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A mouthwatering and tantalizing fusion of French, British, and American flavors, Quebec foods are one of North America’s most underrated culinary delights.
Responsible for nearly three-quarters of the country’s maple syrup production, this vast region is home to an array of unique, hearty, and exciting dishes, bringing into play wonderous, fresh ingredients from both the land and water.
Together, let’s take a closer look at what makes Quebec food so special through 18 of the region’s most beloved dishes, as recommended by a local writer.
1 – Cretons – French-Canadian Pork Pate
A simple spread that filled the bellies of the first laborers and farmers of the region, cretons is a dish made from a slow-cooked blend of ground pork, veal, melted lard, and various spices.
Today, the cretons recipe has evolved, still consisting of the above ingredients, but with the inclusion of grated onion, garlic, and a mix of spices, including cinnamon and cloves. It is commonly served on bread or toast.
Originally developed by the early French settlers, and influenced by the surrounding First Nations peoples, cretons is a classic example of how Quebec cuisine is a mixture of both old and new.
2 – Montreal Bagels
Brought to Montreal by Eastern European Jews in the early 20th century, these distinctive hand-rolled bagels traditionally were dipped in honey-sweetened water, then baked in wood-burning ovens.
The yeasty sourdough recipe is renowned for its chewiness and undertones of sweetness. Traditionally, Montreal bagels could be ordered plain or topped with sesame or poppy seeds.
Today, contemporary bakeries offer Montreal bagels with a range of toppings and in so many styles. From indulgent, sweet toppings, such as chocolate chip, through to health-conscious recipes using blueberries and flaxseed, there’s a Montreal bagel out there for everyone.
Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, the Montreal bagel is lightly sweet and baked using the traditional Eastern European method. Nothing beats that welcoming home-baked aroma we all recognize when walking through the entrance of an old-fashioned Quebec bakery.
3 – Oka Cheese
The iconic semi-soft aromatic cheese was initially brought to the New World by French Trappist monks in the 1890s. In time, Brother Alphonse Juin tweaked the original Port-du-Salut recipe to its pungent, nutty, and unique flavor.
The name of the cheese comes from the small Quebec Abbey of Norte-Dame du Lac, a small rural town of Oka, where French Trappist monks first settled. An award-winning cheese, the recipe to this fresh cow’s milk cheese to this day remains guarded.
The piquant, creamy Oka cheese is aged on cypress planks and has a washed orange rind. You’ll find it on many charcuterie and cheese trays, and it pairs well with fruits and dark smoky ales.
4 – Soupe aux Gourganes – Broad Bean Soup
It’s soup time in Lac-Saint-Jean, and in the fall, that means broad bean soup! The gourgane, a strain of the fava bean and rich in protein, comes into season in August. The legume is grown mostly in the Lac-Saint-Jean and Charleroix regions of Québec.
Although Soupe aux Gourganes is a robust, hearty soup, it is enjoyed all year round, even during the hot summers.
The broth consists of a flavorsome mixture of beef shanks, salted bacon, pearl barley, carrots, tomatoes, and vermicelli, seasoned with savoury spice and chives. This traditional soup is often served as a home-cooked main dish, and truly is a must-try Quebec food.
5 – Soupe aux Pois – Pea Soup
The most authentic Quebec version of this traditional comfort food uses whole yellow peas, salt pork, kitchen garden vegetables, and herbs, including onions, carrots, celery, leeks, and chives.
After cooking, the meat is picked from the hambone and added back into the soup to stew. Served with homemade bread or a bakery baguette with creamy butter, soupe aux pois is the perfect way to experience authentic Quebecois home-cooking.
6 – Feves au Lard – Maple-Baked Beans
Feves au lard is a traditional dish of beans and salt pork or bacon, slow-cooked in the oven with sweet maple syrup. Instead of the New England baked beans in molasses, the Québécois style is an adaptation of France’s cassoulet.
