Grocery shopping in Montréal
If you’re new to Montréal, you’re probably wondering what your friends and colleagues mean when they say Je vais faire l’épicerie. They are simply talking about grocery shopping. In France we would say Je vais faire les courses.
I moved to Montréal in September to pursue a degree in food studies. So, let’s just say I know a thing or two about food.
Being a newcomer myself, I decided to share my first impressions and experiences around grocery shopping to help you master this basic, yet essential task. It’s all part of adjusting to the culture of your new home.
A few linguistic considerations
The Québécois phrase should not be confused with magasiner. Faire l’épicerie refers to buying food and basics. Magasiner, on the other hand, is what you would do for fun. It’s what we call shopping in France. You’ll see, Québec French is full of subtleties, but you’ll get the hang of it after a few misunderstandings and some hearty fits of laughter.
Where to shop for groceries?
Based on what I’ve learned living abroad in Spain, Sweden, and now Canada, I would say that grocery shopping in a foreign country is somewhat of an acquired skill.
In the beginning, it’s quite hard to find your bearings among aisles and aisles of unfamiliar products. Even something as simple as deciding which store to go to can be a pain. So, here are my favourite tips and tricks to guide you on your grocery shopping journey.
Conventional grocery stores
By conventional grocery stores, I mean medium and large supermarkets. In Montréal, there’s Metro, IGA, Maxi, Provigo, and Super C. However, if you’re looking for good deals and a place where you can buy food in large quantities, a Costco warehouse is probably your best bet. What’s different about Costco is that they sell food in bulk and their stores are generally located outside the downtown core. Of course, that’s not exactly handy if you don’t have a car.
All these supermarkets sell a wide range of essential goods and fresh produce. The weight of fruits and vegetables is shown in pounds. That’s a bit less than half a kilo.
In Montréal you’ll also find stores like Les Marchés Tradition, Marché Richelieu, and L’intermarché (if you’re French, no, there’s no connection to the famous Les Mousquetaires retail group. When I spotted the store, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it’s not the same).
Independent grocery stores
Montréal is home to many small independent grocery stores that feature a growing selection of local products. I’ve popped into quite a few and now I’m a regular at Épicerie les Récoltes, which is right in my neighbourhood (Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie). Most of their products are from Québec or elsewhere in Canada, so there’s plenty of opportunity to sample interesting new foods. Small stores have the advantage of being invested in the communities in which they operate. When you have such stores in your area, it’s easy to find a sense of community and belonging. What’s more, many of these stores offer click-and-collect and delivery services. Convenient, eh?
Montréal’s public markets
Looking for that farmers’ market vibe and a place where you can get fresh-picked, local produce? Montréal’s public markets have you covered. The city’s four markets are spread across the Island of Montréal, so you’re sure to find one near you. There’s Jean-Talon Market—one of the largest in North America, Atwater Market, Maisonneuve Market in the Hochelaga neighbourhood, and Lachine Market.
Public markets are definitely the place to shop for fresh, local produce at affordable prices and experience the joie de vivre Québec is so famous for.
By specialty grocers, I mean bulk and “health” stores. If you’re looking for organic or gluten-free products or want to do your part for the planet, be sure to check out stores like Rachel Béry and Méga Vrac.
My first roommate, a Frenchman who’d been living here for 10 years, once shared an olive spread from Méga Vrac and I just fell in love with it! So, I went to the closest Méga Vrac store and opened up my chakras to bulk grocery shopping. You’ll find lots of bulk shopping options in Montréal, whether you prefer chain stores or independent stores.
As for organic fruits and veggies, here’s what I would suggest: head to one of the most famous avenues in Montréal, Avenue Mont-Royal, and pop into Passion Fruits. I’ve never seen so much quality produce at such great prices in my entire life!
In Montréal, like elsewhere in Québec, you’ll find lots of micro grocery stores, known as dépanneurs. These stores are often attached to gas stations. Convenience stores carry essentials like water, milk, bread, batteries, and coffee. Not to mention beer and budget-friendly wines. I did say “essentials,” didn’t I?
You’ll quickly spot the names of the most common chains like Couche-Tard, Provisoir, Voisin, and Dépanneur du Coin around town.
Yes, you read it right. I did add drugstores to the list. Why? Because that’s where you’ll find a wide range of personal hygiene products, a few household supplies and, of course, healthcare products. Some Jean Coutu, Pharmaprix, Familiprix, and Uniprix drugstores also sell food items. You won’t get the best deals there, but having a drugstore nearby can help when you’re in a pinch.
Just so you know—and I’m only saying this because it took me a long time to get it myself—Canada Post outlets are located inside drugstores! You’re welcome, ça fait plaisir!
For the homesick
If you’re from Europe and find yourself consumed by nostalgia on a bitterly cold winter day, don’t panic. Montréal’s got everything you need to keep your spirits bright! Here’s a loose list of stores you can go to when your heart starts aching for the flavours of home: Top Discount (France), La Librairie Espagnole (Spain), Fruiterie Milano (Italy), Boucherie Épicerie Soares & Fils (Portugal), Boucherie Atlantique (Germany, Austria), and La Vieille Europe.
A few tips for your first shopping trips
Now, let me offer four important tips to help you get started with your new grocery shopping ways.
Be ready to accept that not everything will be the same or that not everything will taste the same as “before.” Moving to a new country is also about exploring new flavours, new customs, and new ways of life!
Take it one step at a time. I mean, it’s probably not a good idea to start by going on a Costco haul. Try out different things to see what you like and how much you need to stay energized as you settle into your new life in Montréal. All the more so as food waste is a big issue and we should all do something about it.
Wondering what to get once you move into your new apartment? Head to my food blog and check out this list of basics (in French).
Speaking of food waste, here’s another piece of advice. Or, rather, piece of information. In Québec, foods are labelled with a best before date (meilleur avant in French) to let consumers know how long each item will remain fresh. The best before date is an indicator of freshness. It’s a guarantee that the item has not lost its nutritional value and that its colour and texture have not changed. All perishable items with a shelf life of up to 90 days must have a best before date. Once the item has been opened, the best before date is no longer valid. The best before date is the equivalent of what we call a DLUO or date limite de consommation optimale in France.
Last but not least: remember the taxes! Québec residents are required to pay two consumption taxes on the purchase of taxable goods and services: the 5% GST and the 9.975% QST. Most prices in Québec do not include tax. That goes for food prices too.
Generally, basic groceries marketed for human consumption, including meat, grains, fruit, vegetables, eggs, bread, fish, and dairy, are taxed at 0%. You do have to pay tax on processed foods, though. In my opinion, that’s even more reason to shop for fresh produce and cook from scratch as often as you can.
If you find grocery shopping boring, meal kits are the best option for you. And there is no shortage of those in Montréal. How do meal kits work? You pick your meals from a set menu and then everything you need to make those meals is delivered to your door. Some of the most popular meal kit companies out there are Cook it, Good Food, Lufa Farms, and Hello Fresh.
I hope you found this post helpful and you’ll enjoy getting to know Montréal as you explore the many grocery shopping options in the city.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.