Every once in a while, we feel it appropriate and fitting to highlight a unique culinary experience from a distant locale. This holiday season we are taking you 500 miles north into the cold, arctic climate of Quebec City to show you some of the most classic and well-known dishes of the region.
Located about nine hours north of NYC by car, Quebec City is like a winter wonderland and fully decked out for the holiday season. By December, it receives snow fall on an hourly basis and average temperatures around 5 degrees. According to the townsfolk, it can get as low as minus 30 degrees once the heart of winter comes around in January and February. The surrounding forestry and wilderness are a haven for snowshoeing, skiing, and ice-skating activities. And if you do venture out on a trek, maybe you will be lucky enough to have the local tour guide pour you out a lollipop of maple syrup right on top of the fresh snow.
Remember, many of the following dishes are very high in calories and are not meant to be indulged on a regular basis, or as justification for a particular change in diet. This is simply an opinionated (and slightly indulgent) exposé of a rare, but wonderful, dining experience of a faraway land.
Let's dig in to the first course...
Four-Cheese French Onion Soup
Primary ingredients - onion broth with onion pieces, soaked bread, and baked cheese
What'd we think of it?
This is the quintessential "Quebecian" soup that stands alone as the one "must-try" culinary dish to complete any true French-Canadian experience. Never have we had such a well-balanced and delicious onion broth soup, such as this. In many restaurants, chefs will typically make the soup too salty, especially with all the extra cheese added on, or the broth will be too strong of onion flavoring. However, here the onion is light and delicate, and perfectly complementing the fattiness of the cheese. Three of the six days touring Quebec City were spent sampling this soup, so we would definitely recommend giving it a go on your next Canadian tour.
Primary ingredients - French fries, homemade gravy, cheese curds
What's so great about it?
Not much, apparently... in our humble opinion. This dish of fat, on-top-of fat, on-top-of fat (sprinkled with salt) is advertised all over Quebec City as the staple, "classic," meal of the local people. It tastes exactly how it looks, with soggy French fries and squishy cheese curds that emit a peculiar "squeak" sound when you chew on them. We can appreciate the camaraderie and city-pride pushed behind the dish, because it is exclusively of Quebec. If you feel compelled to try it because the Canadian border patrolman mentioned it to you, then have a quick sampling. Otherwise, don't hesitate to skip over the menu to another, more palatable, dish.
Primary ingredients - prosciutto, parmesan cheese, blood sausage, salami, head cheese, duck
Should you order the chef's "Blind Sampling?"
It depends... If you are a heavy carnivore then you will love this mystery appetizer platter. Believe it or not, we actually requested the chef to make the dish with a heavy influence of seafood. Obviously the French-English language barrier between the waiter and our table was a bit too high to overcome. The salad here served more as a palate cleanser or garnish than a vegetable serving, but everything really did complement each other beautifully. The small block of pork head cheese was of particular delectable delight. This is just the type of dish to share among friends by the fireplace, while looking at the snow falling outside your window.
Primary ingredients - shrimp, mussels, scallops, smoked salmon in a creamy base
Is there any chowder better than Boston's?
Seafood chowder is the perfect soup on a cold, snowy winter's day in Quebec City. The restaurant's menu stated, "best in town seafood chowder," but we have to disagree and say, "best in country seafood chowder!" This dish was one of our trip's favorites, so much so that we had to come back and have it again, and again, before our trip's end. Even though it looks very creamy, it was actually not as thick as our cream-based soups in America. It had a rich mouthfeel and a great combination of flavors. It was extremely filling, so plan accordingly to avoid over-ordering or overeating. This is not a low-calorie, low-cholesterol, or low-salt dish. But, we say live a little, and enjoy this delicious soup at least once on your trip.
Primary ingredients - French toast, granola, maple syrup and glazed apples, praline ice cream
When can you have ice cream for breakfast?
We were pleasantly surprised to find out this french toast dish was not as aggressively sweet as it looked. The glazed apples and praline ice cream were touched with just a delicate pinch of sweetness that balanced out the warm, doughy flavor of the egg-soaked bread perfectly. In addition, the toasted granola sprinkles were a fun, crunchy element that reminded us of the rustic and outdoorsy inspiration behind the meal. There is no question... this is a sweet-toothed breakfast, but definitely worth the experience if you want a new take on an old classic.
Primary ingredients - tomato juice, mixed spices, elaborate garnish
When can a drink be served with two hands?
This giant 20 oz drink was our favorite for a few reasons. In contrast to a traditional American Bloody Mary, Quebec's Bloody Mary was milder but still spicy enough for those who like it hot. We liked that the drink contained a natural mix of peppercorns instead of Tabasco sauce, which could otherwise hide the real flavor of the drink and be overwhelming for those who do not like it too hot. In addition, Quebec's Bloody Mary came with a spectacular garnish that included celery, olives, pickled cucumber, whole white onions, and even a couple of slices of dry cured meat! You can choose to have this drink with or without alcohol .
These local foods are rich, hearty, and very delicious but should not be consumed on a daily basis. There is also a scant amount of fast-food restaurants with few visibly obese citizens. While dining out, we noticed that the restaurant-goers primarily consisted of tourists, so we can speculate that Canadians prefer home-cooked meals over dining out, which, in combination with a high energy expenditure (daily snow shoveling, anyone?) can explain the lack of overweight citizens.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the cultural foods that Quebec City had to offer, but when the time came, we were excited to return back to the US to our own well-balanced, home-cooked meals, filled with fruits and vegetables.
Bon Voyage and Happy Holidays!