Quebec is the largest province in Canada and also offers a rich culture and history. Few provinces or regions have successfully created a cuisine as unique as Quebec's. Many factors have helped shape the region's food scene; thus, it's not surprising that food in Quebec has become a symbol of Canadian culture.
The local travel experts at Canadian Train Vacations can help you plan your trip to Canada, including exploring Quebec and its food culture. From booking tours to special meals, we know the best way to experience foodie culture in Quebec.
Here is our guide to the best food in Quebec City and the popular foods in Quebec, the province, including in Montreal.
The History of Quebec Cuisine
Quebec cuisine has become what it is today because of the many influences from its past. When the first settlers arrived, they brought their 17th-century French cuisine. Most of them were in the fur trading business with the natives.
The settlers learned new food techniques from them, such as making maple syrup and smoking meat. As many French foods were unavailable in the new land, they had to substitute many ingredients. Still, the early settlers stayed true to their native cuisine. Many dishes, like the tourtière, were a direct translation of French staples.
When Britain took over New France in the 18th century, the change greatly affected Quebec's culinary scene. The introduction of British cuisine and its love for potatoes created new recipes. As trade relations with the United States improved, American cuisine became part of Quebec's food culture. This introduced foods such as ketchup and baked beans or fèves au lard to the region.
It was not until the 20th century that Quebec cuisine became distinct from other provinces. The era introduced many immigrant cuisines, as seen in the Montreal-style Bagel. During this time, unique foods like the poutine emerged, which soon became the province's signature dish. Modern Quebec cuisine now focuses on local products and nurturing local talent. This has resulted in the unique flavours the province is known for today.
Traditional Must Try Dishes in Quebec
Many popular foods in Quebec are closely tied to the culture and traditions of the people. Here is a list of the most common foods in Quebec.
When most people think of Quebec food, many think of poutine. Consisting of only three ingredients – french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy – the dish has become a beloved staple. Poutine originated in the 1950s in the Centre-du-Québec region and wasn't popularized until a few years later.
Today, cities in Quebec hold annual poutine festivals. There is even a poutine-eating championship. You can find the dish and its variations in food trucks, fast food chains, and fancy restaurants.
La Banquise in Montreal serves over 30 different poutine varieties. These include hot dog poutine, bacon poutine, ground beef poutine, chicken poutine and smoked meat poutine. They also have vegetarian and vegan options. Other great places to enjoy the delicious snack include Chez Aston and Saint-Jean Snack Bar. In Poutineville, you can even create your poutine.
2. Tourtière (Meat Pie)
Another must-try food in Quebec City is the tourtière. The famous food is a meat pie stuffed with meat and potatoes. Quebecois usually serve the pie on Christmas or New Year's Eve. Although tourtière is a staple in Quebecois cuisine, it is not unique to the province. You can find the meat pie anywhere in the country and even in some parts of the United States.
Different regions have different types of tourtières. For example, in the early days, they used wild game. Today, you can find tourtières filled with ground pork, beef, chicken, veal, and rabbit. In coastal regions, tourtières are filled with fish like salmon and have a thicker crust. You can eat the pie with ketchup, maple syrup or molasses.
3. Baked Beans with Maple Syrup
If you enjoy a hearty breakfast, you should try fèves au lard. This traditional Quebec dish consists of beans, salted pork or ham hock, and maple syrup. The mixture is slow-cooked in the oven. Maple-baked beans are often served as a side dish during breakfast and other meals. It is considered a specialty in restaurants such as La Binerie Mont-Royal and Restaurant La Bûche.
You can also eat fèves au lard in sugar shacks. Sugar shacks are cabins where maple sap is collected and processed into maple syrup. Today, the shacks entertain visitors with tour guides and activities. They also make various dishes made with maple syrup. Harvesting sap begins in early spring, the best time to visit a sugar shack.
Many shacks are open to visitors all year round. If you are in Montreal, here is a list of sugar shacks near the city. For shacks in Quebec City, you can find listings here. Visit this site to learn about sugar shacks in Gatineau and Western Quebec.
4. Fairmount Bagel
Fairmount bagels, also known as Montreal-style bagels, were brought to Quebec by Jewish immigrants. They differ from New York-style bagels in that they are smaller, denser, and sweeter and have a larger hole.
