Disclaimer: Part of the food below was paid for using media vouchers I was offered with no strings attached.
The stretch of Sainte-Catherine street extending from Atwater avenue to Guy street – officially known as Shaughnessy Village – has completed a full reinvention over the last two decades. During my university days in the mid-nineties, a concentration of Arab-run businesses – shawarma joints, manakish bakeries and shisha cafés – gave it a distinct character.
This was followed by years of degeneration and disrepair, spearheaded by the abandonment and gutting of iconic buildings such as the Montreal Forum, the Seville Theatre and the Faubourg Ste-Catherine. The street's dilapidation combined with its increase in homelessness would earn it the unofficial label of "Concordia Ghetto".
The area's nature would slowly mutate over the last decade, with a slow and steady stream of Asian eateries dominating the neighborhood. From sushi bars and ramen counters to noodle shops, dumpling pushers and Korean fried chicken purveyors, one would be hard-pressed to find an Asian staple without a home here.
Celebrating the village's identity is an outdoors fête de quartier called Shoni Market, which returned for its second edition this weekend. Having missed it last year, considering this was my home during my first five years in Montreal, I made sure I would take part in the festivities this time around.
tagged: CATCH SOME SUN
The festival ran along Sainte-Catherine street from Chomedey to Guy streets. The main passage was closed off for foot traffic, but cars were allowed on crossing streets. My arrival on site at 5PM proved perfect; the heat had subsided by then and the crowd was more manageable than later at sundown.
Attendees encompassed a diverse ethnic mix and counted many children – mine included. Part of the entertainment incorporated a giant boombox/stage hosting live music and a corgi parade. Unfortunately for my kids, we missed the latter; but I did notice a significant presence of canines among the festivalgoers.
tagged: BRING THE KIDS
The food offering consisted of thirty kiosks lining both sides of Sainte-Catherine's sidewalks. The stalls belonged to – and were erected in front of – participating restaurants along this stretch. Cuisines spanned the entire continent of Asia from the Middle East to the Far East, passing by South Asia. From Persian and Indian to Thai, Chinese and Japanese, this was truly a Pan-Asian array of scents and flavors.
Now, did I eat anything particularly out of this world? No; this is – for the most part – pre-made, quick-serve street food after all. However, the diversity available at an affordable sticker price made it totally worth it. A friend I bumped into framed it perfectly: it gave her an opportunity to try something new – dish or restaurant – at a minimal investment of time and money.
This is where Shoni Market excels. I have been to festivals with a never-ending lineup to access the site. I have been to some with a dismal turnout and others busier than Trudeau airport this summer. Some blast your eardrums with unwelcome music while others feel like a giant corporate sponsorship. And let's not forget the nightmare of reaching Old Montreal by car at the height of festival season.
Shoni simply felt like an organic neighborhood celebration. You could reach it from several points, easily stroll through the whole thing and not have to rub elbows with anyone. Queues at the stalls moved quickly and food followed suit, except when skewers were involved; those were grilled on demand. If I were to nitpick: a few more tables and porter potties would have been convenient – those bubble teas were large after all!
tagged: HOLD YOUR PEE
Following the explosion and saturation of Montreal's food festivals over the last decade, one could say I went through "festival fatigue". In fact, I have mostly avoided them of late. Did Montreal really need one more in the form of Shoni Market? Would I consider it one of the city's marquee, cannot-miss events? Let's be honest and answer both questions with a no.
What this sophomore festival does accomplish, however, is commemorate a district with a sketchy past and confirm its new identity. Call it Shaughnessy Village or Concordia Ghetto if you may; there is no clearer proof that Chinatown 2 is the most fitting moniker.
Price per person: $15.37
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.