With so much on offer it can be hard to know where to start your hunt for the best food in Montréal and Québec City. There’s the French influence, of course, as well as an Irish heritage, but also Greek, Portuguese and Italian roots. Québec’s best-known dish is the fiercely loved poutine, which is food at its most elemental: fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. However, that’s only the beginning of the culinary spectrum – here’s a round up of the best food to be eaten at restaurants in Montréal and Québec.
Look up “comfort food” in the dictionary and you’ll see a photo of poutine (pronounced pooh-teen). The robust dish of fries topped with cheese curds was born in rural Québec, and you can sample it at diners, as a casse-crôute (snack) and at roadside eateries across the region. But, poutine has also had an upgrade from innovative local chefs, including Martin Picard, who famously added foie gras to poutine at his breakout restaurant Au Pied de Cochon in Montréal.
A king among pies, the tourtière is filled with meat – usually spiced ground pork, though also beef and game – and topped with a flaky crust that bakes to a golden-brown. This meat pie is traditionally served on Christmas eve, though many families feast on it throughout the holiday season, and beyond.
Québec’s longtime sisterhood with France reveals itself most deliciously through its cheese. Québec has over 400 types of cheese, from a tangy, veined blue cheese by La Roche Noire to a silky, vegetable ash-covered goat cheese by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, which has nabbed many prizes. You can sample cheeses throughout the region, from Montréal and Québec City restaurants to farmers’ markets to dairy farms in Cantons de l’Est.
If a bagel war broke out, it would probably come down to Montréal and New York City. Montréal rivals NYC as a bagel capital, and you can sink your teeth into chewy bagels throughout the city, from casual delis to stylish cafes. History has a lot to do with it: bagels were introduced to Montréal by Jewish immigrants, many from Eastern Europe, and two of the best-known historic delis include Fairmount Bagel Bakery and St-Viateur Bagel & Café.
Montréal’s smoked meats are also deservedly famous, often served between huge chunks of rye bread with pickles on the side. Feast on the colossal sandwiches at Reuben’s Deli and Schwartz’s, where surly service is thrown in as part of the package. But don’t worry, you’re in good company: all sorts of stars have lunched at Schwartz’s, from Céline Dion to the Rolling Stones.
The statistics tell the story: three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup comes from Québec. You can buy bottles of the dark stuff everywhere, from grocery stores to souvenir shops. Or, go to the source: in the Québécois countryside where the maple trees are tapped for syrup in the spring. Cabanes à sucre offer sleigh rides and traditional treats like maple taffy (strips of maple syrup frozen in the snow). Try Cabane à sucre Bellavance, which has long communal tables covered in red-checkered cloth, where you can sample thick slices of ham and maple syrup with everything from poached eggs to crispy pork jowls called “Oreilles de Crisse” (Christ’s ears).
One of Québec’s newer creations has quickly become its most popular – cidre de glace, or ice cider. Sweet and bracing, the cider is made from apples that have frozen outdoors during the region’s harsh winters. The apples are pressed and the juice fermented. Follow an ice-cider route across leafy Canton de l’Est and make a pilgrimmage to Domaine Pinnacle orchard and cidery, which was the region’s ice-cider pioneer, and pick up a bottle (or five) to enjoy at home.
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