Cuisine of Quebec facts for kids
Québec's cuisine is a national cuisine descended from 16th-century French cuisine. Québec's cuisine began to develop in New France from the labour-intensive nature of colonial life, the seasonality of ingredients and the need to conserve resources. Québec's cuisine has been influenced by the province's history of fur trading and hunting, as well as Québec's winters, soil fertility, teachings from First Nations, British cuisine, American cuisine, historical trade relations and some immigrant cuisines.
Québec is home to many unique dishes and is most famous for its poutine, tourtières, pâté chinois, pea soup, fèves au lard, cretons and desserts such as grands-pères, pouding chômeur and St. Catherine's taffy.
Québec is known for being the biggest producer of maple syrup on the planet, as 72% of the maple syrup sold in the world (and 90% sold in Canada) originates from Québec. The province is also recognized for having created over 700 differents kinds of cheese, some of which whom have won international contests.
Food critic Jacob Richler wrote that Québécois cuisine is better defined than that of the rest of Canada, due to its language barrier with the dominant culture of the United States and having had more time to develop. Conversely, Québec's cuisine and Acadian cuisine have much in common due to proximity and a shared language and history.
- Traditional Recipes
- Poutine Variants
- Unique Products
- Regional Specialties
- Strains and Breeds
- Cuisine of Quebec in Media
The cuisine of Québec evolved from that of 16th-century Northern France. It also retains some heritage from Poitevin cuisine: many Québecois make pâté marmite; soupe aux gourganes, which is based on gourgane beans, a strain of fava bean; and soups based on other legumes. Furthermore, Charentaise chowders (chaudrées charentaises) have evolved into the quiaudes of Gaspesia and the tourtes salées of Poitiers into tourtières.
Other foods that originate from France are pot-au-feu; blood sausage (boudin); head cheese (tête fromagée); plorine sausages; ham hock stew (ragoût de pattes de cochon); rabbit stew (civet de lapin); French toast (pain perdu or pain doré); and pastries like crêpes, beignets, croquignole biscuits, and tarts. As in France, pork is the most popular meat.
From the moment they arrived in the early 1600s, French colonists always preferred their native cuisine. However, they learned some culinary techniques from the Algonquins, Atikamekw and Iroquois. The most important ones were l’acériculture (the process of harvesting maple sap and creating maple syrup), ice fishing, and boucanage (in which fish or other meat is smoked for preservation and flavour).
Food preservation was always important in pioneer times, due to long winters and to the frequent voyages of coureurs des bois. Therefore, butter, herbs, and lard were used for seasoning and salting. Pork and fish were boucanés, while other meats and vegetables were preserved in vinegar. These techniques are still practiced today, though not for survival. Pioneers and their descendants also hunted and fished for sustenance.
By the 1670s, a substantial agrarian population had emerged in the region of Québec City, and French habits dominated. Meals would almost always feature soup, bread, meat, and wine. Since the climate made it difficult to grow grapes, wines were always imported from France.
The Conquest of New France in 1760 brought some culinary changes to Québec. One of the immediate effects was the elimination of wine, as it could no longer be imported from France. Another major change was the importation of the potato, which, in only a few decades, became a staple ingredient in Québec, dethroning the once all-encompassing bread in popularity. Sugar consumption also increased. Finally, the British imported many recipes like mashed potatoes, crumble, and meat pies.
The period following the Aroostook War in 1839 resulted in increased interaction between Québec and New England. Some recipes inspired by the cultural exchange included fèves au lard, homemade ketchup, and date squares. The socio-economic standing of French Canadians fell to deplorable levels; the intense poverty pushed them to simplify their meals. Recipes for bouillon were now almost nothing more than warm water. Alcoholic beverages were rarely consumed, and butter was either used sparingly or absent. Some famine foods like ploye emerged during this period.
By the early 1900s, conditions had improved somewhat, though French Canadians were still poor. Most families would often eat a mix of potatoes and pork on their plate, which is still a staple combination today. During this period, the passenger pigeon, called tourte in French, also became extinct. Because this bird's meat had been used to fill the pie-like pastries known as tourtières, the tourtière recipe had to change. Mostly, farm-raised meats like beef and pork were used as the substitutes.
The Great Depression of the 1930s saw the creation of new recipes like pâté chinois ("Chinese pie") and pouding chômeur ("unemployed man's pudding") that were delicious and cost-conscious. Immigration after this period diversified; immigrants no longer came only from the British Isles but also from other parts of Europe. Jewish specialties like bagels and Eastern Europe-style smoked meat became popular, resulting in the creation of Montreal-style smoked meat and Montreal-style bagels.