This dish is a perfect example of cultures mixing and influencing each other. Baked beans are an important part of sugar shack feasts during le temps des sucres, the mid-March seasonal festival where families gather to enjoy the abundance of Québec’s maple meals. Feves au lard can be served with both breakfast and lunch.
8 – Ice Fishing – Peche Blanche – Fresh Trout, Perch, or Pike
More a classic Quebec winter tradition than a food in itself, ice fishing has been used to catch some of the freshest fish that swim in the waters beneath frozen ice across Quebec.
To this day, small portable sheds are hauled out onto frozen lakes and rivers by snowmobile. These ice huts shelter brave souls who venture out to go fishing from mid-December to mid-March.
The fishermen cut holes in the thick ice, add bait to their lines, and fish in anticipation of catching whopping trout, perch, or pike. Once caught, the fishermen quickly unhook the fish and throw them out onto the ice, where they quickly freeze.
Dipped in beaten egg, rolled in flour, and fried in a pan with plenty of butter, this is some of the most melt-in-mouth fish you can try on the continent.
9 – Tourtiere
Tourtiere is one of Québec’s best-known dishes, alongside the favorite French-Canadian comfort food, poutine. It varies from region to region and is a holiday must-have.
Tourtiere is a pastry-topped deep-dish meat pie, traditionally made with pork and vegetables, but now more commonly with ground beef and pork. Some bakeries will also cook it with tender duck, game, and lamb.
Like many cultural cuisines, tourtieres vary from region to region. The early beginnings trace back to medieval France, and the early French settlers. Named for the cast-iron pan the pie was once cooked in, this dish is a holiday centerpiece.
The pastry top is made with lard, and the meat is spiced with herbs, cinnamon, and even cloves. It is the ultimate comfort food, as wholesome as it is packed with juices and flavor.
10 – Boucanage – Smoked Meat
Translated as ‘smoke-drying’, smoked meat is a Quebec staple with a long history. Boucanage is tender, spiced beef brisket, that has been cured and smoked the same way for generations.
Traditionally, the brisket is dry-cured for a couple of weeks in barrels, then smoked for about six hours. The methods vary, and butchers and delis all have their own different techniques and methods.
Hand-sliced, smoked meat plays the starring role in the beloved Montreal smoked meat sandwich, served with mustard, dill pickle, crispy fries, and cherry cola. Tradition is everything in Quebec!
11 – Ragout de Pattes de Cochon et Boulettes – Pork Hock Stew with Meatballs
Pork hock and meatballs stew is a rich, wholesome dish, and can be considered both an original French-Canadian peasant food, and a holiday tradition.
Traditionally, the stew can be prepared for up to an entire day. The pig’s feet are simmered slowly with onions, and in time, the meat removed from the bones.
The pork meatballs are fried in browned flour, then added to the stew along with spices, cinnamon, and cloves. Served with mashed potatoes, this is a dish packed with flavor.
12 – Pate Chinois – Shepherd’s Pie
Outside Québec, this dish shares close similarities to the beloved Shepherd’s Pie. It is a baked dish of layered ground beef, sometimes with pork, sautéed onions, and corn, topped with mashed potatoes.
Once cooked, the mash forms a beautiful crust that holds the filling together, as with Shepherd’s Pie.
A Québécois staple, there are many theories as to the origin of the dish and its name. One theory is that the dish was adopted from Asian laborers who worked on the Canadian National Railway during the 19th century by French-Canadian workers.
13 – Oreilles de Crisse – Pork Rinds
Oreilles are a simple but indulgent dish of pork rind, otherwise known as fatback or pig skin, fried until the fat is rendered and the skin is crispy.
Served in cabane a sucre, or sugar shacks, throughout Canada, this salty food is also a popular accompaniment to the many maple syrup-drenched dishes that can be discovered at food festivals, including maple-glazed ham, sausages, and even pork and beans.
