Saturday, September 29, 2018

Old Quebec Food Tour - Quebec City

We've done a few food tours in our travels and recently had the best and most innovative one yet: Old Quebec Food Tour in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was three hours and covered five tasting locations, but also included other points of interest, including historical sites and a discussion of the history. It was a nice combination: a way to get a good sampling of food in a foodie city, and to get some sight-seeing and historical background in our short time there. 

We were on a cruise ship, the Holland America Maasdam, which docked at the edge of the Saint Lawrence River just below Old Quebec, the historic part of Quebec City and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked about a half mile in the Lower Town, then took a funicular up a steep hill to the Upper Town. 
Old Quebec from the ship dock with Upper Town in the background. 
Funicular up to Upper Town. 
Chateau Frontenac
Our cruise ship and the Saint Lawrence River from Upper Town. 
Our first stop was Le Chic Shack, just down from the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world. The Chateau Frontenac was the number one item I wanted to see in Quebec City because it is always featured in travel brochures. Until we got there I had no idea it was a hotel. I always assumed it was an old government building. It was a little less appealing as a hotel. 

At Le Chic Shack we were served poutine. Poutine is the signature food of Quebec, but has spread across Canada and is now sometimes referred to as Canada's national dish. We'd had poutine at least twice previously on our trip, both in New Brunswick. Poutine consists of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. We learned, at least from our guide's perspective, that the cheese curds in poutine should not be melted, but should retain their rubbery texture and squeak when you bite into them. However, our prior poutines had melted cheese curds and I liked them that way. The cheese curds in this poutine were huge, rubbery and squeaked a lot which is just wrong. Cheese curds are better aged, having lost that rubbery, squeaky texture. In poutine, they should be melted into the fries. These fries were not fries, but baked or fried chunks of potato. I like the limp and soft fries, but this was was a nice variation. The gravy was not mixed in, but sitting in the bottom of the bowl. However, I quickly mixed it in. As for the gravy, I prefer it white to brown. We had white gravy with lobster in it in Moncton and it was marvelous (I think it would still have been very good without the lobster). Overall this poutine was distinctive and fun to try. It varied many steps from run-of-the-mill poutine and was a good food tour choice. 
Poutine, as it came.
Poutine after I'd mixed it up.
Our next stop, La Buche, was the star of the tour.

We had four items there and all were excellent. First we had salmon (I'm guessing cold-smoked) with maple vinegar on it. The vinegar was not all sweet, but had a little tart. Very different. I liked it a lot. 
Next was yellow pea soup. I find references to Canadian yellow split-pea soup and Quebec-style yellow pea soup. Imagine how good it must taste on a cold winter day. It was thick, had some chopped scallions and smoked ham in it. Very good, but unbelievably not as good as the marvelously thick, split-pea soup we had on the Maasdam during a captains' reception - apparently a tradition on Holland America. It was as good as any split-pea soup I've ever had. 
Next came a little carton of shepherd's pie. It hard marvelously flavored mashed potatoes, serving as a base for the other ingredients, including corn, scallions, cocktail onions and some sort of shredded beef. The cocktail onions were kind of a shocking vinegary distraction and I didn't feel were necessary. The shredded beef was okay, but frankly, the mashed potatoes were so good that I would rather have had just them, they were that good. 

Finally, the most fun treat of the entire taste-testing was tire sur la neiga, called by National Geographic to be one of the top ten foods to eat in Quebec (poutine was another of the ten). It is a taffy formed by still hot, boiled maple sap, directly onto fresh snow (in our case, it looked like crushed ice). We watched them squeeze the maple sap onto the ice out of a plastic container, then the maple firmed up. We each took a wood tong, starting at one end, and wrapped the maple around the tong. It was wonderfully, sweet and gooey. A wonderful, wonderful treat. 

I was so entranced by the dishes at La Buche that I had to go back after the tour was over. I particularly wanted to try some more of the smoked salmon with maple vinegar. Unfortunately, we had a completely different experience. We got a waiter who spoke only French and we were unable to communicate what we wanted to him. The dishes were quite expensive which made sampling a bunch of items impracticable. I ended up guessing on some smoked salmon which was completely the wrong dish. It was particularly frustrating because we'd been there earlier and had English speaking waiters. I tried a little bit of the salmon, and in frustration, asked for the cheque, paid for it and left most of it. 
Paillard, the next stop, had potential, but we got a croissant. A simple, buttery croissant, when other very yummy looking pastries were staring at us from a distant, glass-encased counter. The croissant was okay, like other croissants I've eaten before, but come-on, give us the good stuff! This stop was a dud. 

Our next stop was Chez Boulay. We were relegated to standing outside to wonder what it looked like inside. 

We finally got a square of cream and sugar maple fudge with pine, which was fantastic (my photo is blurry), leading me to lament the fact that we were unable to decipher what other delectable items might be available inside. 
Finally, we stopped at BE Club Bistro Bar. We were ushered upstairs and sat around a railing over-looking the downstairs. 

We were served a mocktail, I don't recall what was in it, but it was just okay. 
Then we got mac n' cheese with black garlic crumble, smoked bacon and maple syrup. I really loved the bacon, but once it was gone the mac n' cheese was just okay. 
Although not all of the food or stops were great, overall it was a very nice tour. I came away with the impression that Quebec City is a foodie town and would be fun place to spend more time trying out dishes.  

1 comment:

  1. I beg to differ on squeaky cheese in poutine. I like my cheese to hold its shape and have a strong taste. The squeakier, the better. I agree about the croissant. Maybe a mini-croissant PLUS a pastry would have been better. This was a very fun food tour, one I would not hesitate to recommend.