Additionally, the Fairmount Bagel is always baked in a wood-fired oven. The two bagel styles have been in fierce rivalry in Montreal's bagel business. Yet, the Montreal-style bagel has remained a favourite with many.
You can enjoy a hot and steaming bagel with various toppings anywhere in the city. One famous establishment is the Fairmount Bagel at 74 Fairmount West in Montreal. Another classic bakery is St-Viateur Bagel, which has various branches in the city.
5. Pouding chômeur
In many ways, the most loved dishes are often simple staples invented during tough economic times. Pouding chômeur, the unemployed man's pudding, was created in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The ingredients were flour, butter, eggs, milk, sometimes stale bread, and sugar.
Preparation was equally simple. Hot caramelized sugar was poured into a baking dish, topped with a cake mixture and then baked for 30 to 45 minutes. Modern restaurants use maple syrup instead of sugar and a rich white cake batter.
To elevate the dessert even more, they add cream to the caramel. You can enjoy the pudding with ice cream sprinkled with walnuts or more maple syrup. The pudding is so well-loved in Quebec cuisine that it remained a family staple for many years and was only recently introduced in restaurants.
6. Cassis du Québec (Black Current)
Originally from France, Cassis du Québec, a blackcurrant liqueur, came to Quebec in the 1970s. A liquoriste from Southern France found the climate on Île d'Orléans perfect for growing the blackcurrants. It is also mild enough for the berries to withstand the harsh winter. He started the Cassis Monna and Filles, the leading maker of blackcurrant wine on the island.
The unique flavours of the liqueur have become the signature taste of Île d'Orléans. You can enjoy blackcurrant wines, liquors, and syrups in several places. These include La Boutique Du Capitaine and the Du Capitaine distillery.
7. Smoked Meat
Besides bagels, the Jewish community gave Quebec another signature dish: Montreal Smoked Meat. Colonials had been smoking meat for ages using a technique they learned from Native Americans.
When Jewish immigrants came to Quebec, they brought their Eastern European techniques and spice blends. This resulted in the popular Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches, which consist of rye bread, smoked meat and mustard.
Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen is the most famous among the many Smoked Meat Sandwich spots. Zytynsky's Deli, Lester's Deli and Le Roi du Smoked Meat are other spots where you can try the specialty. Some places also serve smoked meat on poutine or pizza.
8. Maple Syrup Creations
Last but not least in Quebec's list of famous food is its myriad maple syrup creations. After all, the province produces over 70 percent of the maple syrup in the world. Popular desserts include maple taffy, grands-pères and tarte au sucre. You can make maple taffy by pouring hot maple syrup on clean snow. The cold causes the syrup to thicken, and you can then pick it up with a popsicle stick and eat it while soft.
Grands-pères are dumplings cooked in maple syrup. You can find them in sugar shacks during sap harvest season, where they are often served with ice cream. Sugar pie or tarte au sucre is as sweet as its name implies. It consists of a pie crust filled with caramelized sugar, preferably maple sugar or syrup, and other ingredients. You can find the pie anywhere, from restaurants to bakeries to grocery stores.
Modern Cuisine Trends in Quebec
Despite the many international influences, Quebec cuisine has remained unique and special. This is largely a result of the local food movement that supports local talent and innovation.
Sustainable Eating and Farm-to-Table Movement
The best food places in Quebec City and Montreal actively support the farm-to-table movement. They buy their products directly from local farmers and artisans. Many are also part of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. These programs and farmers markets provide locals with daily fresh and organic produce. Some establishments also make their wines, brews, and cheeses.
Most restaurants that use local ingredients have the best food to eat in Quebec City. One good example of sustainable eating is Alentours. A relatively new establishment, they make everything from scratch. On top of that, they source all their ingredients within a 150-kilometre radius of Quebec City.
The restaurant proves that zero-waste practices and sustainable eating do not have to stand in the way of fine dining. There's also a plethora of vegan and vegetarian food in Quebec City, which often relies on fresh ingredients from local farms.