The 1950s saw many changes in the eating habits of the Québécois, for a variety of reasons. Many American fast-food companies and restaurants expanded in Québec, raw milk was banned, many fruits and vegetables became available throughout the year, and Québécois no longer needed to hunt and fish for sustenance. As a result, the pain de ménage ("household bread"), the traditional Québécois bread, was replaced with pain à sandwich; many old cheese recipes were abandoned and new ones created; and spaghetti, pizza, turkey, bacon, sausages, industrial cheeses, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, coleslaw, lobster rolls, and hot chicken all become popular.
These changes brought about the creation of poutine, the most famous Québécois dish, in the late 1950s, as well as other dishes. These changes have also resulted in the emergence and popularization of many Québécois restaurants, including Lafleur, Valentine, La Belle Province, Chez Ashton, Chez Cora and St-Hubert.
The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s greatly improved the socio-economic standing of French Canadians, allowing them to have a more diverse diet and setting the stage for high-quality products to be created in Québec.
From the 1970s to today, the various regions of Québec have been developing unique regional dishes as well as unique products like ice cider and native varieties of wine and cheese. Mass immigration from Europe has also given rise to a preference for more-refined culinary habits and creations, further promoting the creation and production of unique high-quality cheeses and alcoholic beverages across Québec and a return to recipes of the terroir.
Finally, mass immigration from elsewhere has resulted in ethnic communities of Greeks, Chinese, and other peoples opening restaurants dedicated to their cuisines. Sometimes these culinary traditions are combined with Québécois cuisine.
Game, seafood, and fish
Historical poverty led many families in Québec to hunt in order to feed themselves until the 1950s. Tourtières, as noted above, were historically stuffed with the meat of the tourte, or passenger pigeon, which was common and easy prey for early Québécois. It is said that they flew in such large flocks, a hunter needed only to point his gun upward to bring one down. But, by the early 1900s, the passenger pigeon became extinct due to overhunting, deforestation, and the Allee effect.
Subsequently, families instead used whatever meat they had on hand, usually from livestock. As a result, most modern tourtières are filled with beef or pork. Today, the consumption of game remains a tradition, although game is not sold in grocery stores. When available, Québécois eat meat from moose, deer, hares, ruffed grouse, or waterfowl rather than that of livestock. Game is also sometimes given as a gift.
As for seafood, lobster and crab are caught in Gaspesia, la Côte-Nord, and the Magdalen Islands to be sold to the rest of Québec. Shrimp is often marketed as crevette de Matane after the shrimp-processing factory in the town of Matane. However, the shrimp themselves are caught in several villages on the Saint Lawrence River estuary. Mussels, oysters, scallops, and whelks (bourgots) are also caught.
Salmon and trout are the most popular fish in Québec. The brook trout is nearly ubiquitous, salmon is farmed and can be caught in 118 different rivers, and Arctic char is present across nearly 100 lakes. Other fished species include lake trout, yellow perch, ouananiche (a kind of freshwater salmon; Lac Saint-Jean), frostfish (Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade), deepwater redfish (Saguenay fjords), capelin (coastal villages), brown bullhead (Îles de Sorel), American eel (between Trois-Rivières and Cap-Chat), Atlantic cod (Eastern Québec), Atlantic herring (Eastern Québec), walleye, muskellunge, Northern pike, micropterus, rainbow smelt, Greenland halibut, mackerel, lake sturgeon, and lake whitefish.
Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade holds a world-renowned festival every December to February called La pêche des petits poisons des chenaux, where ice fishers catch tomcods. Historically, starving French colonists learned ice fishing techniques from the Atikamekw—a privilege, as the technique was kept a secret from neighbouring First Nations.
Pork is the meat used most often in Québécois recipes. Beef is also commonly used but has been losing popularity in recent years. In summer, beef commonly features in barbecues. While horse meat is consumed marginally, Québec is still the place in North America where it is most commonly eaten.
Québécois pigs are mostly hybrids of the duroc, Yorkshire, and American Landrace breeds. The cattle are also hybrids of many breeds; the Angus, Charolais, and Limousin are the most common. Despite the large cattle population, Québec imports most of its beef from the Canadian West, using its own cattle mostly for dairy. Milk production is dominated by the Holstein, but Jersey or Brown Swiss cows are also milked. The Canadienne is an ancestral breed of Québécois cattle that was once widely raised in the province. There are still a few hundred of these cows left in the Charlevoix and Magdalen Islands regions. Their milk is used in artisanal cheeses.