14 – Pouding Chomeur – Jobless Man’s Pudding
Translated as ‘unemployed man’s pudding,’ pouding chomeur is a wholesome dish of cake batter and sweet sauce baked together.
It is believed that in the mid-19th century, English and Québec workers shared recipes, such as the British trifle. During the cold winters of the Great Depression, the Québécois found comfort in simple desserts.
Stale bread, milk, and maple syrup are the humble ingredients that make up this traditional dessert. The layers turn over each other during baking, resulting in a rich cake topped with a bubbling maple-cream sauce. It is an incredibly simple, but truly satisfying dessert.
15 – Tarte au Sirop d’Erable – Maple Syrup Pie
For the early Canadians, maple was the only form of sweetener in the New World. Today, the maple industry is a large part of Québec’s history, providing over 70% of the world’s maple syrup!
With such influence in Canadian cuisine, it should come as no surprise that maple syrup has found its way into so many foods across the country. Tarte au sirop d’erable, or maple syrup pie, puts this wildly popular sweet syrup center stage.
Originating from the Eastern townships of Québec, this incredibly sweet and buttery single-crust pie is filled with a combination of maple syrup, eggs, butter and brown sugar.
Often baked upside-down in a cast iron pan, the tarte has a luscious jelly texture, and generally the darker the syrup, the richer the flavour.
16 – Grands-Peres
The Québécois have some of the most interesting pastries and desserts, largely due to the maple syrup industry. Grands-Peres are certainly among those.
These ball-shaped cakes are made from flour, butter, milk and sugar. The dumplings are simmered in maple syrup and water, absorbing the sweetness, and resulting in a thickened sauce that is poured over the rich treat before serving.
Originating from the sugar shacks and logging camps of rural Quebec, they can be fruit-filled too, depending on preference.
17 – Tire sur la Neige (Canadian Maple-Syrup Taffy)
A truly Quebec food, maple taffy, or tire, is made by pouring boiling syrup on cold, fresh snow. If timed correctly, the syrup hardens to form a unique and delicious candy popular throughout the region.
During the maple harvesting, sugar shacks, or cabane a sucre, offer this frozen treat after the sap buckets are gathered and returned to the shacks by teams of horses with sledded wagons.
When it comes to making the perfect maple taffy, timing is everything. Some seasoned shack owners can create this dish by eye, but it is recommended to use a thermometer to reach the desired temperature before removing the syrup from the pan and pouring it over the snow.
Both adults and children in the region love this truly innovative sweet treat. This is definitely one for Instagram!
18 – Cidre Glace – Ice Cider
Made from apples frozen on the trees, apple ice wine, or ice cider, has a distinctively crisp and dry flavor.
Apples that have not fallen from the trees in the autumn are dehydrated and matured by the cold winter sun, and the fruits’ sugars concentrated naturally.
Though the early Norman settlers brought their cider craft with them, it wasn’t until 1990 that the provincial government gave approval for production. Various types of ice cider are categorized by process, alcohol percentage, and sugar content.
Light ice cider has an alcohol content of 7% strong 7-13%, and aperitif wine 13-20%. The cider can be still (with no carbonation) or sparkling.
Ice cider pairs well with desserts, foie gras, and cheeses, and many chefs use it to deglaze sauces for meat and fish.
Quebec Foods Summary
There are culinary delights in abundance to discover across Quebec. This truly unique region of Canada has so much history and culture, which in time has influenced the foods of the region.
Whether you’re eager to try hearty, homemade recipes, or dishes born out of the coming together of various cuisines, Quebec cuisine is a gift that simply keeps on giving.
Enjoy the luscious landscrape, embrace the fascinating culture, and be sure to try as many of these traditional Quebec foods as your stomach will allow! You won’t regret it.
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Contributor: GW Willis-Brannigan is a script, article, and blog writer from Vancouver, with over forty years’ experience as a production designer. He has written for several food and lifestyle publications and is passionate about sharing Canadian cuisine and culture with the world.
Images licensed via Shutterstock