For me, Jocelyne Belleau perfectly summed up the Quebecois’ passion for their home.
“My blood is maple!” the petite dynamo said dramatically, hand on her heart.
With that, I knew I was in good hands for my first food tour through Old Quebec City.
Because really, who better to describe the delicacies of a city than someone with the region’s most iconic export pumping through her veins?Belleau’s comment was part of an introduction to the culinary treats that awaited the dozen or so of us gathered in front of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac for a Tours Voir Quebec food tour, as a part of the Women in Travel Summit 2018 conference in Quebec City.
Not only did Belleau’s comment reveal her love of Quebec, it also showed her sweet sense of humor.
And that was a trait that was never in short supply as I traversed Quebec City through a series of food and history tours. It was a joy to find that the city’s tour guides were funny, personable, informative, and deeply knowledgeable. No reading from a homogeneous script here. Every tour was unique and personal to the guide.
Of course I loved the food – I mean, thick french fries smothered in gravy and squeeky-fresh cheese curds; sumptuous chocolates filled with maple syrup; crisp, citrus-y wines straight from the fields of the Ile d’Orleans; silky-smooth apply butter; roasted-octopus-and-salmon salad paired with a local craft beer; tender smoked salmon garnished with a plump blueberry; and soft nougat studded with chewy currants and almonds.
What’s not to love?
Still, it’s the faces and the stories that have stayed with me. I learned from Belleau that although French influences are everywhere in Quebec City, its food also has plenty of British influences. Think beer, whiskey, rum, roast meat, gravy, and chocolate.
I also learned that the definition of fish was a bit loose in Quebec in the early days. Even though Belleau noted that “It was not hard here to have fish,” she said early residents expanded the culinary category a bit. “Duck is fish; beaver tail is fish,” she said with a laugh.
The tour was not limited to food tidbits, though. For each building we passed, it seemed, Belleau had a special insight – the oldest church, the first restaurant, the first grocery, the fate of the Ursuline nuns.
My foray onto the Island of Orleans was equally delightful – in a completely different way.
From the moment my small group boarded a bus with driver and tour guide Jean-Christophe Maisonneuve-Ardet, also known as JC, with Quebec Bus Tours, we were in for an informative and hilarious ride.As we made the short drive across the bridge to the island, JC interspersed his info on Orleans by asking each of us about our own homes. A theme soon emerged: Professional hockey. “I know American geography through hockey teams,” he said.
So, when I mentioned I was from Arizona, JC suggested that I must surely be a fan of the Phoenix Coyotes. (Note to self – brush up on the NHL before my next trip to Canada!). In response to a woman from Washington, DC: the Capitals. It continued on through the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. JC was a bit stumped when it came to a visitor from Utah, though. Sadly, no NHL team. “Our motto is ‘the best snow on Earth,'” the woman replied helpfully. “Who decides that?” JC asked, noting that Canada is known to have some pretty epic snow of its own. “Americans,” he said, shaking his head. The bus erupted in laughter.
Although not a native of Orleans Island, JC told us of his family roots there, and his experience the summer before, working on an ancestral potato farm. It was obvious he was passionate about the island – referring to it as the “garden of Quebec City” and the “cradle of French North America.”
“What we’re about to taste today, this is pretty much the only place you can taste it,” JC said as an introduction. “We grow the best strawberries in the world here.”
Suffice it to say, I simply loved Ile d’Orleans – from the spring scenery, to the wines, the ciders, the chocolates, the mustards, and the nougat.
Once again, I entered a unique culinary world when I joined tour guide Florence Bisson for a walk through the trendy eateries, cheese shops, and microbreweries of the Saint-Roch neighborhood.
A hip traveler of the world, Bisson had just returned from a long-term stay in Colombia. But her heart was obviously in her hometown of Quebec.On our first stop at the Fromagerie des Grondines, Bisson emphasized the area’s booming and adventurous cheese scene. “Raw-milk cheese is only possible in the province of Quebec,” she said, as we sampled delicious grilled artichoke-cheese sandwiches and shots of sea bucthorn, a tart, fruity drink unique to Canada.Bisson seemed to relish telling our group about one of the neighborhood’s past industries – the manufacture of corsets. We made a stop in front of the historic La Fabrique, where Dominion Corset made the ladies undergarments for nearly a century. Although no longer a corset factory, the four-story red-brick building is now listed on Canada’s national historic sites.The Saint-Roch area, just a few blocks from Quebec City’s old town, offers a completely different atmosphere. Bisson told us the neighborhood once had a reputation of being dangerous. “Everyone was afraid of this neighborhood, but it was never dangerous because it’s Quebec City,” she said.
Saint-Roch now offers affordable housing choices, and therefore has become a popular gathering spot for locals. That, in turn, has fostered a lively microbrewery and restaurant scene.
Overall, I would say the food scene of Quebec City was wonderfully rich and diverse, and the people who guided me through it a charming bonus.