Poultry is very commonly consumed in Québec. The most popular types are chicken and turkey. The ancestral Chantecler chicken, developed in Oka the early 1900s, is now on the market once again. Turkey is traditionally served at Christmas and Thanksgiving with croutons and sage. Chicken eggs are very popular and mostly used at breakfast and to make pastries. The Estrie region has produced duck since the early 1900s. Québec is also the only producer of foie gras in Canada, as well as its largest producer in North America.
Spices, vegetables, and fruits
Québécois cook with butter. Salt can replace or be combined with herbs for seasoning. Spices common in traditional recipes are linked to local production and historical commerce: savory, cloves, cinnamon, parsley, thyme, sage, nutmeg, quatres épices, and bay leaf. In recent years, spices with provenance in the boreal forest have appeared on Québécois tables, among them green alder pepper (poivre des dunes or poivre d'aulne), sweetfern (comptonie voyageuse), caraway seed (carvi sauvage), sweetgale, and juniper berry. Chefs create interest in and excitement for these new flavours in cooking.
Maple syrup is used to sweeten breakfasts, meats, and pastries. Traditional grains are wheat and buckwheat; their flours are used in sauces and ragoûts. Buckwheat became popular because it could grow well on the Canadian Shield.
The most commonly used vegetables in traditional Québécois cuisine were those that can easily be preserved to last throughout the winter, either kept in a cool storage area like a root cellar or brined in jars. These vegetables are the potato, onion, carrot, beet, squash, legumes, cabbage, turnip, and corn. Today, Québécois also cook with the tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, lettuce, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, and other newer vegetables. Rhubarb, fiddleheads, and chives are consumed seasonally. Rhubarb and chives are often grown in backyard gardens, while fiddleheads are gathered in the wild.
The most popular berries are the blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, cranberry, gadelle, and cloudberry. They are used in jams and jellies, spreads, gelées, desserts, juices, and alcoholic beverages. Blackcurrants and blue honeysuckle have recently entered Québécois markets. Other important fruits are the apple, pear, and plum. Apples are especially important because they are used to make cider and are the star of le temps des pommes.
Imported citrus fruits and tropical fruits are also often enjoyed today. In the past, however, they were so expensive they would be bought only for special events or as a gift. It was customary to give children an orange for Christmas.
Mushrooms have long been absent from Québec's traditional cuisine and culinary history. Today, when mushrooms are used, they are usually of the cremini variety. In recent years, devoted cooks have introduced indigenous species into their culinary creations. Morchella and chanterelle mushrooms are gaining more and more popularity as a result.
Finally, some ingredients like rice, molasses, raisins, and brown sugar appear in traditional Québécois recipes because of historical commerce between New France and regions like the Antilles and Brazil.
- Cretons—forcemeat-style pork spread containing onions and spices
- Soupe aux gourganes—soup showcasing the traditional gourgane bean
- Soupe à l'orge perlé—soup showcasing pearl barley
- Soupe aux pois—soup showcasing peas
- Chiard—pork stew with potatoes and onions
- Cigares au chou—ground beef and ketchup cabbage rolls
- Feuilleté jambon-fromage—rolled-up pastries with ham and cheese in the middle, looks like cinnamon buns
- Fèves au lard—beans slow-cooked with bacon and maple suryp
- Galette aux patates—potato pancake
- Guédille—lobster roll on a hotdog bun, can use other seafood instead of lobster
- Gibelotte de Sorel—soup made with a tomato base, several vegetables and white fish, dish originally from Sorel-Tracy
- Hot chicken—a chicken sandwich with gravy and peas served on top
- Pâté chinois—pâté consisting of a layer of ground beef at the bottom, cream corn in the center and mashed potatoes on top
- Pot-au-feu de la récolte—pork or beef pot-au-feu with traditional vegetables (ex. carrots, cabbage, etc.)
