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.
And local fruits and vegetables like blueberries, cranberries, cherries, asparagus and mushrooms were instrumental in ensuring the survival of the new settlers.
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.
- Pastry for 9 or 10 inch double-crust pie
- 1/3 pound ground pork
- 1/3 pound ground beef
- 1/3 pound ground veal
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 potato peeled and grated
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 cup celery finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried savory
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 teaspoon water
- Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the meats until no pink remains, breaking it up as you cook.
- Add the onion, potato, celery and garlic and mix well. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, savory and water and stir together. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool thoroughly, preferably overnight.
- Place the bottom crust into a pie plate and fill with meat mixture.
- Place the top crust over the filling and seal the edges, cutting away any excess crust. Cut steam vents into the top crust.
- In a small bowl combine egg with water and whisk well. Brush over the crust and bake at 400 degrees F. for 40 – 45 minutes.
This meat pie freezes very well, so it’s a good recipe to double up on and put one in the freezer.
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.
- 2 1/4 cups dried split yellow peas
- 8 cups water
- A ham bone *
- 1 cup ham diced
- 2 thick slices of bacon
- 1 large onion diced
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 1/4 cup carrot grated
- 1/4 cup carrot diced
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried savory
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs parsley
- A few anise seeds
- Soak the peas in water for several hours or overnight. Drain and clean, removing any peas that are discolored or float.
- In a large stock pot add the ham bone, ham, peas, onion, celery, carrot, salt, pepper and savory and bring to a boil.
- Wrap the bay leaves, parsley and anise seeds in the bacon and tie in cheesecloth. Add to the pot.
- Stir well, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook for 3 – 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Add more water if the mixture gets too thick.
- When done, remove from heat and remove the ham bone and cheesecloth.
- In a blender, puree about half of the soup mixture and return to the pot. Let it sit for 1 hour.
*The ham bone may be replaced by ½ - 1 pound ham hocks.
Make sure that you choose a stock pot with a thick bottom in order to ensure that you don’t get hot spots and scorch the beans.
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.
31 thoughts on “The Flavors of Quebecoise Cooking”
I’d be more than happy to be limited to their cheese & wine alone! Canadians & their maple game are on point. They are really serious about their syrup. I’m not a huge fan of maple but when I’m in Rome I do as the Romans do. I wouldn’t mind trying the freshest & best syrup out there.
I’m with you Joan, vive la fromageries! And while in Quebec, I do indulge in a little maple syrup as a treat… there’s really nothing quite like fresh maple taffy chilled on the snow.
I wondered what poutine was as my friends posted a photo of a poutine pizza and I wondered what it was! Maybe I could try it with a vegetarian gravy though instead.
The persillade sounds perfect for me as I love savory potatoes, which maybe a little healthier than the poutine.
Poutine is definitely a comfort food Bella, and it is quite tasty, but shouldn’t be over-indulged in – the persillade is certainly a healthier option than poutine, but again, in moderation.
A… poutine pizza? That sounds… strange.
And I’d say poutine is not just a comfort food — it’s a great typical drunken night food. Or hangover food. Or side-dish food. Or, “I’m finally back in Quebec and I missed how they only get it right here” food.
They actually have a week of poutine in Quebec, where restaurants come up with interesting, fancy and/or elaborate poutine variations at the fixed selling price of 10$, and then people can vote for their favorite version. My friend actually made the winning one a few years back! 😀
I’ve always found it interesting how I just cannot seem to replicate poutine that I’ve had in Canada. I’ve come close. I’ll give myself that. I just can’t get it right. My guess is it’s the cheese. It’s always the cheese…-_-
Tip from a Québécoise in exile: yup, cheese curds really make a nice poutine. Since I’m away, the best substitute for it I’ve found is mozzarella (the Italian kind that you buy in some liquid?). I cut cubes out of it, and when it gets heated up, it has this nice stretchy cheesy quality. Not the squeeky part, unfortunately, but still better than grated cheese or that cubes of other cheeses!
Though sometimes, close is really a better fix than nothing. But even when I come close, I’ll miss specific poutines from my favorite restaurants and side of the road canteens!
As a Quebecoise myself I must say, poutine without cheese curds is no poutine at all. It is then just cheese and gravy on fries!
My uncle and godfather invented poutine. Jean-Paul Roy from Drummondville Québec. The curds are from white cheddar which is very popular in the province. You can buy it fresh daily in most grocery stores. I prefer my fries with pure white vinegar. There is no distilled white vinegar in Canada. Pure vinegar has an excellent taste.
