With a lively mix of people and cuisine, Montreal is a city renowned for its cultural diversity and tantalizing food scene — and from June 7 both will be on display at the inaugural Japan Week, hosted by YATAI MTL.
Throughout the week, 35 Japanese restaurants and boutiques around the city are offering street food, drinks and various other Japan-related products — everything from kimonos to ceramics to soy sauce.
While Montreal’s Japanese population is modest in size — around 2,500 individuals, according to the 2016 Canadian census — its contribution to the city’s culinary scene is significant. There is a large appetite for all things Japan in Montreal, according to YATAI MTL co-founder Thien Vu Dang, who has organised other Japanese events and festivals in the past.
“Ninety eight per cent (of our guests) are non-Japanese people from all cultures,” says Vu Dang. “It’s beautiful to see people from all nationalities come to enjoy Japanese culture and street food.”
Attendees are invited to use the Japan Week map, available on the YATAI MTL website to plot a Japan-inspired tour through the city.
The YATAI MTL Japan Week 2021 map. (Map: YATAI MTL/Google Maps)
Past years have seen YATAI MTL organise in-person street food festivals with multiple food stands and trucks in one location. Due to COVID-19, Vu Dang and his wife and co-founder Yasuko Tadokoro made some changes this time around — for Japan Week, customers will go to the restaurants and purchase street food that they can take with them as they wander around the city.
Although the Japanese population is small relative to cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, many Montrealers have found their own way to connect with Japanese culture. In the case of Tokusen founders Samuel Laurin and Sara Couture, vendors participating in Japan Week, this has led them to share what they know of Japanese culture with their fellow Montrealers.
Having both participated in the JET programme — a Japanese government initiative that brings participants to Japan to teach English and exchange cultures — they founded Tokusen after returning to Canada. Unable to find the type of authentic soy sauce in Montreal that they’d come to love, they set out to bring the real thing to Canada. Tokusen, which sells premium quality soy sauce imported from Japan, was born.
“The traditional method [of soy sauce making] is a lot like winemaking,” says Laurin. “It’s a slow fermentation in Japanese cedar barrels. And the fermentation process takes from six months to up to three years.”
Their supplier, Daikō Shōyu, still makes soy sauce — or shōyu — the traditional way, and have done so since 1852. The current head of Daikō Shōyu, Kensuke Ōsugi, is the sixth generation in his family to brew soy sauce.
“We’re in the business to educate people that there’s something better out there in terms of soy sauce, and other Japanese foods,” says Laurin, “than what you get at your normal grocery store.”
Tokusen will be present at the “mini marché” portion of the festival, held at Cafe OSMO from Thursday, June 10, to Sunday, June 13, along with several other Japanese product vendors.
Get a taste of what Japan Week will offer by scrolling through some of the photos below.