What is it about Québec City?
Like most questions in life, you simply must ask a trusted source for an answer.
The city that sits formidably on the St. Lawrence is a beautifully balanced atmosphere of colonial France and the earliest of Canadiana best represented in its architecture, ambiance, and attitude. However, the unschooled visitor hoping to explore the city’s gastronomic culture can become inundated by the anti-culinary: nominal theme restaurants, fast food chains, and steakhouse-style caverns characteristic of any tourist locale. They can be more detrimental than you think because their superficiality and availability strip away the very fabric of what is the true experience of travel – especially here.
Advice to avoid these traps – that are easy to fall into – include casually planning your gastronomic destinations in advance with the help of: trusted guidebooks (i.e. Frommer’s, Fodor’s, and Lonely Planet: consulting a selection will offer diverse and distinctive stops); asking questions and participating in customer reviewed and travel-oriented web communities (i.e. Travelpod, TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Urbanspoon); and more challenging, but most rewarding – sourcing out someone – even via modern social networking – that is or has experienced your particular destination intimately.
In the case of my recent trip to Québec City, I enlisted help from my social communities. LinkedIn and Facebook connections provided antidotal, candid and relevant suggestions for pubs and nightlife. However, it was a Twitter message from Daniel Lafleur of Tawse winery in Niagara, Ontario – who lived in Québec City for thirty years and whom, incidentally, I have never personally met – that inspired the planning and execution of an entire foodie adventure – with just one email.
Knowing that I was interested in the culinary culture of Québec from the outset, by the introductory tweet I posted, Daniel’s recommendations guided me from L’Inox – a fantastically chic and affordable pub that brews their beers in house and serves them with sinful Québec cheeses, like: Douanier, Le Baluchon, and Pied-du-Vent on the Grand Allée Est – to the breathtaking Montmorency Falls and then across the river to vineyards, farms, and chocolate shops of the picturesque Ile d’Orléans, a now-preserved historical and agricultural legacy of a landscape twenty minutes outside the city that is a must for any – and especially – culinary tourists.
Perhaps the greatest inspiration from Daniel, although one I had visited before, was the Marche du Vieux Port on the banks of the river where Québec’s (and Canada’s) early modern history began over four hundred years ago. It’s is a sensory explosion of colours, scents, flavours, and people that truly represent what this city and surrounding countryside have to offer. Vendors set up shop daily, and year-round to sell their magnificent local wares. So, with his recommendations and a quest-like fervor in me, I was motivated to speak freely, intimately – and in French – with the varying purveyors and producers of ice and sparkling ciders, wines; duck; honey; cheese; garlic; cranberries and Québec craft beer – which I admittedly had shied away from during a previous visit. A thoroughly rewarding experience ensued, and I most certainly was quite the sight and garnered lots of attention on my departure carrying ¾ of a case of beer and wine; a backpack stuffed full of the aforementioned delicacies, and camera up the steep stonewalled streets to Hotel Clarendon, the oldest operating hotel in the city.
I did, of course, not make it to all of my mentor’s suggestions, and purposefully left out fine dinner options as they were outside the intention of my trip-come-quest. Therefore, post-market and with my newfound local bravado, I explored a brunch destination new to me, Restaurant L’Échaudé that knocked my socks off! My selection featured local foie gras and mushrooms on a salted bun topped with poached egg and a side salad adorned with colourful violet petals. A glass of rosé was a necessity to wash it down. Mais, bien sur!
As the memories unfurl from only two weeks ago, I savour them like the duck tartare and escargots I had on my first night at the Clarendon’s in-house bistro, Le Charles Baillairgé, sitting across from my Mom who joined me on this excursion. The weather made our alternative dinner plans impossible that evening; but in retrospect I am so glad. We felt among friends with the staff; enjoyed the food and wine immensely; and felt completely at home as we moved the short distance from the dining room to the lounge for jazz and cocktails.
It is not often, nor with even each trip, that one can find a piece of ‘home’ hundreds or thousands of miles away – and it is an emotion; a sentiment rather than a more tangible souvenir like a T-shirt. No matter how fleeting – it’s definitely worth it.
Québec City has nurtured its legacy and perfected it; for they know what they have, and how to best put it to use. Daniel knows this and I believe he wanted me to understand it, too. As Canadians we owe it to ourselves to visit and pay homage to the foundations of not only our culinary tradition; but that of this country’s earliest heritage and culture, as well.
After all, it’s only a tweet, and a flight away.