Quebec city, or Québec as its francophone inhabitants say, is one of the most ancient cities of North America, the only one walled, and also a UNESCO heritage site.
Therefore it is somehow bizarre that the city’s best-known landmark, that many (including myself) believe to be the town hall or another seat of power, is instead an hotel, and only built in 1893: the Chateau Frontenac
That said, walking in the city’s oldest part, Vieux-Québec, it is almost confusing: you get the feeling that you’re in Europe, in a minor city in rural France… some place like Nancy, to say.
And this feeling is continuously proved wrong by some north-american detail… the complete absence of Renault cars, for instance!
We learnt that Québec was founded on the Cap Diamant in 1608 by Samuel De Champlain and that it passed under the British in 1759, following the battle of the Plaines d’Abraham; that the old city is divided in Haute Ville and Basse Ville; that Québec is conveniently located where the Saint Lawrence river widens, so that its port was Canada’s most important one, at least until steam ship appeared; that its walled Citadelle is the last one in the world to be still military active, it being the headquarter of the “Van Doos” (vingt-deux) the only francophone regiment of the canadian army.
We also learnt that Québec’s motto is “Je me souviens“, I remember: it’s written everywhere, from the Parliament to cars’ plates, to mean that the francophone people remembers its origins, its culture, its distinctive traits.
Well, we’ve been especially happy that they remember their french origins when they cook, considering that we chose to visit Québec also to elude the food deprivations we’re suffering in Alberta, where meat is only beef, pork or chicken and fish is only salmon or trout.
The visit to Marché du Vieux-Port immediately reassured us on this point: maple syrup moutarde, patés and terrines of any edible animal, the pasta fresca counter and the charcuterie one… we also saw tomatoes who actually smelled of tomatoes!
Bold from the market, we headed to the restaurant Le Marie Clarisse (on the lowest terrace along l’escalier Casse-cou). We had quails and red snapper, but the menu changes daily, always a good sign in a restaurant.
Another french tradition kept in Québec is that of the many creperies bretonnes: we tried Le Billig (526, Rue Saint Jean, outside the walls, in the Saint Jean Baptiste area).
I found that the galettes (buckwheat crèpes) were a little thin and crunchy for my tastes, but the meal was very satisfying, because the filling was delicious: we tried the Béarn (confit de canard, with spinach, chèvre and onion compote) and the Savoyarde (pancetta, potatoes, gruyère and brie). Being a huge fan of salted caramel, I truly appreciated the crepe dessert Salidou.
And then, obviously the french know that you can eat rabbit without being an evil monster (unlike my butcher in Fort McMurray, who calls them bunnies, clearly trying to make me feel bad. In vain.)
Therefore we went to the Le Lapin Sauté, where, in a nice, rustic and very crowded (both by people and bunny figurines), we started with rabbit rillettes with onion and carrot jams, followed by rabbit and duck cassoulet and rabbit with mustard sauce.
Good, not extraordinary, rabbit was a bit overcooked.
A restaurant to mention is Le pain beni (24, Rue Sainte Anne, Haute Ville, close to Place d’Armes).
We appreciated the chicken north African style and the duck breast with sprouts.
But Québec is the birth place of what has become the ultimate Canadian traditional food, the poutine. To taste an authentic Québecoiçe version, we headed to a restaurant that made of local specialties (caribou, bison, wapiti, deer) its icon, Aux Anciens Canadiens.
The restaurant is either quite pricey à la carte, or quite touristic if you opt for the menu du jour. We were not much impressed, but we were happy anyway because the restaurant itself is inside the Maison Jaquet, one of the oldest houses in Québec.
Back to poutine… what can I say?
Much as I like my fellow Canadians, I don’t like poutine, and I think that it’s a dish that conceptually wrong: fries are good when they’re crispy. If you drown them in gravy, worse: in HOT gravy, so that it can melt the cheese curds… fries will soften and the final result is a million-calories dish that nobody over 12 years of age should approach, if not for metabolic suicidal purposes.
I’ll finish with souvenirs, and at this point you should know that I’m not going to write about fridge magnets or t-shirts! I recommend the épicerie Maison Jean-Alfred Moisan that resembles an old far west emporium, and it’s also filled with every treat you may want to have!
Québec city, à bientot!