weekends? Just to "protect" depanneur owners?" That's like saying in the U.S., "Safeway, no more 24 hour stores so more people can go to 7-11."), because in the end the little guy will keep his customers if he has the products they need and indeed, build huge loyalty.

                                    I go to an Asian market on Victoria (forget the name) but they're swamped every single time I'm there.

                                    Why doesn't Metro pick up on this? Why can't they have a few curry leaves? Why can't they have fresh turmeric? Just a tiny section of the vegetable aisle which caters to "exotic" tastes. Wouldn't kill 'em, but it seems they're too busy stocking 423 brands of sugary cereals and pasty white bread.

                                    Anyway, like I say, I appreciate very much your opinion but in San Francisco there are thousand of large-chain grocery stores stocking this stuff but also thousands of little guys stocking even more stuff. I went to an Indian store in Oakland that had aisles and aisles of stuff I had never even heard of and it was packed.

                                    So I don't think it's so much a matter of protecting the little guy than "brand-name recognition sells the most" as far as Metro is concerned.

                                    *NOT* meant to be a flame.

                                    1. re: tonbo0422

                                      Cool anecdote about Oakland - that's pretty reassuring to hear that. I guess it could go either way, with the big guys introducing exotic stuff to a wider swath of the population and therefore increasing demand for everyone.

                                      Maybe it's also the fact that it's damn expensive to get a product onto big-grocer shelves...your comment about 423 brands of sugary cereal certainly speaks to this. It may also explain why most chain stores have a whole section of Old El Paso processed crap but comparatively little space devoted to local producers like Tortilleria Maya. (But again, coming back to my point about demand, if enough customers communicated a desire for more local / fresh / high-quality ingredients, they would have to respond to that.)

                                      1. re: anachemia

                                        Yeah, I've heard about the grocery-chain logistics. It's almost mafia-like, how the "little guys" are squeezed out, how "shelf space" is apportioned out by just how much you're getting paid -- in other words, "Kellog's Fat Crispies" beat out "Les crispes de Val-Morin."

                                        It's a sad tragedy, in a way. Rice Krispies: aisle 4, child-head level, well, Harvest Crunch is bidding . . . how much do you want to pay?

                                        So it all becomes a generic mess. I realize this is not only Montreal's problem. It's worldwide. But it's insidious.

                                        So I guess I'll continue to schlep to the Asian grocer and the ethnic market and I guess I'll have to suffer.

                                        Doesn't mean I have to like it.

                                      2. re: tonbo0422

                                        oh, fresh turmeric is just divine.
                                        have to say though that the CDN/Queen Mary Metro is one of the worst, because it's open 24 hours and they get a lot of transient customers and people who just don't care much about food. Their produce section is particularly bad. But it varies--the Metro in Westmount has much more variety, for example.

                                      3. re: tonbo0422

                                        A lot of true things have been stated on both sides of the argument here.

                                        But i'd like to point out that as a Quebecois-Iranian-Chinese... i work with very exotic ingredients and i am always able to find them somewhere in Montreal. A Metro (for example) downtown doesnt have the same stock as one in... say... VSL. It might be the same chain but some are better then others. They really work with their clientele, and try to have things that sell. My IGA has lemongrass, dragon fruit, durian etc... How's that for exotic?

                                        Also, with the general statement "You can find that at JTM", well yes its true that for some of us, JTM is a bit of a detour. But there are a LOT of neighborhood farmers market that are smaller but have all the products you need. They don't get much publicity, so you have to know your neighborhood =)

                                    2. I've had my beefs with Montreal supermarkets, particularly since I live on the "vanilla" West Island, but my only two real longstanding complaints involve the pedestrian selection of fresh seafood, and the year-round tendency to feature hot-house tomatoes, often of over-ripe variety.

                                      A lot (not all) Metros tend to lack behind the other chains when it comes to fresh veggies. In my local Metro I've seen greenhouse tomatoes on display in the summer, when field varieties are rampant (and they don't have any field tomatoes in stock), and these have been soft, mushy, over-ripe, and crawling with flies.

                                      On the other hand, outlets like Adonis and Marche Akavan are there to save the day, and Loblaws has been diligent in stocking heirloom tomatoes. And if I want live blue crabs, for example, I have Kim Fat in Pierrefonds. Where there's immigrants, there's always hope.

                                      32 Replies
                                      1. re: Haggisboy

                                        Yeah, it's so weird . . . you really have to wonder what these people are thinking! I went to my Metro a year ago and was blown away to see yellow, orange and almost green tomatoes! You can bet I picked them all up. And this summer: nothing.

                                        Just the usual mealy old crap that's trucked in from god-knows-where . . . what happened to the delightful assortment of colors you guys started with a year ago? What? No one wanted the yellow ones, so you stopped ordering them?

                                        It's all the bottom line, isn't it.

                                        1. re: Haggisboy

                                          I agree. There are ethnic large grocers like Akhavan, but when your mobility is restrained, ie. you don't have a car, it becomes almost impossible to create something on a whim, like getting Greek phyllo and making aumonières, (cheese/mushroom/apple-filled "pillows") at a moment's notice, let alone the same day, let alone the same WEEK unless you plan way in advance.

                                          Do you think I like cooking with Pillsbury pâte feuillité? Well I exaggerate, but that's probably what I'm going to get at Metro, and not even all the time. They run out and don't replenish and you've walked all the way there and you have to abandon the whole meal.

                                          I HATE it when that happens.

                                            1. re: celfie

                                              Heh . . .that's an alternate form of saying "Commit suicide."

                                              1. re: tonbo0422

                                                The supermarkets are useless here and for the most part and carry sub-standard produce. I have a Metro, IGA, Adonis, Provigo, Akhavan, Loblaws, Marche de l'Ouest, Super C and Maxi all within a few minute drive and I still drive 40km round trip every weekend to get what I need at JTM. The quality/selection of produce is disturbing at these places, even at the small produce markets in the area.

                                                1. re: ios94

                                                  I completely agree. If I REALLY want to make dinner with so-called "exotic" ingredients such as lemongrass, I plan ahead, just swallow it, and go do it.

                                                  That's quite a list of stores. Lucky you! Some are better than others, but I still can't find truffle oil or papadams or kaffir lime leaves or habaneros in any of them.

                                                  I guess we'll just have to wait. I'd like to interview the manager of the local Metro and ask how he bases his choices on what to buy. Probably orders from head office, but I'm just wondering if, with a little pressure, they'll try to do a little better. It just irks me to look at a long aisle of cereals and I think "Couldn't they use this space for some actual food? Like a deli counter or a small butcher shop where I can have someone grind me some top round, or a poissonerie where the produce is not old and the staff are not completely bored?"