I haven’t been to Quebec in years, but would love to go back, preferably more than once. I loved the culture and history, as well as the food. We visited a lovely creperie while there that I am sure I could find again, and I would be happy to try everything mentioned in the article, as well. The tourtiere and pea soup sound delicious, and since I won’t be in Quebec for at least another good while, I might try the recipes to hold me over until I can return.
It’s a great place to visit, and lots of fun sampling all their culinary treats… hope the recipes do the trick until you can once again sample them first hand.
Well it’s no surprise; Quebec was and is actually a melting pot of several cultures, so I guess that’s why they have great cuisine. I’ve always wanted to try poutine but never had the pleasure. I have baked a ton of yule logs though, and I had sold them at one point in my life.
Poutine is becoming more readily available Tommy, it seems to be enjoying a chic status in trendy restaurants at present.
I had never heard of the majority of these dishes before and I have to say, the Tourtiere looks particularly good. I reckon it would taste just as good eaten cold.
It is missbishi, a cold slice for lunch is just as yummy.
This is a delightful and informative look into Quebec’s cuisine. There are quite a few influences. I like the concept of eating local fresh foods and knowing the indigenous plants. Indigenous plants have a big nutritional impact and specifically equip you for the specific challenges of the region.
My favorite is the access to the fresh maple syrup! It sounds so delicious. The mild, flavorful sweetness. I love using maple syrup in my dishes.
Interesting you should mention the local and indigenous foods aphil… stopped in at the Safeway in Redding, CA, today to pick up some picnic goodies for our road trip and noticed a sign saying they stock over 200 locally produced items, and checking out the produce it does look really nice and fresh. Didn’t spot any maple syrup ‘tho!
I think if you mention the hearty, heavy food we serve as well as the “yule log” (bûche de noel, the one on your picture looks delicious, by the way), then I’d like to put a good word in for stews. At Christmas, a very typical dish to serve is un ragoût de boulettes et/ou de patte de cochon. (A meatball stew and/or a stew with a nice pork leg). I’ve made it the two Christmases I’ve been in Germany and there is not quite anything that makes me miss home and my granny quite so much at Christmas! Plus, now my bf always begs me to make it. I tell him I only make it on Christmas, though.
Thanks crayonelle, the stews are certainly winter favorites and pork is a staple ingredient. So much of the mealtime traditions in Quebec are about home and family. Isn’t it endearing how making certain dishes can bring the presence of a loved one into the kitchen, the heart of the home…
Another place to visit…noted down furiously, every presentation above had me wide-eyed and drooling and making wishful thoughts 🙂
A Quebec log roll…seriously…ah! the torment is too much 😉
An interesting read i must add…page bookmarked for future reference/daily reference might do too 🙂
I think everyone should visit Quebec at least once diane, it’s fun and friendly with beautiful scenery and of course, delicious food and drink. A road trip is a great way to go…
Fascinating article. I’ve always wanted to visit Quebec, but I’ve never known much about the cuisine there aside from poutine. Persillade sounds absolutely delicious; I love garlic, so it’s right up my alley. Those desserts pique my sweet tooth as well, especially Yule logs. And of course, fromageries sound delightful.
It sounds like you have the right savoir faire for Quebec Leopard… and the fromageries in the Eastern Townships are a treat for any lover of fine cheeses.
These looks ABSOLUTELY delicious. I’ve only been to Quebec once, unfortunately, and I’ve never had the pleasure of trying any of these. They look amazing, definitely putting all of these on my bucket list. Quebec, here I come!
Merci hansenlaw, glad you enjoyed the post. And bon voyage!!
I’m not really that familiar with Quebec’s delicious recipes, but I’ve got to say they do look good! I could eat that Habitant Pea Soup every day for the rest of my life! Also, the pub I usually go does serve Quebec beer, but I really never have ordered some. Its time for some enlightenment I guess!
The pea soup is wonderfully delicious x, sometimes I’ll buy a ham just so I can make the soup! Let us know what you think of the beer, and what brand you try.
I’ve always wanted to eat the sweet snow! Too bad that it’s unavailable. What a wonderful idea! So dreamy.
Though with how contaminated the environment is, I would probably worry wether the snow is truly as clean as it looks like.
I think it’s pretty safe in the north woods Ep, but would be hesitant to try it out near an industrial center!
So many delicious meals listed. The pommes persillade and cretons had my mouth watering while reading this article, and then you tell me about all of the cheeses made in Quebec. Seriously, I can’t take it!!! I could take a trip to Quebec just to experience the cheese!!
Oh, yes, La Belle Provence knows how to do artisanal cheeses to perfection atlmom5! Well worth a trip if you get the chance!