26 hours in Montreal, Quebec, Canada – Day 1

A few weeks ago, we decided to take an impromptu trip to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and of course, my #1 priority is food. 7 years ago, I spent one month living in Montreal as part of the Explore Program, so I already had an idea of what spots I had to revisit.

Coffee break @ Pikolo Espresso Bar

It was an easy 2 hour-drive from Ottawa to Montreal and after quickly checking into our hotel on the west side of downtown, we took a nice leisurely walk past the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and through the beautiful campus of McGill University to our first stop – coffee at Pikolo Espresso Bar. It was a very small, hipster coffee shop with window seating, a small upper balcony, as well as a bench in front of the shop, which is where we sat to enjoy our good coffee while people-watching. The weather was perfect at this time, so it was nice to be outside.

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McGill University. Photo credit: Aaron.

Smoked Meat @ Schwartz’s

Next stop, the famous Schwartz’s. This is probably one of the must-visit places in Montreal. It is so famous their walls are full of photos of celebrity visitors. There was also a musical based on it! There is always a line-up but it moves quite quickly. For those who do not want to wait, you can go through the door on the left for take-out instead. We wanted the whole experience, so we patiently waited in line and were seated in no time at a communal table with 2 other couples. Aaron had the fatty smoked meat sandwich, while I chose the medium one. We also shared some fries and a dill pickle. The smoked meat was encased in a soft, unassuming bread as to not overtake the star of the show. There was a thick layer of mustard which paired perfectly with the smoked meat. I took a bite of my sandwich and immediately was impressed with the taste and texture of the meat. This was truly something you can only get in Montreal. The smoked meat I’ve had elsewhere does not compare to this at all as they were usually dry and tough. Then, I took a bite of Aaron’s fatty smoked meat sandwich and realized there was no turning back. The meat was so fatty, it just melted in my mouth with every bite. Immense regret immediately rushed through me as I wished that I had ordered this sandwich instead. The pickle was a nice refreshing touch but the fries were unremarkable. The set up here reminded me of Asia with the communal seating and the cash-only payment up at the cash. The service was super-friendly and efficient! If you haven’t had enough, feel free to purchase smoked meat by the pound to bring home.

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Smoked meat sandwich @ Schwartz’s. Photo credit: Aaron.

My first VR experience

While walking to Schwartz’s, we came across a pop-up Samsung store advertising their VR technology. Now that we are contently full, we decided to drop in to take a look. I became extremely worried when I realized the VR experience was more than just walking around with a device on my head. It consisted of being strapped to a machine which not only tilted you forward and backwards, but also flipped you upside down. I signed the consent anyway and stood in line while hoping with all my might that I would not vomit since all I can feel is layers of smoked meat in my stomach at this time. After securely fastening the VR device on my head and getting strapped into this motorized seat, I was ready. The experience was actually a lot more fun and less nauseating then I expected. It was imitating an experience on a rollercoaster and to be honest, I felt that it was much less motion-sickness evoking than a real ride would. The only awkward part is when you’re on a real rollercoaster, it’s not strange to scream as those around you would usually be also screaming. In this case, I was the only one screaming while bystanders just watched and giggled.

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Aaron enjoying his VR roller coaster ride.

From hip-hop to opera

We were told there was a graffiti festival near-by so we walked over to Saint Catherine Street and were greeted with some pretty impressive rapping with a very enthusiastic crowd. We watched that for a while before walking around to admire the artwork on the walls. There was even a DJ on the roof of one of these buildings while the audience on the street cheered on with their “beverages” in paper bags. We continued to walk along Saint Catherine when we came across an outdoor showing of an opera on a huge screen. We quite appreciated the juxtaposition between this and the hard-core rapping performances we witnessed a few minutes ago. On our way to the hotel, we had to stop by Pappa Roti for some nicely warmed-up coffee bun even though we were still full from our smoked meat sandwiches. It was actually pretty good, despite still not being as good as the one we had in Kuala Lumpur.

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Live rapping performance at the graffiti festival.
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Street art at the graffiti festival.
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Coffee bun @ Pappa Roti. Photo credit: Aaron.

Kampai

After changing into clothes more appropriate for the cooler evening climate, we stopped by Kampai Garden for some drinks. The cocktails here were pretty good and were sold by the pitcher – meant to be shared, but it did come with a large straw … for those who like to indulge ;). We decided to try the duck tataki, which was apparently entered into a local competition. It was served over sushi rice and coated with an amazing sauce – quite delicious! We managed to get a seat easily on the patio since it was soon closing but there was a long line to get inside the resto-club, which was open till 3am. After dinner, we headed over to meet up with our friends who were also visiting Montreal this weekend. Overall, an amazing and eventful first day in Montreal. We arrived quite late in the afternoon so it we did not get to try as much of the food as we wanted today but stay tuned for Day 2 for more local favourites!

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Sangria @ Kampai Garden.
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