                                                  I'm just going out shopping for a filet mignon dinner but I know that they'll have filet mignon -- just that it'll be 1/2 an inch thick for $12.

                                                  I guess people just don't cook much in Montreal.

                                                  I'd hate to be a chef in a restaurant looking for ANY good stock -- he probably has to drive 40 km each day too, and it's kind of pathetic that that's the situation, but what are you going to do.

                                                  I guess we wait. Maybe they''ll come around.

                                                  1. re: tonbo0422

                                                    Why don't you just go over to the local Whole Foods store...oh wait, they haven't moved East along the 401. Maybe they might wake up Provigo, Metro et al.

                                                    1. re: eat2much

                                                      When my wife and I lived in Chicago our daughter insisted we shop Whole Foods for her food and the food for her children. I would suggest that Masrche Vegeterin, IGA, Metro, and Provigo in Magog Quebec all have better quality of food and better tasting food and lower priced food than Whole Foods. Whole Foods is like so much of Texas big hats and no cattle.

                                                    2. re: tonbo0422

                                                      Some more theories about why big grocers suck worse than small guys:

                                                      - Big-box stuff with a long shelf life probably has HUGE margins and is generally very low risk. Stores know people are going to buy this stuff so it's appealing for them to carry it and reduce their overall risk.
                                                      - Dealing on such a large scale, they get most of their inventory by signing long-term distribution contracts and getting regular deliveries. It's probably all very automated and the process to get even a single new product added is probably a huge bureaucratic hassle.
                                                      - Think about the operating expenses to run one of these huge stores. For one thing, it takes way more labor to run a big store, using workers who are unionized. The big guys also have much bigger investments in technology (watering, chilling, lifting, processing, checkout machinery) not to mention real estate (including the huge cost of parking lots).
                                                      - Compare this with smaller independent stores, who get their stuff from multiple sources, are probably not staffed by union workers, don't need to bother with fancy machinery, rarely offer parking, and have lots of freedom to change their inventory on a monthly or even weekly basis.

                                                      Frankly if I was a big store manager, I would be very polite to any customer who came in requesting some fancy froo-froo ingredient, thank them for their comments, and promptly put it out of my mind. These people are beholden to their shareholders; they are looking for ROI and nothing else. Until there is a financial case to be made for carrying "exotic" items on a massive scale, they have absolutely no incentive to think about it.

                                                      The way to change this is to get more people interested in cooking global cuisines. (And all this in an environment where overall interesting in cooking ANYTHING is declining at a precipitious pace...except among immigrants.)

                                                      That said, I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong. If you do go talk to one of these store managers, I hope you'll report back on what they say!

                                                      1. re: anachemia

                                                        Anachemia, very well said! It all makes sense. I mean, Metro is not a small chain. There are lots of brains behind it -- any small change like, say, accommodating someone's request for, say, curry leaves, would involve huge bureaucratic hassles. Unless 100 customers a month asked for them, nothing would happen, and I can understand the reason for that.

                                                        They operate like lumbering airlines . . . I mean, if there's low traffic for a route they just throw up their hands and say "Forget this noise."

                                                        I remember in the late 70s, when I was living in California and my parents were living here and I was visiting them, I wanted to get some fresh pasta like I could easily get in Berkeley.

                                                        It turned out that yes, I COULD get fresh pasta . . . but only at one store 40 minutes' drive away.

                                                        So progress has been made. It's just that, in my situation, a lot more logistics are involved if I want to make a "froo-froo" meal.

                                                        Hey, ever been to Costco and seen these people with four-foot high piles of tomato sauce, Campbell's soup, Uncle Ben's rice?

                                                        Umm, that would be your neighborhood restaurant owner.

                                                        My point is, there's a general dumbing-down here in Montreal . . . that's why I'm frustrated, especially when Gourmet magazine features this place in a whole magazine as being a "gourmet hot-spot."

                                                        Aah . . sorry, WRONG. But it's open to debate, which is always good.

                                                        1. re: tonbo0422

                                                          Maybe someone in town needs to open a "virtual" grocery store that specializes in all of these hard-to-track-down delicacies, since they do mostly exist around town; just hard (and time-consuming) to find.

                                                          Heck, I would do it in exchange for some of the finished product! ;-)

                                                          1. re: tonbo0422

                                                            The gourmet quality of a locale is rarely to be judged in what the massive grocery chains carry. What people value about Montreal is that it still has the European-style variety of small stores. People are pretty lazy and if a single store stocks what they need, they will stop shopping at the small specialty stores and those little stores will go out of business. It's the Walmart effect.

                                                            And the advantage of those small stores is that they have the flexibility and interest to carry small amounts of unusual things and to respond to individual customers requests. Montreal has a lot of wonderful variety ... no not in your local BigBox, but in tons of little epiceries, fruiteries, fromageries, charcuteries, etc. That is something to be treasured and if you think that can survive when the BigBox grocery chain starts carrying those items, you haven't looked at the food culture of other cities and what happens when the BigBox rules. Personally, I'd rather a little more hassle and way more variety. I love that in most neighbourhoods it's feasible to walk to a variety of food stores... you don't need a car.

                                                            The other thing to remember is that no city is great at every style of food. Montreal is voted as a gourmet city and considered special because of what it's good at, not because it supposedly has everything. But wonderful bakeries with actually good baguettes are around every corner, tons of local cheeses (many made in small enough quantities they never leave the province) are available, and there's a thriving restaurant culture. Yes, it's heavily French-oriented, but that's what's special to Montreal. If you go to Vancouver, you should celebrate the Japanese food and fresh seafood, not moan about the difficulty of finding a good bakery in your neighbourhood!!

                                                            1. re: anachemia

                                                              I've tried speaking to the grocery store manager where I go more than once. They've pretty much told me that if they've never gotten it, it's not an option to order it. Once in a while they'll get a more interesting product and it will go out of stock and they won't bother ordering it. Last time that happened I made sure to go see whichever supervisor was on the floor at the time and request that they get the product back. I did this every time I went grocery shopping, so once a week, it took them 3 months of me asking every week to order it again but they did eventually. Quite possibly just to shut me up. lol

                                                              1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                                                you hit the nail on the head. they order what is available
                                                                as i mentioned before loblaws in toronto is virtually no different than loblaws here

                                                                even if we did have whole foods here, chances are tonbo0422 would need a mode of transportation or to move some place better

                                                                1. re: celfie

                                                                  Loblaws is a little different in that they have a very heavy house brand presence and with a lot of big value packs tend to aim for the family on a budget demographic.
                                                                  There are other grocery stores though and I will go to my parent`s run of the mill suburban grocery store in Toronto and find things that I have to go to Jean Talon to find here. I don`t think one should have to live in a restricted geographical area or be willing to take an entire afternoon to go from store to store in order to find "exotic" products.

