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Dec 11, 2002 01:20 PM

edible gifts to bring back to New York?

  • z

My boyfriend and I will be celebrating our anniversary/the holidays with a week's stay in Montreal this December. I've gotten great tips (and cravings) from this site for places to eat, snack, drink, etc. and we can't wait! But tell me, what would be the best edible gifts to bring back for friends and family? Cheese, chocolate, obscure regional items--whether fancy, funny, or other. We live in Brooklyn New York, so I'll be looking for things not available around home. Also, we'll be travelling by train, so items must be portable and not too perishable. Thank you for any suggestions!

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  1. When I hear regional, edible and gift in the same sentence, I think of Le marché des saveurs. Located at the southeast corner of Jean-Talon Market, the store stocks only Quebec-made foods and drinks: hams, cheeses, vinegars, herbes salés, smoked fish, mussels, candies (chocolate-covered blueberries(!), though they may be out of season), beers, fruit wines, ice ciders, liqueurs and much more. The packaging is often exquisite, too.

    In fact, you could probably do nearly all of your shopping in one fell swoop at Jean-Talon Market:
    - Fromagerie Hamel on the north side has 400+ cheeses, several of them local (don't miss their Maroilles à la Maudite, a French raw-milk cheese they import young and ripen in their cellars, washing it every few days with Maudite, the excellent locally brewed Belgian-style brown ale).
    - Chez Louis, smack dab in the middle of the row of stores on the south side of the market, is the city's top green grocer (it supplies Toqué! and many other restos). You'll find blue and ratte potatoes (the latter rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic), miniature veggies, wild mushrooms, exotic fruits, truffles, micro-arugula and mesclun, and the like. It's always a good idea to ask what they have in back; some of the neatest stuff is never displayed. This time of year they usually stock "salicorne", a salt-marsh herb/vegetable that grows in the Gaspé Penninsula and is a great addition (raw, chopped) to salads or sautéed or steamed briefly and served with fish or shellfish.
    - The two bakeries at the market, Au pain doré and Premier moisson, have specialty breads and cakes, including some inedible bread "sculptures" (alligators, turtles).
    - Un, deux, trois chocolats is a chocolate store near the market that specializes in handmade truffles, some with unusual fillings (the spice-filled truffle is an experience), chocolate masks and um, er, anatomically correct chocolate erotica (hidden from minors' prying eyes; you have to ask) that some people find very amusing.
    - Quincaillerie Dante, the cooks' and hunters' supply shop on the corner of Dante St. and St-Dominique, usually has interesting handmade kitchen tools, artisanal soaps, etc.

    Other spots you might want to hit:
    - Laurier Street, west and east of du Parc. The gourmet butcher/grocer Anjou-Québec has big jars of cassoulet maison and many other portable delicacies. Across the street, Gourmet Laurier has a wide assortment of packaged foodstuffs (vinegars, oils, chocolate, honeys, cheeses, olives, coffees, mustards, herbs, fruits in eau-de-vie, etc.), much of it French. Stop by the SAQ Sélection for Quebec and Ontario wines, ice wines, ciders, ice ciders, aperitifs, digestifs, etc. Pâtisserie de Gascogne is a great store for cakes and pastries, including the traditional bûche de Noël (Yule log), as well as chocolates, candies and prepared foods. Léonidas, on du Parc just north of Laurier, sells Belgian chocolates with wonderful fillings. Daskalidas, across the street from the SAQ, wraps finer chocolate around less scrumptuous fillings.
    - Many butchers have excellent charcuterie (sausages, cold cuts, hams, etc.). One of the best is La queue de cochon at the far end of Laurier, 1375 Laurier East to be exact; going there also gives you the chance to buy bread from Le Fromentier (Toqué!'s supplier).
    - Intersecting du Parc a couple of long blocks north of Laurier is Saint-Viateur St. The bagel factory is just to the east (they don't keep very well, unfortunately). On the corner is the just-opened Épicierie fine Milos, the chic "grocery" arm of Milos restaurant; it features all kinds of Greek gourmet food products that you'd be hard pressed to find even in NYC. Continue one block north to Bernard and a few blocks west and you'll be at Les fromages Pierre-Yves Chaput (1218 Bernard West), with what are probably the best French and Quebec cheeses in North America.
    - If I recall correctly (it's been a while), the trendy Old Montreal restaurant Chez l'épicier also sells a selection of Quebec foodstuffs.
    - For the best seasonal French baked goods, head west to Passe-Partout (3857 Décarie): Alsatian Kougelhopfs, fruit cakes, bûches de Noël, etc.
    - In my opinion (and I'll probably be lynched for it), taking a smoked meat brisket back to pastrami-filled NYC is the North American equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle. But some people do it. Schwartz's will sell you one. They also usually spice and smoke ducks and geese for the holidays. If the idea appeals, you'll want to call ahead: 514 842-4813.