- Poulet chasseur—floured chicken cooked with certain vegetables and tomato sauce
- Poutine—french fries topped with cold cheese curds and hot gravy, the most famous Québécois dish
- Poutine variants—variations on the classic poutine
- Ragoût de boulettes—a type of complex meatball ragoût
- Ragoût de pattes de cochon—a type of complex ragoût made using pig feet
- Tête fromagée—a solid structure made from a mix of pork, spices, onions, carrots and celery
- Tourtière—pie usually made with minced pork or beef, a signature dish of the temps des fêtes
- Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean—a type of tourtière made with a thicker crust and with cubes of potatoes, meats and broth
- Beigne à l'ancienne—old-fashioned doughnuts
- Beigne aux patates—potato doughnuts
- Bonbons aux patates—potato candy
- Bûche de Noël—Yule log
- Croustade aux pommes—apple crumble
- Galette à la mélasse—molasses pancake
- Gâteau Reine Élisabeth—type of cake made with dates, walnuts and coconut icing
- Gâteau au pain d'épices—cake made with certain spices
- Grands-pères—wrinkly ball-shaped cake often covered with maple syrup or stuffed with a fruit-based filling
- Pets de sœurs—rolled-up pastry with a brown sugar filling, looks like cinnamon buns
- Pouding chomeur—white cake laying in a maple-syrup based pudding
- Queue de castor—oval-shapped fried dough covered in a sweet garnish
- Sucre à la crème—cubes of sugar, condensed milk and butter, similar to Scottish tablets
- Tarte à la ferlouche—pie made with raisins, molasses and brown sugar
- Tarte au sucre—pie made from a sugar-based filling
- Tarte au suif—pie made from a sweet beef-fat based filling
- Tire de la Sainte-Catherine—a kind of sweet taffy, created to celebrate the Saint Catherine of Alexandria
- Tire sur neige—boilling maple sap layed on snow and rolled up on a popsicle stick
- Trottoir—strawberry or blueberry-based pie whose upper crust has a pattern of rhombus-shaped holes
- Betteraves marinées—pickled beets
- Langue de veau ou de porc—pork or veal tongue
- Oreilles de crisse—a dish consisting of deep-fried salted fatback
- Bière d'épinette—spruce beer
- Cidre glacé—ice cider
- Vin glacé—ice wine
- Caribou—drink made from red wine, a spirit and maple syrup
- See also: Poutine
Poutine is the most famous Québécois dish. It is composed of fresh french fries and fresh cheese curds topped with hot brown gravy in a shallow bowl. The cheese curds are usually room temperature to prevent them from melting and losing their elasticity or "squeakiness". Poutine emerged in the Centre-du-Québec area in the late 1950s. Its precise origins are uncertain as there are several competing claims to having invented the dish.
For many years it was perceived negatively by English-speaking Canadians and mocked in English Canada. It was even used by some to stigmatize Quebec society. But, it later became celebrated as a symbol of Québécois culture and the province of Quebec. It has long been associated with Quebec cuisine, and its rise in prominence has led to its popularity in the rest of Canada, in the northern United States, and internationally. Poutine has been called "Canada's national dish" though many believe this represents cultural appropriation of Québécois and Quebec's national identity.
- See also: Types of cheese
When Canada was part of the French Empire, colonials used their Canadienne cattle to create a variety of soft, semi-soft and soft-ripened cheeses to eat. Following the Conquest of New France, the British began importing hard cheeses like cheddar that the population could also consume.
In the 1960s, the banning of crude milk made most of the old cheese-making techniques and recipes, which up to that point had been successfully passed on for centuries, disappear and become forgotten. Only a few recipes remain. The Saint-Pierre, produced on l'île d’Orléans, has the honour of being the oldest North American cheese. It is a soft-ripened cheese sold under the forms of la Faisselle, le Paillasson or le Raffiné. The Cailles cheese, a cheese made from fermented milk and typically used in salads, also used to be quite widespread. It now only exists in the Charlevoix and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions.
Nowadays, there are attempts to diversify the ways in which Cailles is consumed. There are some cheeses that were also created by priests. Towards the end of the 19th century, a group of trappist monks were expelled from France and moved to Oka. One of them, who originated from Notre-Dame-du-Port-du-Salut, created a semi-ferm paste which was eventually used to mold the first Oka cheese. Benedictines were responsible for creating l’Ermite, a blue cheese, in 1943 at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.
Today, Quebec creates over 700 different kinds of cheeses and is the biggest cheese producer in Canada. Quebecers enjoy many natively produced and imported hard cheeses, including hard cheeses parfumed by beer or wine. Most soft cheeses are produced locally and many are artisanal. Cheese curds are notably used in poutine, one of the most famous Québécois dishes.
- See also: List of foods made from maple
Quebec produces 72% of the maple syrup sold on Planet Earth and 90% of the maple syrup sold in Canada. Maple syrup is a sugary concoction made from heated maple sap. The syrup is often used at breakfast to cover crêpes and pain doré, and as a component of fèves au lard. It can also be used to caramelize meats like ham, to stabilize the acidity of certain sauces and as a side for deserts like with pouding-chômeur or Grands-pères au sirop d'érable. Finally, it is the main ingredient showcased during le temps des sucres and in sugar shacks.
Many maple syrup derived products exist. Tire, French for sugar on snow, is heated maple syrup that is cast onto a flat bed of snow and then rolled up onto a popsicle stick to be eaten like candy. Tire is very popular at sugar shacks and during springtime.