                                                                  1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                                                    i do - considering the ecological foot print of these supermarkets, catering to every person's fanciful whim is completely irresponsible. you can't have everything.

                                                                    1. re: celfie

                                                                      Agreed. But is there really a need for 150 varieties of cereals? Why not open a cereal store next door instead and focus on real food?

                                                                      1. re: celfie

                                                                        Oh, and did I mention the potato chip aisle? Last time I checked, that's not food.

                                                                        1. re: celfie

                                                                          +1 agree!!

                                                                          Also, the freshness of ingredients at Jean-Talon is more likely to be better than what gets trucked to a suburban grocery store.

                                                                          The idea of having everything from every part of the world available on your doorstep is a very North American value. In Europe, the regional specialties are much more valued, and it's honestly pretty hard to have both. Those two values tend to work at odds to each other and they both have their merits. I'm thinking of styles of curing meat for example, which can change just based on the town it's done in in France or Italy. The attitude to food culture that supports that is much more close-minded, but it supports regional cuisine in a way we've lost in North America.

                                                                          If your goal is the global variety, it will tend not to include those artisanal local products since they just aren't made in quantities (or with preservatives) to work on a global scale. However, if you have a very local/regional focus, you may not have access to some delicious item that's really common elsewhere in the world (or even elsewhere in the country depending on how tight your food culture is).

                                                                          1. re: eoj

                                                                            Very good points here...

                                                                            I do think that going forward, the desire for global ingredients is going to scale with immigration since that's generally what triggers the deepest cross-pollination of cultures.

                                                                            BTW there is nothing particularly unique about the survival of regional specialties in Europe thus far - it's just that they haven't been quite as overrun by the same homogenizing forces (yet). It may take a little longer, but it will happen there too.

                                                                    2. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                                                      Ha! Way to get you hooked and then leave you high and dry...

                                                                      1. re: anachemia

                                                                        I live in Toronto. During my visit to Montreal last summer, and went to check out Jean Talon and Atwater markets. I was amazed at the variety and quality and prices of the produce - mostly local. In Toronto, fruits and vegies are mostly from USA or Mexico or Chili. The local produce is more expensive.
                                                                        A couple of months ago I was in Chicago, and I shopped a couple of times at Trader Joe, downtown location. I did not notice any bigger variety of foods compared to a food store in Toronto. Actually, i was not able to find a brand of gluten free crackers that were not salted....
                                                                        As to Metro, and their slogan " we're fresh obsessed" - it's a bad joke..

                                                                        1. re: carissima

                                                                          there's no shortage of produce from south america at JT Market

                                                                          1. re: celfie

                                                                            Yes, I need to chime in hear. For all the talk about JTM and Atwater market, EVERY SINGLE TIME I have gone I have been disappointed. Just because the vendor displays their goods in a farmer style bin does not mean it is local. I pay close attention to the provenance signs and if in doubt, I ask them. More often than not (and sometimes with a hint of shame) the vendor will say it is trucked in from the US or elsewhere.

                                                                  2. re: tonbo0422

                                                                    So, let's interview the manager of the local Metro! Judging by the responses here, I think we could have a truckload of interviewers!

                                                                2. re: tonbo0422

                                                                  How many cyclists die yearly in Montreal? Than how many motorists do? Do the math. Really, I agree that supermarker selection needs to imporve but it has in the past few years. My mom in Rimouski buys great exotic fruit which was impossible when I was a kid, 25 years ago.

                                                                    1. re: tonbo0422

                                                                      Not at all, this is the most bike friendly city on the continent (while the weather is good). Nothing is better than taking a bike 'tour', collecting the good stuff and building up a hunger. Not many cities in which you can do this.

                                                                      1. re: tonbo0422

                                                                        I've cycled here every day without major snow for at least 40 years, and I'm still alive. And while major problems remain, infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists has greatly improved, and motorists aren't nearly as rude as they were decades ago.

                                                                  1. It's true that the chains suck... I live near a IGA and do not have a car so most of my shopping is done there, it's unbelievably bad!! Every time I fancy a product it gets pulled off the shelves eventually. It is the single worst chain of them all.

                                                                    The garlic is moldy and from China.
                                                                    No dry bean selection.
                                                                    REALLY EXPENSIVE!
                                                                    The meat sucks (Metro is much better).
                                                                    Condiments lack. (crazy-expensive off-brand sriracha!)
                                                                    Huge selection of ready-made meals, poor selection of fundamentals.
                                                                    The bread is AWFUL, thank god for Première Moisson frozen baguettes, they'd have nothing if not.

                                                                    Thankfully I live near a Maxi where the 'exotics' selection is a bit better.

                                                                    PS.: Blaming the Québecois de souche is pretty 'maladroit' . And telling someone he's getting defensive when being blamed of something in the first place is pretty 'colon'.

                                                                    1. You know, I think I have to apologize here for complaining in the original post.

                                                                      You see, I lived in Bordeaux, France, for four months a couple of years ago. And I shopped at the local equivalent of Metro, called ATAC.

                                                                      I'm sorry I ever ragged on Metro.There was no cilantro at ATAC. no Italian parsley, no fresh pasta, no basmati rice, no chilies at all, let alone jalapenos, and the cheese section was a vast wall (I'm not kidding) of 25 varieties of shredded Emmenthal. Yes, Emmenthal. Try finding some cheddar . . . oh, have to go to the specialty cheese counter, where no one was ever on duty.

                                                                      The French supermarket experience was vastly more frustrating than the Quebec one . . .

                                                                      . . . . except the fantastic wines and spirits on sale for about $6.00.

                                                                      Otherwise, it was a nightmare. And this is BORDEAUX, a large French city . . . .jalapeños at ATAC? forget about it.

                                                                      So in a way we're comparatively lucky . . .

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: tonbo0422

                                                                        you lived in bordeaux and now you live in the west island
                                                                        people who live in the city typically have no problem finding everything they need
                                                                        even without a car

                                                                        1. re: celfie

                                                                          Nextguy, I'd like to think that people know there are no peach orchards in Quebec when they see a bucket of peaches. It is evident that some of the vendors try to take advantage but in general the quality of the produce is still superior to anything you'll find in a supermarket. I mean where do people expect their produce to be from in the middle of January? Let's get real here.

