Believe it or not, when I finally bought plane tickets for my trip to Quebec City earlier this month, I didn’t immediately book a food tour. In fact, I didn’t end up booking one until about two weeks before I left (for whatever reason, I didn’t do the bulk of my planning or make dining reservations until a few weeks out, which is so out of character for me).
I know this sounds lame (quite lame in fact, considering I was visiting Quebec in December when I knew it would be uber cold), but I slightly hesitated booking because I wasn’t necessarily sure if I wanted to do a food tour, which involves a lot of walking around outdoors. But as I mentioned in a previous post, it wasn’t nearly as cold as I had feared it would be. In fact, it was a lot colder in Niagara Falls when I visited there in mid-November several years ago, or the coldest food tour I ever went on, in Columbus, Ohio when I was dealing with snow squalls and all! But I booked a tour with Quebec City Food Tours and I’m truly glad I did.
Quebec City Food Tours has two to choose from, their most popular and well-known in Old Quebec and a second in the gritty/hipster St-Roch. (I just want to mention that our tour guide said the name St-Roch in a way that sounded nothing like it’s spelled and I can’t even begin to remember how to pronounce it.) Seeing how this was my first time to Quebec City, I stuck with the tried and true Old Quebec option. Old Quebec consists of two sections-Lower and Upper Town. The tour itself is entirely in Upper Town (I stayed down in Lower Town) but Upper Town is definitely larger than Lower Town and has more history and dining options.
The tour meets at Chic Shack which is only a stone’s throw from the extremely well-known Château Frontenac. Sebastien was our tour guide and like so many guides I’ve met on food tours, he was not only a native passionate about his city but also spoke perfect English. (Fewer than 10 % of households in Quebec City are English speaking, I would learn, and a tour guide at a museum we visited the next day, well, his English was heavily accented and hard to understand at times.)
The tour lasted three hours and made six stops. As Sebastien noted, by the end we would be moderately full, which I honestly think is the best course; it was neither too shabby on the amount of food given nor bloat-inducing either. If I had one legitimate critique it’s that I wish there had been a second “sweet” stop. There was only one “sugary” stop on the itinerary and it was an outdoor stop where Sebastien went inside to retrieve….. a piece of candy. Below is a list of all the places we stopped at and what food we tried.
You know a food tour is going to be good when it starts off with the culinary essence of Canada, poutine. However, we didn’t have traditional poutine here, although I would learn that poutine can look and be anything as long as it contains cheese curds. So the poutine at Chic Shack featured potato chunks instead of fries and featured a much more “adult” (i.e. for the more seasoned and cultured palate) gravy. Chic Shack is only a short distance from Château Frontenac and it’s a spot I definitely would have returned to had I had more time. Their big thing is using only locally sourced ingredients, which I love.
Okay, this was probably my least favorite spot from a food perspective but that has more to do with my own personal tastes. La Buche itself is an incredibly awesome place to step into-it’s meant to resemble a sugar shack (if you don’t know what that is, click here). And it serves traditional Quebecoise cuisine with a modern twist. On the tour we had smoked salmon (while I still don’t care for raw fish of any kind, smoked salmon is pretty sublime) and venison tartar. I only had a bite of the latter as I just really didn’t like the idea of eating raw meat (chalk it up to the fact I still have mild nightmares concerning my second food poisoning experience). The interior was definitely the kind of place you could “while away the hours” or in the case of Quebec City, stay warm.
Sebastien said we’d be trying the best croissants in all of Quebec and he wasn’t lying. Palliard is a bakery/cafe that serves dozens of items I would have loved to try, and my mouth was watering after walking by every case. We each got a plain croissant but thankfully they all came in separate paper bags so I took a few nibbles and saved the rest for later. And even though I didn’t finish it until the next day, it was still surprisingly fresh, or maybe not so surprising since Palliard is so renowned. This was definitely more of a locals’ spot as it was teeming with natives (I was on the food tour on a Friday during the work day). Always a good sign.
Apparently some of the tasting locations are not open year-round and substitutes need to be made for the off-season. December definitely qualifies as such. So in my case, it was visiting the Pub St-Patrick. While Sebastien explained that many Irish immigrants did come to and settle in Quebec City back in the day (in fact, he said the Irish became more united with the French speakers of Quebec due to shared religious beliefs-Catholicism), it still felt slightly “off” having Irish food in an Irish pub in a city so French. Don’t get me wrong, what we tried here was certainly tasty (spicy sausage wrapped in bacon) and the beer decent (well, don’t go by me because remember I’m not a beer drinker, but D really enjoyed it). I just wish we had done another Quebec cuisine spot. It would have felt more authentic.
Monastere des Augustines
So this was the first food tour I’ve been on where a tasting was of the drink variety but not alcoholic. We stopped at the Augustinian Monastery, which centuries after its founding is still home to a group of cloistered nuns. Today, the monastery is also a cafe/hotel/spa but its whole purpose is promoting holistic medicine, relaxation, etc. I also learned that for centuries, the Augustinian sisters have served as nurses/healers. Today, they still work at the famous Hotel-Dieu Hospital. It was here we had a cup of herbal tea that was inspired by a centuries old recipe of the sisters’. We drank this in the lobby/vestibule area. I realize it was a quick stop but it would have been nice to have partaken away from the foot traffic, in somewhere less modern and more authentic.
Chez Boulay – Comptoir Boréal
This was another grab and dash stop. At Chez Boulay we tried what is considered to be Quebec’s most famous dessert-sucre à crème (basically sugar cream). It was good although I don’t think you’d want to eat too much of it at one time for fear of your teeth rotting.
At our final stop on the tour, we stepped into a beautiful and charming historic 200 year old building (like so much of Old Town Quebec). Here we had a uniquely configured smoked-meat club sandwich and a selected wine chosen by the house sommelier. The sandwich was quite tasty and in fact ended up being D’s favorite item he tried on the tour.
All in all, I really enjoyed my tour with Quebec Food Tours since my trip to Quebec City was my only true international experience this year. Tastings wise, I’ve preferred other tours more but I still liked the bulk of what I tried. As I mentioned, I wish there had been at least one other “sweet” stop. Not that I need more sweets, it’s just a nice balance.
This was my final food tour of 2017 and I’m glad it ended in Quebec City, such a beautiful and foreign feeling locale.
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