    A couple of travel tips:
    - While picking up gifts, why not pick up the makings for a picnic on the train? That's what I do before leaving Montreal and NYC (Dean & Deluca's, here I come!). Breads, cheeses, cold cuts, salads, chocolates, fruits... Sure beats Amtrak's diner car offerings.
    - You might consider bringing an insulated food chest with you or buying one here. That would allow you to take back perishable delicacies like Quebec salt-marsh lamb (assuming you can find it), foie gras, ripe cheeses, uncured sausages, etc.

    11 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      Carswell has pretty much covered it. I'd like to suggest ice cider, because I think its uniquely Quebec, and there aren't a lot of other places where it could be made. It's made by letting apples freeze on the tree, and then harvesting and fermenting them. That requires that the cold snap in fast enough that the apples don't fall off or rot on the tree, or whatever happens to apples elsewhere. Le marché des saveurs has a huge selection. If you're overwhelmed, Pinnacle and Neige (snow) are my favorites.

      1. re: carswell

        If people want the makings of a picnic but don't want to buy in advance, that Premier Moison (sp?) in the Montreal train station has some pretty good cheese, bread, pate, etc. But if you are bringing things in in grater quantity than just lunch, don't you worry about customs for items like meat, cheese, and produce? I know a lot of the French cheeses are illegal in the US, and customs asks questions about "farm items," which I presume would include fruit, meat, etc.

        1. re: Wanda

          Hi, Wanda. Good to see you're still with us electronically if not physically.

          >don't you worry about customs for items like meat,
          >cheese, and produce? I know a lot of the French
          >cheeses are illegal in the US, and customs asks
          >questions about "farm items," which I presume would
          >include fruit, meat, etc.

          In my experience, US Customs is pretty lax about stuff coming in from Canada for personal consumption. I've taken legs of lamb, uncooked foie gras, raw-milk cheeses, breads, wines, beers, fruits and vegetables across the border, declared them all and had nary a problem. A couple of years ago, before lugging down an ice-chest full of goodies for friends in upstate NY, I called U.S. Customs at Dorval to ask about restrictions. They essentially said that, with a few exceptions, anything sold in Canada was fair game for importation for personal use. The exceptions: citrus fruit (worries about the Mediterranean fruit fly and other insect infestations), dirt (no potted plants), and any items banned under endangered species treaties (ivory, certain wild plants, etc.). Note that all this was prior to 9/11, but I haven't heard anything about added restrictions on imports of foodstuffs in the interim.

          Of course, to some extent it's going to depend on the customs officer you deal with. A friend with a chalet in the Adirondacks tells me she got hassled about bringing Quebec apples into the States this summer. She argued back, said she'd done it hundreds of times before and asked the officer to cite the provision under which apples were banned; he relented and let her pass.

          1. re: carswell

            Thanks, Carswell. When we took the train we actually gobbled down our pate and cheese coming home before we got to the border, just in case some hungry guard confiscated it. If I'd known it was OK to bring more, I might have tried it! I will remember what to say from what your friend with the apples said.

            BTW, we LOVED the Amtrak ride, both ways, it was another highlight of our trip. It may take longer than a car, but riding along the upper Hudson and Lake Champlain was truly exquisite. It was interesting crossing the St Lawrence too. We were lucky in the weather, and the train was on time both times too. Do you take the train often? I gather it is not always on time? What are the trains to Quebec City and Ottawa like? Does the train to Quebec go along the St Lawrence?

            1. re: Wanda

              Railroad buffs say that the Adirondack is one of the most scenic routes on the continent. Not long ago, I ran across a French coffeetable book titled "Les 100 plus belles routes de chemin de fer au monde" or something like that and the Adirondack was one of only three Canadian/U.S. routes that made the cut (the other two were Edmonton to Vancouver via Jasper and Chicago to San Francisco). True, it takes a couple of hours longer than driving but the scenery is spectacular (Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, Storm Mountain, West Point, the Hudson from Albany to NYC, etc.), there are electical plugs so you can work on a laptop or listen to a discman, you can get up and walk around, take a nap, make some real headway into a novel, have a great picnic, etc. You're lucky that your trains were on time, as that's fairly uncommon, though the situation has improved since they switched to their current equipment. The real problem is with the roadbed, though, and Amtrak has no control over that.

              Amtrak has a second route to NYC and DC, the Vermonter, which requires you to take a charter bus (at 5:30 a.m.!) from Central Station to St. Alban's, where you catch the actual train. The route, which goes through the Green Mountains, down the Connecticut River valley and along the north shore of Long Island Sound is scenic, especially in the fall. There's also been some semi-serious talk of restoring service between Montreal and Boston.