                                                                          EOJ got it right with his post about the Wal Mart effect and laziness. "The gourmet quality of a locale is rarely to be judged in what the massive grocery chains carry." We'd be in trouble if that was the case but it's the exact oppostie. My theory on why supermarkets in Montreal don't carry a lot of what people on here are looking for is because of the fact that we have all these great specialty stores and ethnic neigbourhoods. It's not for a lack of Montrealers not having a "gourmet" pallet. Someone mentioned Plattsburgh supermarkets having a better selection, that maybe so but does Plattsbugh have a West Indies specialty grocery store, a Chinese market, a store where you can find only products from India, do they have charcuteries that make Hungarian style sausages on the premises?

                                                                          Tonbo said, "My point is, there's a general dumbing-down here in Montreal . . . that's why I'm frustrated, especially when Gourmet magazine features this place in a whole magazine as being a "gourmet hot-spot." "

                                                                          I highly disagree with the dumbing down comment, if anything people are starting to show more of an interest. Take for example that entire new section of stores at the eastern part of JTM that was built a few years ago, there's obviously a demand or else those stores would not be thriving. You're never going to find everything you are looking for under one roof in this city, that issue of Gourmet magazine hit the nail on the head listing all these great little specialty shops and what makes Montreal what it is. The closest you'll get to finding everything you need in one spot is going to JTM or Atwater you're doomed if you think supermarkets in Montreal will start carrying what you are looking for. I think it's time to start doing some exploring.

                                                                          I gather you are frustrated because of accessibility issues more than anything, as someone mentioned it's time to get a bike, a car or a bus pass. :)

                                                                          BTW, that 24hr Metro on CDN caters to the student population in the area so you are in trouble.

                                                                          1. re: ios94

                                                                            that CDN metro is frightening at 2 in the morning (aint no students there)

                                                                            1. re: ios94

                                                                              No kidding for the Metro. It really depends on where the store is located and who it caters to.

                                                                              If i were a store owner, i would not stock things like vanilla beans if 90% of my clientele were students. Common business sense!

                                                                              1. re: SourberryLily

                                                                                Good point about students, and this is definitely a student area. Students want cheap, easy-to-make and junky stuff, so obviously the folks at head office are making choices, at least in this particular Metro. I was amazed that they had no kosher stuff (my wife is Jewish) but the one up on Van Horne, or somewhere around there has an entire kosher section, complete with Manischewits (sp?) pasta.

                                                                                So obviously there are brains operating. And one of the supervisors at my Metro is extremely accommodating; if I ask him for something (well, not lime leaves) he'll do his best to get it for me. And he really actually does it -- he gets on the phone and requests the item that I want, and when I see him again
                                                                                he always reminds me that "I've got it" (in this case, papadums) and is very kind.

                                                                                Talk to him if you ever go there; his name is Jean-Pierre Sylvain.

                                                                                So all is not yet lost.

                                                                                1. re: tonbo0422

                                                                                  True about special request. I've never thought about it trying it til 1-2 weeks ago, my boyfriend was looking for his brand of something (i was in the next aisle), and he returned to be all happy saying he spoke to the grocer who promised to order it. This was a smaller IGA in VSL.

                                                                                  So it is possible to make special requests, just don't ask the teenagers working as a student job or a cashier! I don't think it's part of their job description.

                                                                              2. re: ios94

                                                                                Come on ios94, I am not talking about things that obviously don't grow here. I am talking about things like beans and tomatoes. It is not right for a market that aspires to be better than average to have vendors that purposefully hide the provenance of their goods. I have had several vendors tell me they did not know where something came from. I have even had one tell me a tomato was local but when I dug through the pile I found some with US stickers! Anyways, I digress since the ops intent was not for me to bash on JTM or Atwater Market.

                                                                                1. re: nextguy

                                                                                  And like I said, "It is evident that some of the vendors try to take advantage". But we have to remember that we still need to buy South American fruit in the dead of winter. JTM is not a "farmer's market", for the most part.

                                                                            2. re: tonbo0422

                                                                              I think you might be happier in a different neighbourhood. This is a very long thread so this might be irrelevant now but kaffir lime leaves are in short supply in Toronto's Chinatown also - I just rip a few leaves off of my lemon trees and toss those in my soto instead. And I find a nice variety of food in a number of small grocery stores, particularly along St-Laurent, that I'm happy to support. Friends and family from Toronto love to visit Marché Adonis when they are here, just as we enjoy at stop at T&T in Toronto. If it was all the same, where would the fun be? Where would we go chowhounding if every large shop had a little bit of everything? Nothing quite like visiting a Mexican grocery store in California to get masses and masses of cilantro for 15 cents, for example. These differences are what makes it fun. And the big grocery stores, well, they are for a different clientele, obviously.

                                                                            3. Having lived in Silicon Valley for 8 years I understand your frustration and point of view. The difference comes from the people and the culture. I would term my Northern California food experience as being generally healthier and ahead of Montreal for Asian and Latin fare. It lacked however all the European and Middle-Eastern delicacies available in Montreal (at a low price point).

                                                                              Every summer as I spent 2 weeks in Montreal for my vacation I would go to all the French, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Persian restaurants to catch up. I even tried to have Lactantia ship to California their butter and Liberte ship me their yogurt.

                                                                              Since coming back to Montreal in 2004 my palate suffered without access to good Mexican food (or Cal-Mex) that you could get in a strip mall in Sunnyvale. I also miss the (affordable) Indonesian and Singaporean restaurants. Finally, yes, I also miss In'n'Out.

                                                                              Having said that I was lucky enough to live near Chinatown, 3 supermarkets (Provigo, Metro + IGA), and two "ethnic" grocery stores that have cheaper produce and herbs, all the stuff you mentionned that were only available in a specialty store. I do not have however access to the Whole Foods bakery or the Trader Joe cookies.

                                                                              The immigrants in the Cote des Neiges area used to be only vietnamese and chinese so that would explain the asian ingredients. My dad used to work however in a Middle Eastern spice store in Plaza CDN.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: marblebag

                                                                                Plaza CDN! lots going on there, food-wise.

                                                                                1. re: bakersdelight

                                                                                  Yes, coming from California is a major letdown if you like to cook (or eat!)

                                                                                  What I DON'T miss about California is the mobs at even minor restaurants; the waits at the bar, even with reservations. I just don't know what that's all about, but more power to 'em. (Christ, a simple popular pizzeria has a two-hour wait.)

