Quebec has a unique composition that’s reflected in its history, as well as the culture and cuisine of today. Its imaginative gastronomical fusion of flavors reaches across the rest of the nation, and the region has received international acclaim for its distinctive, artisanal qualities.
So let’s have a look at how this innovative melting pot of Quebec saveur came to be. We’ll feature some of the dishes and products popular in today’s marketplace, and a couple of recipes for you to sample the cuisine of Quebec in the comfort of your own home.
The Origins of Quebecois Cuisine
The origins of its flavor blending began over 400 years ago, and the result is an intriguing mix of Native Indian, British and French influences.
The main inspiration is primarily French, but settlers of English origin also had significant impact – as is evidenced by the popularity of meat pies and potatoes.
Pate chinois, or Chinese pie, has a distinct similarity to the English Shepherd’s pie, and was introduced by French settlers who lived in a town in Maine called China before migrating north with their recipe.
Tourtiere is another meat pie that’s become a favorite in Quebec households, and poutine – the quintessential dish of la belle province – showcases the popularity of potatoes. The potato was a staple in the diet of Irish immigrants, whereas wheat products were much more important in France than spuds.
The Native influence was established when they first introduced early European immigrants to the bounty of foods that could found locally, both wild foods and indigenous crops. Spices and wild herbs such as ginger, chives, mint, chicory, ginseng, mustard and sage were abundant, and used to flavor their foods.
As were fish and game, which soon became important components of regional cooking that are still evident today in dishes of venison, Saint Lawrence eel, trout, Atlantic salmon and other heart-healthy fish species.
And, of course, there’s maple syrup. One of the oldest of Quebec’s culinary traditions is to head out to the “sugar shack” in spring for a meal of ham, baked beans, eggs and bacon… all drizzled with maple syrup, freshly tapped and processed from local trees.
There’s nothing like going on a sleigh ride to gather the maple sap, boiling it up over an open fire, and pouring it onto clean snow for a maple taffy treat that must be eaten immediately.
Later, immigrants of Jewish heritage gave us wood fired Montreal-style bagels and Montreal smoked meat – similar to pastrami, but with a singular taste that’s incomparable.
Today’s Popular Dishes
Quebec’s cuisine is also entrenched in the concept of terroir – a method and appreciation of food that embraces the farming and consumption of goods within a local territory, to ensure the ingredients used are as fresh and sustainable as possible. Terroir also pays close attention to the nuances of flavor contributed by the local geography, water and soil.
Some traditional culinary offerings with a modern spin are:
Poutine: Thick-cut homemade fries served with gravy made from scratch, and fresh cheddar cheese curds sprinkled over the top.
Pommes persillade: Cubed potatoes garnished with persillade, a sauce of parsley, garlic, herbs, oil and vinegar. Persillade is also popular in Louisiana, where many French settlers ended up.
Tourtiere: A delicious and savory meat pie traditionally served at Christmas, and throughout the long winter months.
Pate Chinois: Another meat pie, reminiscent of the Irish influence.
Cretons: An herbed pâté of salt pork, wonderful on slices of toasted baguette.
Pea soup: Popular nationwide, this scrumptious and hearty dish is a staple of Quebec cuisine.
Baked beans: Similar to Boston baked beans, but sweetened with maple syrup instead of molasses.
Yule log: Another favorite at Christmas, this is made of chocolate-covered sponge cake, rolled to look like a log and filled with raspberry jam.
Sugar Pie: Despite its name, this dessert isn’t overly sweet. A scrumptious single crust caramel-like concoction, it’s similar in texture and flavor to butter tarts – and a perfect way to end a meal.
The Cheeses of Quebec
With over 300 cheeses being produced in Quebec today, it’s become a haven for fromage aficionados. Each cheese has characteristics unique to its region, and several have garnered international recognition for their flavors, winning prizes in prestigious competitions.
With new producers coming aboard every year, the province now has an official “Gourmet Cheese Route,” designed to guide those seeking a cheese high to 50 artisanal fromageries in 14 different regions.
Production in these gourmet cheese shops is small and sales outside of the province are limited, so the opportunity to go on one of these tours definitely offers exclusive tastings, with the opportunity to purchase favorites at prices well below retail.
A few of the winners at the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards were:
- Best Cheese of the Year: La Baluchon from the Fromagerie FX Pichet in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (this also won the Best Organic Cheese award)
- Best New Cheese: Fontina Fumé out of the Fromagerie de l’Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Saint-Benoît-du-Lac
- Best Aged Cheddar (4+ years): Agropur Grand Cheddar 5 ans, produced by Agropur in Saint-Hubert
To learn more about la route des fromages du Quebec, this link will take you to their official website. The site opens in French, so click on English in the sidebar for the translation.
At the end of the summer, the town of Chambly holds the Beer and Flavors Festival on the grounds outside of the 18th century fort, where guests can sample some of the very unique Quebec craft beers. Perhaps the result of the fur traders’ early brewing of spruce beer in the area, Quebecers are not afraid of flavor in their brews.
The inventive microbrewers follow in the tradition of French and Belgian beer makers, infusing their beer with an autumnal theme of malt, yeasty flavors, and notes of fruit and spices.
Worth trying is the award winning La Fin Du Monde with its yeast, fruit and spice overtones and clean, dry finish. And Glutenberg Double Belgian, a gluten-free beer made from millet with hints of molasses, cloves and nutmeg.
And that concludes our little taste of Quebec. There’s much more to sample of their fine food and beverages of course, but to start you off, here’s a recipe for Tourtiere that’s sure to please. And this version of Habitant Pea Soup that follows is always eagerly anticipated the day after a big ham dinner for Easter. Bon appetite!
Tourtiere du Quebec (meat pie)
This lightly spicy meat pie is a staple on Christmas Eve in Quebec, but it’s so good it can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Serve with a tangy chutney sauce, a salad, a slab of hearty artisan bread and a cold glass of beer.
Habitant Pea Soup
This soup was always made in our house after Easter, and it’s a delicious way to use up any scraps left over from a ham dinner. The flavors actually improve when reheated for the second or third time.
Served with a slab of sourdough bread and a tossed green salad, it’s a meal in itself.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.