              The trains from Montreal to Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto are pleasant--speedy, comfortable, clean and quiet--but the routes are boring (no, the train to Quebec City doesn't go along the Saint Lawrence, although it does cross it just before arriving). For scenery (and great refurbished 1950s cars), take the sleeper trains to the Gaspé Penninsula or Halifax; both cross the Appalachians and the Gaspé train winds along the north shore of the Baie des Chaleurs.

              1. re: carswell

                Thanks for the info, Carswell. Is the Gaspe Peninsula that town with an M, from which you can catch a bus and ferry to Prince Edward Island? I'd love to go there some time and also to St John's Newfoundland. In fact, I'd love to go to Greenland too! I bet the food isn't as good as Montreal in any of these island places, but they seem beautiful (in summer, anyway).

                1. re: Wanda

                  >Is the Gaspe Peninsula that town with an M, from
                  >which you can catch a bus and ferry to Prince Edward

                  Nope. The Gaspé is the stunningly beautiful, sparsely inhabited tongue of land that sticks out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Bounded on the north by the St. Lawrence River and on the south by Chaleur Bay, it's basically the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains (well, the northern end in North America; the Appalanchians actually rise again as--surprise!--France's Massif Central). Gaspé and Percé, the final destinations on Via Rail's Chaleur line, are at the very tip of the tongue.

                  I imagine the "M" town you're talking about is Moncton, New Brunswick. It's served by the Ocean, Via Rail's Montreal-Halifax line, and has bus service to Prince Edward Island. As far as I know, ferry service between NB and PEI is a thing of the past, replaced a while back by the so-called fixed link, a very long bridge across the Northumberland Strait. See:


                  There are a few other islands you might want to add to your wish list.

                  The Magdalen Islands, a small archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, are definitely worth the visit. Unlike PEI and Newfoundland, you'll never forget that you're in the middle of the sea, far from everywhere. Ferry service during ice-free months is available from Souris, PEI. It also looks like the Quebec government is serious about starting ferry service between the islands and Chandler, on the Gaspé Peninsula, sometime soon. See:


                  Cape Breton Island, the eastern part of Nova Scotia, is breathtaking. Lovers of sea and mountains should not miss the Cabot Trail, the road that circumnavigates the Cape Breton Highlands.

                  And don't forget St-Pierre and Miquelon, the two French islands off Newfoundland's south coast.

                  Greenland I can't vouch for, but you'll eat pretty well on the Magdalens, especially if you like seafood.

                2. re: carswell

                  I second the opinion on the Adirondack route. I do it about every year or two. About 80% of the route is truly scenic, and the whole route in both directions is traversed by daylight. Not many rail lines in North Anerica can make that statement.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    >About 80% of the route is truly scenic...

                    True. The only boring bits are between Montreal's south shore and the border and between, say, Whitehall and Schenectady/Albany.

                    >...and the whole route in both directions is traversed by daylight.

                    Well, yes and no. Am I right in guessing that you've never taken the train this time of year? Since night falls at around 4:30, you miss all the scenery from Schenectady south on the southbound train and from Plattsburg north on weekends (the border north on weekdays) in the other direction.

                    1. re: carswell

                      Well, yes, you are right. I was using a bit of poetic license here. I think the latest in the year I have taken it was October (northbound, on a weekday). I grew up in Massena, NY but have lived in California for the past 40 years so I don't even THINK of going to MTL this time of year.

                      Last year, I took the Adirondack southbound in June, and it was so far behind schedule that it was dark before we got to NYC. But all in all....

          2. re: carswell

            Forgot to include the contact info for Un, deux, trois chocolats:

            7010 Casgrain, Montreal
            tel. (514) 803-3673

          3. Montreal bagels. There's nothing like them here.

            1. try to get arome fleurs and fruits jams, spreads, etc.

              try visiting chambly qc for unibroue beers-

              visit oka-for cheese(i haven't been to the monastery there in awhile for the cheese.

              go into local supermarket and get some canadian canned goodies-not exactly gourmet but interesting-

              just a reminder-check to see what items you can't bring through customs-

              1 Reply
              1. re: hildegard

                Good suggestions, Hildegard, but if Zoe and BF are coming by train, they may not have access to a car, which pretty much puts Oka and Chambly out of range. Fortunately, Oka cheese (make sure you get the raw-milk Classic and not the tasteless Light) and Unibroue beers are easily found in the city: almost every store with a cheese selection stocks the former and many grocery and convenience stores (dépanneurs) the latter.

              2. Thanks for all the wonderful advice!!! We are sure to have much heavier bags on the way home!