                                                                                  But yes, places around the Plaza are great. It's too bad all the ethnic markets in Montreal aren't all clustered in the same block, but so be it. I'm happy with one Kim Phat. I'm happy with one Maya. Just as long as I can wander in and say "Papadams?" and just get a finger-point.

                                                                                  I just wish Metro would cotton on to this . . .

                                                                              2. Are you:
                                                                                A- Living in Grocery deprived really bad neighbourhood?
                                                                                B- The Pinball Wizard?
                                                                                C- A descendant of Bryn Smith? (for those who remember the Expo's "Doritos incident")

                                                                                I am actually amazed how much stuff either my 2 local groceries (including a Maxi who are not recognized for being high end) have....

                                                                                Also if you live downtown, you have to shop around smaller shops (you won't find a big supermarket in downtown manhattan either)

                                                                                Specifically to your unsubstantiatied claims:
                                                                                Fresh Habanero (and/or others chilies that I prefer), corn tortillas, jap mayo, cilantro, De Cecco pasta (my favorite) and other less known Pasta at maxi (the "cheap" chain of the Loblaws empire) and IGA.; Fresh soups too and why in hell would I want frozen pearl onions when they have fresh ones (oh yeah!).

                                                                                I will give you 1 thing. Garlic sucks, but did you remember that California is the #1 produce producer in the USA? (for the record our Avocado are also lousy for the same reason)

                                                                                Cheese section: We have nothing to envy from anyone, although I still recommend your local cheesemonger. Beers, we got beer trust me!!!

                                                                                Butcher on site check. Fishmonger on site check, (and not half bad btw!) Ready to eat meals? Who cares I got 10 restaurants that will deliver cheaper and better.

                                                                                Any chance you'd find Foie Gras (in different cuts no less) at your generic americon market?

                                                                                Come on man! Check your facts before you go around make baseless accusations. Our big markets have their flaws but please check your facts!

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: ScoobySnacks20

                                                                                  I live in a poor neighbourhood with bad grocery stores (verdun) and I have been known to complain about the vegetable offerings at these stores and about the fact that vendors at Marche Atwater will try to deceive you about the provenance of their vegetables if they can. I know I was taken advantage in the initial stage when I did not know what was growing locally and what was not. But, even with that, Marche atwater, the lesser of our two permanant markets, is still an amazing place.

                                                                                  Grocery stores are not supposed to carry everything. They carry the most common ingredients people in their area want. We can say all we want about our grocery stores, but even the worst supermarkets here have duck, horse, quail, all sorts of lamb (yes, this was not a normal ingredient to have in the central Ilinois supermarkets I used to shop at) and other types of game meat that you would have to search a lot to find in most US supermarkets. I am always amazed at how every supermarket and even most fruiteries have several kinds of pita.

                                                                                  I do still have trouble finding some ingredients but usually, if you are willing to travel, you can find it somewhere. No car needed. I go everywhere by public transportation. For somethings, i might have to settle for a different brand than I am used to, or a different variety or a similar ingredient (blackberries instead of mulberries) but, that is part of moving to a new place.

                                                                                2. Fruiterie Anka on Barclay and Darlington has great selection of fresh - not Exo Fruits or Metro moldy - fruits & veggies. It also has a better choice of lebanese cheeses than either of those shops.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: yumnow

                                                                                    Anka is pretty good, I used to frequent it when I lived nearby.

                                                                                  2. In Laval, I go to Sami fruits. It`s a hit and miss, you can find stuff really fresh and tasty and other times, its just not worth it. But at least they understand that if i have to make tabbouleh, im gonna need tons of parsley and some mint, the quantities are huge compared to the ex-Loblaws (now Maxi). Sami has yams, daicon, some hot peppers, parsley-mint-cilantro in big quantities, jicama, topinambour (dunno how to say it in english),all of this mostly all year around!

                                                                                    The fact that you live in an "immigrant" neighborhood has no relevance imho. Quebecers in general are more and more exposed to the art of cooking, cooking from scratch, cooking healthier, with different ingredients. With channels like Food tv and Zeste, its only normal for big chain supermarkets to accomodate the new lifestyle of its consumers.

                                                                                    The more we buy junk, the more supermarkets will continue to offer them, each in 45 varieties cereal, chips, artifical drinks. I will NEVER understand how parents still buy Lucky Charms as breakfast for their kids.

                                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Fabulous1977

                                                                                      How are the prices at Sami fruits in Laval? I don't mind paying for quality, I've just never stopped in there because the parking lot always looks slammed and I don't love shopping elbow to elbow with other shoppers - that's something I'll do if its really worth it. I usually stick with IGA and Maxi for most staples, but I always buy fresh fruits and veggies plus herbs at either Marche 440 or Mourlatos if I don't have time to drive to the 440. Last few times I went for veggies at IGA I ended up opening up peppers to find they were rotten inside, they didn't have any fresh basil, etc and just gave up.

                                                                                      1. re: Erica2125

                                                                                        the parking lot has been rearranged so its not as hectic anymore. But if you go on a sat or sun afternoon, you`re looking for trouble. In winter, i dont find the quality is as good as in summer/fall, but its still decent.

                                                                                        My parents like Marché 440 but i find it overpriced? maybe i went on a bad day.

                                                                                        Whats good about Sami is that you have alot of variety in the veggies. I mean, there`s so much more to veggies than spinach, cabbage and green bell peppers. You can find alot of good stuff for cheap. Try it, it`s the only way you`ll know.

                                                                                        As for herbs, they have mint, parsely and cilantro all year around, in bulk. There are other herbs, but are sold in small packages, such as rosemary, basil, chives.

                                                                                        I`ve also found an OK selection for herbs at Mayrand.

                                                                                        1. re: Erica2125

                                                                                          People in Laval, have you tried Supermarché PA? They have a Laval branch now, on Samson - see site: www.supermarchepa.com for details. They aren't as big as some of the places you are mentioning, but usually have fairly decent produce and good specials. I've never been there - I shop at the original avenue du Parc store and have also been to the one in the west end of the city centre.

                                                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                                                            That`s right ! i completely forgot to go try it out. It seems big though... bigger than mourelatos in my opinion. I`ll try to go this w-e...

                                                                                            1. re: lagatta

                                                                                              Thanks for the reminder! We've been talking about trying them for the last couple of weeks. I'll have to make a point to swing by this weekend and see their selection.

                                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                I had the chance to stop by Supermache PA in Laval today for the first time. I like it, they had all kinds of ethnic and specialty foods to choose from, and I wish it hadn't been so busy, I would have liked to have more time to browse the aisles without manuevering around people. The produce was OK, not as great imo as Marche 440 or Adonis, but the prices were good. They also had a pretty good selection of Mexican and Asian products.

