The Real Montreal Smoked Meat

By August 31, 2014Food & Wine, Life

By Mike Archer. You’ve seen the advertising – Montreal-Style Smoked Meat, probably without understanding its import. It’s supposed to be good. Better than the rest. Worth the extra money charged in the packaged meat section …

People who have never experienced the original don’t really understand. There’s something about a real Montreal smoked meat sandwich with real deli coleslaw and a proper deli pickle which will absolutely change your life.

As an ex-pat Montrealer I have learned to look with suspicion upon the signs in grocery stores and restaurants promising ‘Montreal-style’ smoked meat. Unless a cook has the courage to call what he makes ‘Montreal smoked meat,’ he isn’t making real Montreal smoked meat.

So it was with a little trepidation, and more than a little caution, that I entered Zako’s Deli on Broadway in Vancouver on Sunday. The sign outside said, ‘Montreal Smoked Meat,’ so I knew that the man inside was either foolish, courageous, or knew what he was doing. After falling victim to a number of impostors over the years, I withheld judgment.

My wife Caroline and my son JD entered the small restaurant ahead of me and, when welcomed by the owner who makes his own sandwiches (a good sign) my wife told him I was from Montreal and knew my smoked meat.

“Ah,” he said, “Then you must taste to know the truth,” he said and handed me a generous sample of his smoked meat on a small paper sampler.

I popped it in my mouth and was immediately transported to the moment in the 19070s when my father had introduced to me to real Montreal smoked meat.

Schwartz’s Deli, Ben’s Restaurant, Dunn’s Famous Montreal Smoked Meat, have all made Montreal smoked meat famous and known around the world.

The sandwich I enjoyed at Zako’s was as good as any I’ve ever eaten. I kid you not. It was as good as anything I’ve eaten at Schwartz’s, Dunn’s or Ben’s … and that is saying a lot.

52-year-old Slalah Saleh from Benghazi opened Zako’s Deli in 2006. He says that Zako was the nickname of a boy called Zakaria, a son of former Surrey resident Ashur Bin Khayal. who became Libya’s transitional minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation after the overthrow of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

“People here don’t know what it means to enjoy real Montreal smoked meat, Saleh told me. “I hand out ten, maybe 20, samples a day to people who come in asking me, ‘What is this Montreal smoked meat? What is smoked meat?”

“One taste and they are hooked,” he says, smiling,

Saleh has learned the miraculous combination of spices and brine which create the gentle, sweet, juicy goodness which is real Montreal smoked meat. Many have tried but in the decades since I left Montreal I’ve only found one man who has truly mastered the skill of making true Montreal smoked meat.

When I told him about Mike’s Montreal Smoked Meat which once served the real deal in Chilliwack, he told me of a place in Langley which is comparable – Estrella’s Montreal Deli and Cafe.

“That man knows what he’s doing,” he said.

A tip of the hat from a true professional. He wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true so now I’m going to have to visit Estrella’s in Langley.

Sigh … tough job this.


Zako’s Deli is a small independent business specializing in “A Taste of Montreal”. Located at the corner of Broadway Ave. and Cambie St. in Vancouver, under the Big Pickle Awning, we are easily reached by public transit on the 99B line or the Canada Line Broadway City Hall station (one stop from the Olympic Village station).

When you come to our shop, you will be greeted by Salah, our owner, or one of fantastic staff. We will offer you a “taste” of our Montreal Smoked Meat. This will usually result in you ordering a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich platter complete with fresh vinaigrette cole slaw and a sour pickle.

Our customers also love our fresh cut fries, steamie platters, and our delicious poutine featuring curd cheese brought in weekly from Vancouver Island and a vegetarian brown gravy. We pride ourselves on using fresh ingredients, made or grown locally.

We are family friendly, and a local favourite for Montrealers missing a taste of home. Drop by and taste for yourself!


Would you like to have some family fun? Would you like to participate in the Sun Run but don’t have a team? Are you worried you aren’t really a runner? Join Zako’s Deli Poutine Team! Every year, Zako’s Deli participates as a corporate team in the Vancouver Sun Run. All ages and abilities welcome. Our last year team included walkers and runners ranging in age from 6 to 66! Your entry fee includes a Sun Run t-shirt with the Zako’s Deli “big pickle” logo and Poutine Team name and a free post race celebration at Zako’s Deli.

For the past 5 years to help celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan, Zako’s Deli has been part of a group providing meals to the less fortunate in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In 2012 about 2000 meals were served.

Hours of Operation: 11AM to 9PM Sun-Tue, 11AM to 10PM Wed-Sat
Address: Unit 102 – 500 West Broadway Ave, Vancouver
Phone: (604) 709-9202
Fax: (604) 709-9203
We accept Cash, Debit or Visa.

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