Beyond poutine: Québec City’s French-inspired cuisine

There's more to Québec City's food than just gravy and cheese curds. A lot more.

Québec City was named one of the Top 20 Best Food Cities in the World by readers of Condé Nast Traveler.
Québec City was named one of the Top 20 Best Food Cities in the World by readers of Condé Nast Traveler. –Shutterstock

From poutine and meat pies to maple syrup-covered meals in sugar shacks, Québec City’s rich cuisine is rooted in tradition. Named one of the Top 20 Best Food Cities in the World according to readers of Condé Nast Traveler, it owes much of its hearty flavor to a storied history as well as a booming contemporary food scene—making it an ideal destination for classic French dishes and modern twists alike.

Take a bite out of the city’s culinary roots

Traditional Québec City cuisine found its foothold during the fur trade period, shortly after French settlers came to Canada. Dishes featured both French-inspired tastes as well as lard or other fatty ingredients that kept traders warm and satisfied in the cold Canadian winter. One of the most popular dishes of the 1600s was tourtière, a spiced meat pie with a flaky crust. Traditionally made with game birds, it’s now more commonly served with fowl or pork during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. For a taste year-round, make a reservation at the revered Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens and order “Grandma’s treat,” a classic Québec meat pie served with beans and potatoes.

Embark on a “tour de Québec City cuisine” as the locals do.
Embark on a “tour de Québec City cuisine” as the locals do. —Shutterstock

Taste a local specialty—now for every palate

Arguably the region’s most popular dish, poutine (French-fried potatoes covered in gravy and cheesecurds) is rumored to have been first created in a Québec bar in the 1950s. While you’ll be happy with the poutine at just about any restaurant—this is Québec, after all—local fast-food chain Chez Ashton is one of the best-known local choices, lauded for its fresh-cut fries and homemade sauce. For a more contemporary take, head to Le Chic Shack, where you can choose from poutine with sophisticated toppings like wild mushroom ragoût, pickled onions, or horseradish aioli.

Be in for a sweet surprise

If you’re visiting Québec during the spring thaw, you’re in luck: it’s sugar season! Every March and April, Québecois gather to enjoy a gigantic meal of eggs, beans, ham, bacon, and deep-fried smoked pork jowls—all doused in a healthy serving of just-tapped maple syrup—at a local sugar shack (cabane à sucre). Comparable to the American Thanksgiving, the feast is served at long, family-style tables and often followed by a horse-drawn sleigh ride or tire sur la neige, wherein boiled maple tree sap is poured over clean snow to harden and create a maple taffy treat.

Tire sur la neige, wherein boiled maple tree sap is poured over clean snow to harden and create a sweet maple taffy treat. —Shutterstock

Make plans for a more modern meal

Though French tradition plays a large role in Québec City fare, the city’s contemporary cuisine is also influenced by the area’s varied culture. Locals enjoy dining out in the neighborhood of Saint-Jean, a bustling bohemian neighborhood with a historic past: It’s the home of J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. St-Jean’s recently revitalized neighbor, the Saint-Roch district, is also a trendy destination. Once a working-class neighborhood, its converted factories, artist lofts, and entrepreneurial spirit combine to create a wonderfully urban dining experience. Experience the best of the area’s cuisine with a leisurely brunch at Le Clocher Penché Bistrot, where your meal is served with a latte and verrine, an appetizer served in a small glass.

Hop on to the city’s craft beer trend

Beer from La Korrigane.
Craft beer from La Korrigane. —Shutterstock

Next, enjoy an afternoon or evening at La Korrigane, a microbrewery owned by Catherine Foster, a former geologist. “My father started brewing his own beer in the early 90s, so I saw him brewing since I was a young girl,” says Foster, who opened La Korrigane in 2010. “The restaurant for which he brewed closed in 2008, and I was sad he was not going to continue selling his beer—so I bought his equipment to start my own brewery.”

La Korrigane, one of many breweries in the city, still uses several of Foster’s father’s traditional recipes. “We have more than 25 recipes at the brewery, but we serve about eight to 10 at a time,” says Foster. All of the food at La Korrigane is locally grown and produced—“from the cheese to the beef to the potatoes for French fries,” Foster says. “We use fresh, local blueberries, cranberries, honey, and maple syrup in our beer, too.”


Local produce, fresh for the eating (and picking)

This seems to be a trend in Québec: Locally grown ingredients are becoming paramount in Québecois cooking. “Many restaurants in Québec City offer local, seasonal vegetables with their main dishes,” says Foster. One such restaurant is Panache Mobile, a food truck stationed at Vignoble de Sainte-Pétronille vineyard on Île d’Orleans. The truck is a spinoff of Panache, a four-diamond restaurant led by Louis Pacquelin, a respected local chef. The menu is adapted to whatever local produce is in season, so you can bet on fresh flavors year-round—though the lobster roll is a good choice any time of year.


Credit —Boston Globe Media

If foraging for your own food is more your style, drive a few miles outside the city to a “U-pick” farm. Much like New England orchards, U-pick farms allow visitors to harvest their own fruits and vegetables for a farm-to-table experience. Pick apples, raspberries, black currants, and even asparagus at farms as nearby as Île d’Orléans, just a short drive from the city center. Enjoy the fruits of your labor on the spot, or head back to the city and pair them with gourmet cheeses and freshly-baked baguettes from a local bakery. Either way, you’ll finish your “tour de Québec City cuisine” as the locals do.

Learn more about Québec City.

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