                                                                                                1. re: Erica2125

                                                                                                  Manoeuvering around people is part of the charm of ALL the PA branches!

                                                                                                  And in general (always comparison shop) they have excellent prices.

                                                                                          2. The Metro or IGA on Sherbrooke in Westmount is really the only one I'll ever bother with because it's such a joke everywhere else. I hate that the only options in the South west are the Super C across fromt he market which is a total dump, and the IGA on Notre-Dame which is almost equally as useless. Their butcher, baker, dairy, etc. sections are just glorified stock displays of packaged and processed junk. I also wish we had something like a Whole Foods market here. I shop at the Atwater market for almost everything, but it's still a bit of a hassle to not be able to have access to this stuff at normal hours. The markets close by 6pm and when I'm coming home from work and want to pick up some groceries, I do not want to have to run to six different bopulangeries, pattiseries, fromageries, etc just to be able to stock up on decent food. It's extremely lame and Montreal is far behind every other city in this regard.

                                                                                            1. In the past 15 years I have lived ten years in Chicago, 3 years in Montreal a year in small town MIchigan and a half year here in Stanstead. I hate big supermarkets. In Chicago nobody in the supermarkets knew anything about food or even cared except the produce manager of the local co-op. Jewel(Loblaws) and Dominics (Safeway) were awful the meat and poultry were not fit for human consumption and the dairy and deli tasted off. Although the supermarkets may be far from ideal in Montreal there are locales that cater to discriminating food buyers. The Metro store on Beaumont next to the Rockland overpass has a incredible selection of cheeses, a fine selection of meat and poultry, great produce, a great bakery and a staff that really understands customer service and it is only a short bike ride from Cote de Neige. People make the store and the management sets the tone.
                                                                                              Here in Stanstead our IGA is incredible for a town of 3000 we have an incredible selection of local products great fish and meat many local and foreign Artisan cheeses a good bakery good produce and in season excellent local goodies right now maple butter, but we also have an excellent local bakery which but for scale rivals Mamie Clafoutis and I really like Mamie Clafoutis.
                                                                                              On the American side of town there are three supermarkets and the Price Chopper is one of those 24 hour places where it is a major cab ride from start to finish yet many Vermonters come here to shop because of quality but I must admit to shopping for Hood cottage cheese. Montreal provides its citizens with a plethora of food buying options but if you are looking for a supermarket with qualty and selection try the Metro on Beaumont is very special and if they don't have it they will try and get it. I am convinced that stores provide their clients with what they want and if you look hard enough in Montreal you will find the store you are looking for.
                                                                                              PS the small supermarket in Michigan provided excellent food and service and because of the large Mexican American population an excellent selection of chilies.

                                                                                              1. I don't know what the bid deal is here. EVERY neighbourhood in Montreal has what are called "fruiteries" that stock a whole bunch of interesting and fresh products if you are unhappy with the big boys. And I don't know about you in NDG, but I know my IGA in ST HENRI on Notre Dame Ouest is might fine with regards to cilantra, and other veggies. (except for heirloom tomatoes though... that, nobody can beet Monsieur Tomate, but he is nowhere to be found yet this year, if you can tell me where he is pleeeeease tell me!!! lol) I have never had a problem with finding good food in Montreal. Try Ottawa or Winnipeg or Québec City... OY!!!!

                                                                                                1. I'm unhappy to say I've worked years in Montreal supermarkets, and there are two main impediments to them adapting to local markets (in stead of the other way around, as things currently are). The first is that most supermarket chains here (Metro, Super C, Maxi, IGA, Loblaws, Provigo, Intermarche, and so on) are all owned by the same and traded under the same conglomerate : Empire Company Limited. Their last major acquisition was Loblaws, which owns Provigo, Safeway, and basically any place you see President's Choice products as the store brand. Which means none of them are really in competition with each other, at least not in the Starbucks way. If you work supermarket retail (or just pay attention to circulars a lot) you'll notice that these supermarkets simply 'trade' special dates with each other, normally for the same big brand products (Kraft, Pepsi, Coke, Nestle) that subsidized what were once called 'coupon' sales. So that's reason one. Reason two is the union structure in Quebec, and the TUAC500. Most (if not all) supermarket chains belong to closed-shop chapters of the TUAC500 union, which makes working at supermarkets in Quebec a matter of biding time and building seniority. This is why day shift workers tend to be knowledgeable and overpaid and evening shift workers tend to be disgruntled student workers who got the shaft on union benefits. Hope that clears some of our crap service up for you.

                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: tuggerfub

                                                                                                    "The first is that most supermarket chains here (Metro, Super C, Maxi, IGA, Loblaws, Provigo, Intermarche, and so on) are all owned by the same and traded under the same conglomerate : Empire Company Limited. Their last major acquisition was Loblaws [...]"

                                                                                                    When did this happen? Do you have any proof of this? I've scoured the interwebs and found nothing about Empire acquiring Loblaws. You'd think that would be front page news.

                                                                                                    1. re: SnackHappy

                                                                                                      i believe this happened 6 or 7 years ago. it was in the local media for sure. i remember reading about it/hearing it on the radio

                                                                                                      but i believe that provigo/loblaws are aligned but not metro and iga

                                                                                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_Inc.

                                                                                                      from wiki

                                                                                                      In Canada, other than British Columbia, IGA is a group of independent grocers supplied by Sobeys, which franchises the name. Acquired by Sobeys as part of its purchase of The Oshawa Group Ltd., it now operates primarily in Quebec. The IGA operations in Atlantic Canada were sold to Loblaw Companies Limited and were restructured under its existing brands, while its company-owned stores west of Quebec now mainly operate under the Sobeys banner. In Ontario, Sobeys forced franchise owned IGA stores onto the Foodland program, and announced the upcoming closure of the IGA program in Ontario. There are, however, many IGA stores still operating in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.[2
                                                                                                      ]IGA Extra locations are larger and carry a wider variety of general merchandise, more akin to the hypermarket model. They include a pharmacy, large bakery, a bank, a bistro, a post office and a larger selection of food items.
                                                                                                      In addition, IGA in Quebec also operates smaller supermarkets, such as Bonichoix and Tradition (a branding introduced in 1999).
                                                                                                      In British Columbia, IGA and Marketplace IGA stores are, for the most part, independently owned and are supplied by the H. Y. Louie Co.[3

                                                                                                      1. re: celfie

                                                                                                        I don't think Loblaw's is part of Empire though. Only those banners are mentionned on Empire's website: "Sobeys owns or franchises more than 1,300 retail grocery stores located in every province of Canada under retail banners that include Sobeys, IGA extra, Thrifty Foods, IGA, Foodland and FreshCo, as well as Lawtons Drug Stores"

                                                                                                        1. re: celfie

                                                                                                          I know about Loblaws/Provigo and Sobey's/IGA. What tuggerfub wrote was that Loblaws had been aquired by Empire Co. – The company that owns Sobey's. He also said that Empire owned Metro. That would mean that Empire owns pretty much the entire retail grocery market in Canada. I don't think Industry Canada would allow something like that.

