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Keeping It Local–Appreciating The Food Scene in Quebec

Cultivating, purchasing, and serving local food isn’t a new concept in the culinary world.  In fact it’s been around for decades, many crediting Alice Waters with bringing it to the attention of Americans with the launch of her Berkley restaurant, Chez Panisse.  More recently there was Rene Redzepi, founder and creator of Copenhagen’s Noma, who insisted on using only local Danish ingredients--a highly unusual idea at the time. The local food movement is alive and well in Quebec, but with an interesting twist of emphasizing local and traditional foods.  As I learned during my food tour--provided by Tours Voir Quebec--food shops and restaurants in this town are proud to offer items that combine their Native, French, English and Canadian heritage.  Yes, these ingredients are local and support the farmers and producers of the region, but they also represent a province that has carefully incorporated all of its cultures into the food.  (To learn even more about Quebec, click here.)

A photo of Wendy sitting outside and enjoying a locally brewed beer in Quebec City
Enjoying a locally brewed beer in Quebec City

Traditional and Local Foods of Quebec

So what are the traditional foods of Quebec?  This won’t be an exhaustive list, but I’ll cover the highlights.  I would be remiss (and possibly forbidden from ever returning) if I didn’t start with maple syrup.  If you’ve ever been to Canada you know this country is proud of its production of this syrup. But in this province, maple syrup is a part of everything--ice cream, chocolate, marinades, vinegar, liquor, candy, etc.  72% of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec. I highly recommend a visit to Delices Erable & Cie, a small chain of stores specializing in the sale of maple, honey and cranberry products. Not only are there some great food items for sale here, but the staff are very knowledgeable about maple syrup and all its resulting products.

Lapin Saute, a restaurant featuring rabbit dishes, in Quebec
Lapin Saute, a restaurant featuring rabbit dishes, in Quebec

From my first dinner out until my last, I was surprised to see the large range of meat offered on restaurant menus in Quebec.  At home in Southern California I typically expect chicken, beef and pork. But here I regularly saw lamb, duck, foie gras, and rabbit offered.   In fact one popular restaurant on Le Petit Champlaine, Lapin Saute, specializes in rabbit dishes. I have since learned that wild game meat has become an increasingly popular item in restaurants.  Logically, smaller, wild animals would have been what was available to the early settlers of Quebec, and a passion for their traditional foods keeps them in restaurants and on the dinner table in family homes.

Sampling honey directly from the beehive at Tournebroche
Sampling honey directly from the beehive at Tournebroche

Honey is also a popular food sold in stores and added to dishes throughout Quebec. In fact maple syrup and honey are the two traditional sweeteners used in the region.  While honey isn’t really a unique ingredient, what I found fascinating is the local commitment to beekeeping. Through a non-profit organization called Aveole, the popularity of beekeeping throughout Quebec has exploded. Last year in the province of Quebec 4,000 pounds of honey was produced thanks to all the local beekeepers.  During our food tour we visited a restaurant called Tournebroche that keeps beehives on its roof in addition to a small, organic garden. In the lobby they offer an opportunity to taste honey directly from the hive which was delicious, and a bit less sweet than the honey we typically enjoy from the jar.

An impressive cheese board served at 1608, a restaurant in Le Chateau de Frontenac
An impressive cheese board served at 1608, a restaurant in Le Chateau de Frontenac

Finally, Quebec is well known for its production of cheese. Over 500 varieties of cheese are produced here with blue cheese being among the most popular  But the quintessential cheese of Quebec is the curd, yes, the cheddar curd that is added to poutine. While I enjoyed poutine several times and loved the salty, squishy little curds on my fries, it would be a shame not to try more of the region’s cheeses.  I found that one of the best places to do so was at 1608 in the Fairmont Le Chateau de Frontenac. The chef here can assemble an impressive cheese board complete with fruit, nuts, and breads.

La Buche, one of seven stops on the Quebec City Food Tour
La Buche, one of seven stops on the Quebec City Food Tour

Quebec City Food Tour–The Best Way to Learn About the Local Food

One of the best ways to appreciate the food scene in any city is to book a tour specifically for this purpose.  Yes, you can do this on your own, but I’ve discovered that an informed and experienced guide makes all the difference.  I’ve been fortunate to take food tours all over the world and they are definitely worth the time and money. Somehow the combination of feeding visitors while also educating them on the local history and culture just works. The tour provided by Tours Voir Quebec and led by Jocelyn was excellent.  Over a period of three hours we made seven stops and sampled a wide range of food and beverages. From poutine to crepes and wine to cidre, this tour provided us the opportunity to sample both well known and lesser known specialties of Quebec City. At the same time we were introduced to neighborhoods not commonly frequented by tourists.  I recommend taking a food tour early in a trip in order to return to favorite spots or explore sites recommended, but not visited, during the tour.

