By Tania Romito

Nestled between Jean Talon Street and Mozart Street is a historic Montreal landmark and trendy local market, Marché Jean Talon. Three short blocks away from Jean Talon Metro and walking distance from Jarry Park, this is where locals gather to shop, eat and socialize.

Image source: Flickr
The market is located in the Little Italy district, home to one of Montreal's original Italian communities. The Italian flare of the community is present in the market itself, but so are the demographic changes that my family has witnessed in the past 30 years or so. Today, the market is made up of merchants from different ethnic backgrounds, but most notably French Canadian and Italian. The neighbourhood's population, however, is no longer dominated by Italian immigrants, but instead it has come to represent the diversified culture that defines the very city.

The unique experience of the Jean Talon Market heavily relies on this diversification and cultural exchange. It welcomes people who speak French or English and those who can hardly speak either. It welcomes the regular clients who come from the suburbs in Laval and the South Shore, and those who live down the block and come for a tomato or two to complete their recipe for that night's dinner. No matter where newcomers are arriving from, the market can never feel completely foreign.

At opposite ends from each other are two rows of specialty stores, as seen in the photo above. Between the two rows are countless local farmer stands. Among the many specialty foods you can find at the market are cheese, meat, fish, eggs, jam, maple syrup, bread, pumpkins and squash in autumn, coffee, tea, gelato, organic foods and products, spices, and of course, vegetable and fruit. The green structure to the far right of the picture above is a fruit and vegetable store. It is also where I've spent many mornings setting up and countless Sundays selling mangos.

Marché Tania is the fruit and vegetable store that belongs to my father, Joe Romito and my uncle Edgidio Abate. My great-uncle and grandfather started doing business in the market in 1979, slowly recruiting other family members into the industry. Finally, my uncle and father acquired their own business, a fruit store, that would be named after me in 1989, shortly after I was born. Our small family business is run by the owners themselves as well as my mother, Rosie, and of course, our market-veteran, my grandfather, Giovanni. The market's busiest season is between the months of May and October. Needless to say that everything in Montreal is bigger and better when it's not -20 degrees!

The market is no exception. Locals and visitors flood the market during summertime, taking advantage of the warm weather. Almost all the vendors have their shops set up outside, making it primarily an outdoor market. The sunshine and the colours of the fruits and flowers makes everyone smile. The vendors are cheerful and friendly, and walking through the market and talking with them is part of the experience. Don't be shy to ask questions and especially, to ask for any recipes they might suggest to best prepare the foods you are purchasing from them.

  Despite the hustle and bustle of the summer months, the market is open year-round. The winter experience is different but unique and definitely worth bundling up for. The local produce is unavailable, emptying the center of the square that is usually filled by these local merchants. Still, some sections are filled with merchants selling fresh pine and fir trees, during Christmas time. Even more, in recent years, an indoor section has been created, allowing clients to not only park their cars underground, but also enjoy the market experience in an indoor structure.

The stores lined on the sides of the market, as is my family's, set up shop indoor as well. (As seen in the photo below.) Unlike the misconception that winter fruit is boring, there is more to it than apples and pears. With the luxury to import produce from all around the world, we can enjoy an array of tasty fruits all year round. Among my favourite winter arrivals are apricots and cherries from Chili, pomegranates and cactus pears from California, figs from Argentina, kiwi and Abate pears from Italy and clementines from Spain and Morocco. Not only is parking a lot easier during the quieter winter months, but so is finding a seat at Premiere Moisson, so to more peacefully enjoy a café au lait and signature croissant.

  For visitors, the Jean Talon Market reflects the diversified population, good food and friendly people that often define the city. For Montrealers themselves, the market is a place to meet up with friends, have a nice lunch, eat authentic croissants, but mostly it is where they are sure to find quality foods and fresh fruit, with tons of merchants to shop from - a refreshing alternative to the local grocery store, to say the least.

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