In Montreal, you can visit Le Vin Papillon for a unique culinary experience. The restaurant creates signature dishes with roots and leaves from local farms and their in-house garden.
Food Trucks and Street Eats
A major food city is not complete without innovative and trendy food trucks and street vendors. Quebec City and Montreal have a lively street food scene. From local to international cuisine, you can find almost anything on the streets of these cities.
Some of the best food in Quebec City comes from these food trucks. You can get authentic indigenous food at the Saga Cuisine Nomade truck that rolls through Old Quebec. Or treat your taste buds to exotic seafood at Food Fighters 504.
Montreal takes its street eats very seriously and even has a streetfood association that boasts over 70 members. These street eateries offer British, Mediterranean, Asian, and many other international cuisines. Dig into Mexican fusion food at Mi Corazon Taco Truck, or enjoy a healthy salad at Ô Sœurs Volantes. Some food trucks also prowl the streets at night, selling their culinary offerings around the clock.
Upscale Dining Experiences
Quebec's food scene has something for everyone, from food trucks to delectable gourmet cuisine. It has many old and new establishments that offer a wide array of culinary experiences for anyone seeking upscale dining.
Au Pied du Cochon is one of Montreal's most famous upscale restaurants. It is all about rich flavours, as seen in its famous foie gras poutine. For a more serene and quiet ambience, you can visit the Candide. Its menu changes with the seasons, offering a new blend of local foods each month.
Many Quebec City restaurants are known for their fine dining. Le Continental is the oldest gourmet restaurant in town. The restaurant still provides gueridon or tableside service, in character with its French cuisine. If you want traditional, local dishes, visit Restaurant Légende par la Tanière. It makes a point to only use ingredients exclusively found in Quebec.
While not a gourmet establishment, A and W Canada is worth mentioning. This fast food chain split from the US chain in 1972. Since then, the restaurant has focused on providing simple yet superior fast food. It sources many of its ingredients from local productions and uses reusable packaging. Vegans and vegetarians may be pleased that the chain also offers tasteful meatless burgers. So, if you want to enjoy a tasty burger while helping the environment, A and W Canada is the place to go.
From fast foods like poutine to traditional fare such as tourtière, Quebecois cuisine is rich and diverse. Not only can you explore new tastes, but you can also experience a whole new world in the province.
Whether you like eating maple taffy off the snow or prefer to go on a food tour through the region, you are sure to have the adventure of a lifetime. Explore the wonderful world of Quebec cuisine on your next trip.
#1 Travel Tip: Book a food tour
Wherever you are in Quebec, be sure to take advantage of a food tour. The enthusiast local guides will share interesting history as you sample some of the region’s best bites.
#2 Travel Tip: Try local ingredients
From local seafood to regional farm products, Quebec has many local delicacies. The best restaurants embrace the farm-to-table movement, so check menus for locally infused dishes.
#3 Travel Tip: Bring back a taste of Canada
Food makes the best souvenirs. From maple syrup and its products (try the cookies!) to smoked salmon and rare cheeses or specialty chocolate, everyone will appreciate a foodie gift.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes Quebecois cuisine unique compared to other Canadian provinces?
Quebec cuisine is known for its rich history, international influences, and reliance on local products.
How do seasons affect the availability and variety of food in Quebec?
The changing seasons help make Quebec food diverse and varied. While most fruits and vegetables are available from spring to fall, winter gives way to hearty comfort foods like poutine and tourtière.
What Quebecois dishes are vegetarian or vegan-friendly?
Restaurants have started to incorporate many vegetarian options into their menus. You can find vegetarian poutines or vegan baked beans. There are even vegan sugar shacks.
How do locals typically approach daily meals?
Locals usually have three meals a day. Breakfast may be simple or hearty, whereas lunch is small and often on the go. Most locals have a hearty dinner, consisting of meat or fish and seasonal produce.
What are dining etiquette tips for visitors to Quebec?
Being polite is the basis of dining etiquette in Quebec. Maintaining proper table manners and tipping to show appreciation are other things visitors should keep in mind.
About the author: Athena McKenzie is the Content Manager at Fresh Tracks Canada. An experienced lifestyle journalist, she has written about travel, design, arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Elle Canada and... Read more