My Favorite Old Quebec City Restaurants

Through the recommendations of our tour guide, Jocelyn, several blogger friends, and my own research, I had the opportunity to eat in several great restaurants during my recent trip to Quebec.  My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer and visit several more.

One of my favorite discoveries in Quebec was that just because a restaurant was near a popular tourist site did not mean it would be bad.  In many cities I’ve visited in the past, the advice received (and appreciated) is to get away from the centers of tourism in order to find the best food.  For the most part, Old Quebec City restaurants provide high quality food.

I highly recommend enjoying a meal at Buffet de L'Antiquaire in Quebec City
Buffet de L'Antiquaire in Quebec City

Since I can’t write about all the great restaurants in Quebec, I’ll simply share my three favorites. I’ll begin with Buffet L’Antiquaire, a restaurant near my hotel that I walked past several times before stepping in for dinner.  The interior was a combination of French bistro meets classic American diner--nothing fancy, but very homey and comfortable. This is the place for Canadian comfort food. After consulting the waitress I opted for a traditional meat pie and found it to be delicious.  Since I was dining alone I began talking with the gentleman at the table next and learned that this is a popular spot with locals. He and his wife have been coming here for years and always appreciate the classic dishes.

Another highlight of my dining in Quebec was Chez Boulay-Bistro Boreal.  I had just arrived and checked into my hotel, but due to the time difference I was not very hungry.  So I sat at the bar and ordered two starters--Arctic char carpaccio and French onion soup. Both dishes were delicious as was the accompanying local Boreale beer.  According to the Chez Boulay menu, their food is inspired by Nordic cuisine and its commitment to local and less common ingredients. I was unfamiliar with many of the ingredients on the menu, but the servers are very well informed and were happy to answer all of my questions.  The decor here is very stylish, but still comfortable.

Interior view of Restaurant Legende in Quebec City
Interior view of Restaurant Legende
First course of tasting menu served at Restaurant Legende in Quebec City
First course of tasting menu

My final night’s meal was a three hour long gourmet feast at Restaurant Legende.  I joined a group of eight other women and we all selected the tasting menu. We began with cocktails, some of which were the most unique I’ve ever seen.  Then we enjoyed seven different courses starting with amuse-bouche and concluding with desert. Dishes in between featured bison, venison, and cricket flour pasta.  I didn’t select the wine pairing, but for those that did, the pours were generous. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the excellent service at Restaurant Legende.  This was a memorable evening and I’ll definitely be back when I next visit Quebec.

Pastry case at Paillard Bakery, well known for their croissants
Pastry case at Paillard Bakery, well known for their croissants

Where To Eat In Quebec City–The Options Are Endless

Many cities claim to be “foodie” destinations but fail to deliver on that promise.  I found that Quebec really delivers in its food and restaurant quality. The most important measure is of course taste, but there is plenty of innovation and creativity in the food here as well.  

After the food tour and visits to several restaurants I also appreciated the commitment to good food in Quebec.  In conversations with waiters, chefs, brewmasters and restaurant owners, I heard all emphasize their passion for providing high quality food and beverages and great restaurant experiences.  Whether as a local or a visitor, this city wants everyone to eat well.

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Quebec City offers visitors great food options and impressive restaurants. From poutine to maple syrup, and beer to cidre. The cuisine in this region is delicious!
Quebec City offers visitors great food options and impressive restaurants. From poutine to maple syrup, and beer to cidre. The cuisine in this region is delicious! #QuebecRegion

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Ginka

    This is such a great post! I was only able to go on one food tour and I’m going to add these spots to my list when I return.

    1. Wendy

      Ginka, so glad you enjoyed the post! At least you were able to go on one food tour, but maybe you’ll have a chance to return real soon.

  2. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    This was a wonderfully thorough article. You guys did a great job. We just got back from Quebec and felt the same way about the wonderful food scene there.

    1. Wendy

      Thank you Jenn and Ed! Now if only I could go back and eat some more.

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