International travelers sometimes refer to Canada as "one giant Whole Foods." If that's the case, then Quebec is the deli section: chock-full of game meats, stinky cheeses, sweet maple pastries and ice wine. Of fast foods, it has many - poutine being the most infamous - but when it comes to gourmet, this French-Canadian province pulls out the stops with presentation and ingredients.
By Lena Katz
Photo Credit: Fairmont Chateau Frontenac
Quebec City is serious about its sweets. Above the gorgeous displays of handmade chocolates at Choco-Musée Erico (pictured) is a second floor mini-museum with displays about the history of chocolate and tricks of the chocolatier trade.
In a similar motif, Les Délices de l’Erable has a tiny museum devoted to maple and honey on the second story, while the first is arrayed with all sorts of artisan maple and honey products. Sample maple caramel, orange and rum-infused syrup and various candies before stocking up. There’s also an onsite café serving pastries and coffee (including maple lattes, naturally).
The traditional way to eat maple if it’s not a topping, though, is simple as can be. At “sugar shacks” which crop up around Quebec—and indeed, other places around the North East—during maple sugaring season (February-May), people pay just a dollar or two for a dollop of pure maple syrup that’s been poured on the snow, and then quickly, when it’s just half frozen, twirled around a stick to make the richest-flavored, most natural lollipop ever.
For something warmer and more filling yet equally sweet, the bakeries of Quebec are probably the best in North America. Unsurprisingly, they borrow most of their recipes and philosophies from the French. In places like Café-boulangerie Paillard, customers are hard-pressed to choose between the racks of still-warm, melt-in the-mouth buttery pastries and croissants. Regulars all have their favorite, and many stop by daily for breakfast treats or fresh breads paired with homemade preserves.
J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in Quebec City has now turned into a gourmet food shop where shelves are packed to bursting with specialty products. Since it was founded in 1871, it has aimed to offer the finest imports, wine and liquors—and true to that, in modern days it tempts with artisan cheeses, handcrafted ales, unusual pastas and handmade preserves.
Home chefs can have a heyday in Quebec City, where food shopping includes a trip to a bustling boucherie for charcuterie, game meats, dressed fowl, and just-carved pork, lamb and beef.
Don’t feel like cooking...or waiting? Simple, fast and filling, the smoked meat sandwich is a staple of casual Quebec dining. It’s a perfect lunch, with crispy French fries and a cold local draft beer.
If you want to make an occasion out of dinner, though, there are fine restaurants a-plenty in Montreal and Quebec City. At Le Patriarche in Old Quebec, the chef specialty is painstakingly prepared and beautifully plated "trilogies from le terroir" (pictured).
The water’s bounty is as plentiful as the land’s, and the regional chefs are equally adept with seafood. Casually but expertly presented, signature dishes at Poisson d’Avril include bouillabaisse and moules frites in heaping portions.
When in Quebec, it’s any gourmand’s duty to sample the local staple called poutine. Basic poutine is made of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. However, many places have their own version. Chez Ashton (pictured), which is considered to have some of the best poutine in the land, makes half a dozen different kinds topped with chicken, sausage and veggies.
For those with more rarefied tastebuds, another specialty of Quebec is foie gras. This decadent delicacy isn’t always guilt-free, but if you get it from A Taste of Yesterday (Au Goût d’Autrefois) Farm on Orleans Island , you’ll enjoy foie gras and other fowl that’s humanely raised and widely considered to be some of the most delicious in the entire province.