                                                                                                        2. re: SnackHappy

                                                                                                          Yeah, that doesn't sound right to me at all. The Metro/Super C/Richelieu corporate family is not connected to the Loblaws/Provigo corporate family AFAIK.

                                                                                                          http://www.metro.ca/corpo/profil-corp...

                                                                                                          tuggerfub - can you provide an online source for your information?

                                                                                                          1. re: kpzoo

                                                                                                            Yeah, AFAIK there are three big players in this part of the country. Metro, Loblaws and Sobey's/IGA. The west has Safeway which I don't believe is affiliated with any of the groups mentioned above. The industry has been greatly consolidated, but nothing like what tuggerfub is suggesting.

                                                                                                            Here's a comprehensive enough looking list of supermarkets in Canada: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

                                                                                                        3. re: tuggerfub

                                                                                                          That isn`t true.

                                                                                                          Loblaws is owned by the Weston Group. The Empire Company owns Sobey`s and doesn't operate Loblaws since it lost a bidding war with Weston some years ago...

                                                                                                          1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                                                            I was surprised at first as well, having worked for both Metro and Provigo distribution centers and retail. But there it was at the bottom of all my work documentation, the parent and subsidiary company logos of my previous employers and my (then) current ones as well. I'll get scans of my docs to host online, maybe you'll better explain them. Sobey's has been coming right up Loblaw's derriere for the past two decades, and now Loblaw's local stock at its worst.
                                                                                                            (more about: http://www.macleans.ca/business/compa...
                                                                                                            )I've also been told by Sobey's regional union representatives during Tuac meetings that we share a common major holder, but then again those are union reps so I don't suppose I should take that on its own merit. In the context of all this, I can think of a few reasons their reps would want to fraternize with ours. That aside, here is the Reuters report that I believed confirmed that Loblaws was already officially part of the Empire conglomerate.
                                                                                                            http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/0...

                                                                                                        4. I did some more sifting on Reuter's and I do believe I'm quite wrong about Metro and Loblaw belonging to Empire, which would exclude Provigo and Super C as well and possibly InterMarche. I think I misread that article and took it as proof of my wondering about the logos on my work documents, maybe those were there as to indicate that those markets also complied with the same regulations or something. I'll know when I get to them. Yet in regards to my original point about the state of supermarket service in Quebec, the current market oligarchy isn't much more encouraging. Before I left Provigo this year, the major issue in retail management was service quality (due to the total dichotomy of service quality between full-time union beneficiaries and part-time union tithe victims). You're all better off telling Sobey's, Loblaw's and Metro to sit and spin at any rate, you know they're just overpriced produce pushers. Buy from small grocers, independents, neighborhood fixtures. They might not go through as many light bulbs as a superstore to please your taste for ambiance, but they will not sell you a three-dollar bell pepper through a union designed for skilled trade environments.

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: tuggerfub

                                                                                                            the logos were there probably because you all sign the same collective bargaining agreement

                                                                                                            1. re: celfie

                                                                                                              The only Tuac things I've seen with actual logos are those 'newspaper' styled things they put in staff cafeterias. What I was talking about were the contract documents they give you when they employ you. It's like this big double-sided plastic duo-tang folio in Loblaws colors and in it (besides the employment contracts themselves) there are things like in-store safety and sanitation guidelines, sales laws, and training exercise folders. At the footer of a few of the pages there's a border and beneath that there's the set of grocer logos, including out-of-province franchises.

                                                                                                          2. Adonis sells to Metro, maintains 45%

                                                                                                            http://www.montrealgazette.com/health...

                                                                                                            Can't say I'm pleased, but at least it's not Loblaws.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. Try the IGA Marketplace at Place Dupuis at the Berri-UQAM métro. The Jean Talon market(which is covered in winter). Get out of the Jean Talon métro then head to Henri Julien. Atwater market at the fromagerie Atwater has the best selection. plus butchers. Atwater market is at Lionel-Groulx metro. If you're looking for middle eatern/Iranian stiiff, there is a huge supermarket on Sherbrooke & Grand in NDG on the 105 bus line.

                                                                                                              1. A new "supermarket" called Fou d'ici opened downtown montreal, ground floor of the Louis Boheme condo building (Corner Bleury and Maisonneuve) called Fou d'ici, they focus on local products (cheese selected by Yannick Achim from Yannick fromagerie, coffee from Toi, Moi et Café, fresh produce, meats...) and also take out meals.

                                                                                                                Should be a great addition to downtown

                                                                                                                http://foudici.com/

                                                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: westaust

                                                                                                                  Anyone know who is supplying Fou d'ici with their beef, pork and poultry?

                                                                                                                  1. re: westaust

                                                                                                                    um I went yesterday afterwork thinking, OMG this is great, close to work, one of the better SAQ branches right next door and I can go daily for fresh meat and fish for my daily fix of gourmet.

                                                                                                                    I was quite disapointed by the set up and overinflated hype. Look people, you need to stop with the ra ra ra on facebook and your website if you can't deliver on the promises. The produce was tired looking, the eggs were the same old eggs you can get at Super C, half the shelves are not stocked and the pubescent staff is completely clueless, like you can't imagine how spazed they are. This is not what they are making this out to be on the internets.

                                                                                                                    Bottom line on this experience: FAIL but with caveat that they might improve so will wait a month and try again. Lots of details need fixing. Will give them time because we need this downtown. But please, don't open if you are not ready.

                                                                                                                    1. re: cpdp4u

                                                                                                                      I went today and I agree. This place should not be open... they're clearly not ready. I've never seen a staff like this... it's not like it was still the opening day.

                                                                                                                      I found it quite funny that a place like this, who wants to promote local products, has almost no information on the provenance of their fruits & vegetables... probably because most of them were not local. There were some cute local rounded carrots that I had never seen before, but they were not really fresh anymore. Don't know how they did that since they've just opened...

                                                                                                                      Oh and there's no real cheese monger on site... just boring prepackaged cheeses, and mostly industrial one, like in every cheap supermarket.

