Truffles, maple syrup, and fascinating history—that’s what’s in store in Quebec City, Quebec.
We gathered around the earnest proprietor, who brandished a tray of plastic cups. I hesitated. Could I really drink this shot?
I never expected I’d be downing multiple shots of maple syrup. And wanting more.
This was just one stop on a food tour with Le Tours Voir Quebec. The tour company offers food and history tours of Quebec City, the quintessential French capital of the province of Quebec that’s situated on St. Lawrence River in Eastern Canada. For our group of eight, guide Robert Simard combined both history and food. We alternated between pausing on the sunny, but chilly street to learn details of the 400-year old city and ducking inside local businesses to try samples of their specialties.
Our walking tour took place within and just outside of the old walled city, which dates back to 1535, when Frenchman Jacques Cartier established the original fort. Robert told us that when Cartier, who arrived with his group of Frenchmen in September of 1535, the weather was lovely. They had no idea what bitterly cold winter in Quebec could bring. Soon 100 out of 110 men fell sick with scurvy. Finally, the Amerindians, the local native peoples, clued them in to the solution: vitamin C-rich tea made from boiling white cedar bark.
Our foodie stops included three restaurants, two treat shops, a liquor store and an old grocery. On the way, we passed the oldest Anglican cathedral outside Britain – built in 1804 — and still using human bell ringers every Sunday. We also learned to identify the soft yellow of recycled Scottish bricks used in some of the old buildings.
As a vegetarian teetotaler, I’m not exactly the target demographic for such a tour. Although I can’t tell you how the salmon tartare tasted at Crémaillière or describe the wines at Patriarche restaurant, I still enjoyed getting an inside look at businesses and learning some fascinating history.
Four-diamond Patriarche was a hit with the group, mostly because we got to descend into a cozy red wine cellar deep within the 1827 building. While chef and co-owner Stéphane Roth talked wines, I admired the old wood used for the beams. Patriarche specializes in farmed game, a popular meat in Canada. (Selling wild game in restaurants is illegal due to health concerns.)
The Billig-Creperie is a darling crepe restaurant. Our host, Eric Des Ormeaux, proudly told us it ranked ninth out of 6,000 Quebec restaurants on Trip Advisor. The owner/chef made us crepes to sample – ham and cheese for the non-vegetarians, just cheese for me. Made with buckwheat, the crepes are gluten-free and delicious.
My favorite stop was Maple Delights, the place where we drank maple shots. The shop is quintessentially Canadian. After all, even the Canadian flag features a big red maple leaf. The store’s roots go back to a co-op of maple producers formed in 1925. Over the years, the co-op has grown to 2,000 members who now sell their maple products to 45 countries. Top markets include the U.S., Japan, and Germany. Our host, Jacques Leclerc, told us that 80 percent of all the world’s maple products come from Quebec. Who knew?
Not only did Jacques ply us with shots, butter, tea, cookies and candy of the maple persuasion, we learned about maple history. Maple Delights has a fascinating maple museum upstairs that details the syrup’s interesting history. Amerindians, Canada’s original people, tapped maple sap by making V-shaped incisions with tomahawks. The Algonquins, tribal people who lived along the St. Lawrence, used the ungainly word “sinzibuckwud” for maple syrup, which means “drawn from wood.” Later, Caucasian Canadians walked from tree to tree in snowshoes with a horse-drawn sleigh towing a barrel. Various types of buckets, maple taps, snowshoes and old photos are also on display.
When one tour participant asked whether tapping harmed the tree, Jacques reminded us that the harvest lasts only six weeks in February and March. “If you give your blood to the Red Cross once a month, it’s okay,” he said.
We had a difficult time tearing ourselves away from the maple museum and the store full of maple treats, which, by the way, make excellent gifts for folks back home. However, a trip to Canada’s oldest grocery store also yielded lots of possibilities for food gifts. J.A. Moisan, established in 1871, still has an old-time look inside, though it’s filled with modern gourmet delicacies. We sampled a large plate of their cheeses and grapes.
After 2 1/2 hours of food touring, everybody was getting tired. But Robert had saved the chocolate shop for last, knowing eight women would power through on the promise of chocolate.
Érico Chocolate, like Maple Delights, combined shop, museum and delicious treat samples. The museum area offered both educational displays about chocolate processing and entertaining chocolate sculptures of people, clocks and even a chocolate dress. Our hostess brought out trays of chocolates followed by samples of frozen treats and hot chocolate. I enjoyed a chocolate salted caramel and a spicy four-pepper truffle—delicious.
The store also makes lots of inventive delicacies, including a white chocolate truffle made with goat milk, coconut milk-based chocolate ice cream, and a citrusy sorbet combining strawberry and sea buckthorn.
As we ended our tour, I thought about Robert’s story of Cartier’s men falling ill in this ancient place. No such problems await Quebec visitors today. Instead they will find endless local delicacies to try. If you want to get an inside look at local food and history in Quebec, I suggest you try Le Tours Voir Quebec. — Story and photos by Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor
If You Go
The 2 1/2-hour food tour costs $42.95 for adults, $24.95 for children, family rate for two adults and two children is $124.95. Private tours also available. Book online at www.toursvoirquebec.com/en/old-quebec-tours/the-food-tour
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