                                                                                                                      This might get better, but for now it just looks like a gimmick to me.

                                                                                                                      Cool for Rhubarbe though, always a good thing to have more people discovering high-end pâtisseries in Montréal.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Glaff

                                                                                                                        I heard the partners (I recall one coming from a family that has had many successful enterprises in Montreal) speak a month ago on the radio, I would be very surprised that it is a gimmick. They seemed to have spent time on their business plan, wanting to create the kind of food experience found in certain foodmarkets in new york city, so lets give them a chance; and certainly we do need more choice in that area. I may not go there for the veggies but would stop by to pick up a dessert from Rhubarbe as sometimes these specialties shops are too far away just to go for an item or two. I like the concept so will wait a couple weeks to drop by in view of your first impressions. Some of the events could be of interest especially if on weekend, today they had eastern township cheesemaker with his produce.

                                                                                                                        1. re: mangoannie

                                                                                                                          Well you should pay them a visit, I'm sure you will see what I mean. Just look at the website before going...

                                                                                                                          And I don't think you should underestimate the importance of a first impression... What would you think of a restaurant if the first time you go the server is completely clueless about almost everything on the menu? If they want to hire students to save money, that's ok, but they, at least, have to train them before the opening... cause right now it just doesn't look serious.

                                                                                                                          And it's not only that, like cpdp4u said, there's lots of details that needs to be fixed. Opening when you're not ready like that is dangerous in my opinion.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Glaff

                                                                                                                            HALF THE SHELVES ARE EMPTY, the staff know NOTHING, absolutely nothing and those small round carrots look like they were scavenged from the bottom of the crisper drawer in someone's fridge after 2 weeks. Tired tired tired. This place might have the best business plan in the word, all the best intentions imaginable and passion without bounds. They were just too rushed to open up and now have to deal with the fact they are getting some bad reviews. That's just the way the cookie crumbles I suppose. y They need to regroup and redeploy quickly if this is to be a success. I really want this place to work, trust me, I need me a good place to pick some stuff up after work. For kicks, I asked one of the bread girls where the bread was from. First of all she was totally ignoring me until her boss saw me and told her to go serve me.... then when I asked her the question, she looked at me with a blank stare and then I had to say, well? where is it from? A SECOND TIME! She ran away and came back and told me Boucherville. This is a comedy of errors in my book. Don't get me started on the cashier girl.

                                                                                                                            1. re: cpdp4u

                                                                                                                              Other than here, is there anyone else talking about this place ?

                                                                                                                              1. re: cpdp4u

                                                                                                                                Speaking of the breads... the baguette is 3.19$... Yes, really.

                                                                                                                                1. re: cpdp4u

                                                                                                                                  "Don't get me started on the cashier girl."

                                                                                                                                  Why, did you grill her on whether the receipt paper was from locally-harvested trees? LOL

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Shattered

                                                                                                                                    I am not sure she even knew what locally harvested even meant, much less what's a receipt paper. She did not even know what a grocery bag was

                                                                                                                                2. re: Glaff

                                                                                                                                  I was back there last week, as I was working at a conference downtown and was tired and hungry, but it really hasn't improved. I was prepared to spend more than I usually do, but nothing appealed to me. I don't think people in that area are much better going off there than to the IGA in complexe Desjardins. I was taking a walk east to clear my brain and take the Parc bus up to where I was staying temporarily (various "travaux" at my place). I didn't want to fight the crowds at PA and wound up dropping in at SA at the corner of Villeneuve and St-Urbain. Much more appealing food, and of course far better prices.

                                                                                                                                  There really should be a better choice of food shops in the vicinity with all the new condos around there.

                                                                                                                        2. Speaking as a former montrealer living for a long time in berkeley, ca, here's my question. No question we have far better selection and varietal and freshness of produce here in ca, but how come the prices in mtl are cheaper? They're all imported from ca or fl or south America, yet typically prices especially at the small neighborhood fruiteries are less than I pay for the equivalent in Monterey mkt or berkeley bowl. Please explain.

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: katnat

                                                                                                                            Seasonally I think Montreal has some of the best produce available anywhere in the world but that is another topic. The reason Montreal has lower prices is that it has the lowest per capita GDP of any major North America city. I am surprised at your high prices as I would expect San Francisco which has a relatively low GDP to have lower prices. Great fruit and vegetables are available year round in Quebec but at a price. We also have access to lower price economies in SAmerica, North Africa and the Caribbean.

                                                                                                                          2. I am an ex Montrealer of Asian extraction, living in Vancouver since 1996. I have to say, my adopted city is unbeatable for Asian goods(with the exception of Singaporean/Malaysian). However, everytime I'm back in Montréal, I load up on things I can't get or are expensive. Whole Foods in Vancouver is way overpriced and I avoid Safeway or any large chain like the plague. You can't beat the cheeses at Fromagerie Atwater & trying to find sweetbreads(ris de veau) or French baked goods(viennoiseries or pâtisseries) are unbeatable outside of Montreal . Urban Fare & Whole Foods/Capers are rip offs in Vancouver & whether I'm in Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto, I visit several shops

                                                                                                                            1. I grew up in Cote des Neiges when the supermarket corner Cote des Neiges and Goyer was a Dominion. I drive two hours to get to Tai Foo twice a year and Akhavan every two three months. I am however a twenty minute drive to Magog where the IGA, Provigo and Marche Vegetarien carry a variety of and quality of food I only dreamed of 50 years ago.
                                                                                                                              Of course I grow tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and garlics in my garden that are impossible to find in commercial establishments. Local butchers provide me with meat and poultry that is as good as any on this planet. The pulses and legumes coming in from Alberta are simply a cut above the stuff coming in from elsewhere. Quebec favas have spoiled me to the point I can no longer accept the middle east alternative.My local IGA here in Stanstead bends over backwards to bring in smoked carp and black radish which are not that easy to come by in Montreal. As for chilies commercial growers have neither the time nor the desire to produce chilies that respect the genetics or the heritage of their purported product. California`s pollinators are no more discriminating than our locals and other than myself I know of no other chili head willing to grow only a single variety of the fruit of the gods.
                                                                                                                              All that said
                                                                                                                              i understand your pain and remember well the two hour drive to Chicago`s ethnic neighbourhood for provisions but great Mexican groceries were but a twenty minute drive.

                                                                                                                              1. It's frustrating walking into my Maxi at 8:00 AM on a Saturday and finding the produce section not fully re-stocked. It's annoying trying to maneuver around pallets and carts blocking the aisles. Shouldn't the shelves be re-stocked overnight or earlier in the morning, before customers arrive?