Maple butter is a spread commonly used at breakfast on toast. Maple sugar can serve as a replacement to brown and white sugar. Maple water is not often consumed, but when it is, it is most often because it is believed to have health benefits. Finally, there exists a variety of maple-flavoured products like maple-flavoured candy and maple-flavoured drinks.
In Quebec, the process of smoking meat is called boucanage. It was learned by French Canadian colonials from Native Americans. While Native Americans only smoked meats, colonials would brine or spice before smoking.
Today, establishments called boucanières or boucaneries are specialized in this process. On top of brining and spicing, boucanières can use tree essences to infuse a certain taste in the meat with maple wood being the most popular choice. Fish can also be dried before being suspended over a fire, something called boucaner à froid.
This practice has always been popular, especially in the Gaspesia, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Côte-Nord regions. There, it was useful in order to preserve fish. Atlantic herrings were historically caught and exported in large quantities, so they were the most boucané. Though, trout and salmon caught inland were also commonly boucané.
Smoked salmon specifically has become more popular in recent decades due to influence from the United States and Europe.
Pork also used to be boucané, but the popularity of smoked pork has decreased. Smoked pork is now almost exclusively consumed during Easter where it is sometimes boiled beforehand with its bones.
In the 1930s, Jewish immigrants came to Montreal and brought some meat smoking traditions from Eastern Europe. One method used Montreal Steak Spice. After the meat is smoked, it is cut up in narrow slices. The meat is often served as part of a sandwich with mustard and rye bread.
Pork-based charcuterie is traditionally referred to in Quebec as cochonailles. Here are the most popular:
- Creton is composed of ground pork, lard (animal fat), milk and cereal that is cooked and flavoured together in order to obtain a creamy paste. Cretons are often eaten as a snack or breakfast on roasted bread pieces called rôties, along with mustard. If another kind of meat is used to create cretons, like poultry or veal, it is called cretonnade instead.
- Tête fromagée is less popular but used in the same way as cretons.
- The boudin of Quebec is made of lard (animal fat), milk, onions and pork blood. It is often served in a pan along with a sweet side or a sauce. Since 2018, the Goûte-Boudin de Boucherville association hands out a yearly prize for the best boudin.
- Plorines (also written as pleurine or plârine) are composed of lard and flavoured meat enveloped in pork caul fat. Sometimes plorine recipes can also include eggs, beef and/or mie de pain (the inside part of the bread).
- Oreilles de Christ are lard pieces that are fried until they become crispy. They are eaten as an amuse-gueule and/or with maple syrup.
A great variety of pastries are produced in Quebec. Here are some examples:
- Crêpes are flat and round, made from wheat or buckwheat flour. The crêpes of Quebec are thicker than those from France, but not thick like pancakes of Anglo-Saxon cultures. They are popular breakfast items. They are often served with maple syrup, brown sugar and/or fruits. They can also be served during lunch or supper.
- Beignes, which resemble old-fashioned doughnuts, are dough rings that were fried in oil. The middle part of the dough is removed in order to create the ring, and these middle spheres are then cooked as well and consumed as trou de beigne (doughnuts holes). Powdered sugar or icing is often added on top of these pastries.
- Croquignoles are braided, twisted or rectangular fried dough pastries. They are a little less popular than beignes and can most often be found in rural regions.
- Tartes, similarly to pies, are composed of a shortcrust exterior and an interior spread. The most popular kinds of spread are fruit-based, like blueberry, apple, strawberry, raspberry, etc. Other popular kinds of tartes include tarte au sucre, with a mixed butter and brown sugar spread, tarte à la farlouche, with a mixed brown sugar, molasses and dried raisins spread, and tarte au suif, which has beef fat as its spread.
- Sucre à la crème is a sugary snack composed of cream, brown sugar and butter. It can sometimes be found sold in convenience stores.
- Pets-de-sœur consist of a dough paste that is flattened and covered in a butter and brown sugar mix. The dough is then rolled over itself, cut to make a cylinder shape and then cut into thin slices.
- Chocolatines consist of small croissants with chocolate inside. They are sometimes sold in corner stores.
- Bûche de Noël is a wrapped cake pastry that is traditionally eaten during the Holidays.
- Pouding chomeur is a white cake soaked in maple syrup or brown sugar.
- Grands-pères is a type of cake in the shape of a sphere which is eaten plain, or covered with maple syrup. They can also sometimes be filled with fruits. They are sometimes served as part of meals as well.
- Matane shrimp
- Duck from lake Brome
Strains and Breeds
Over the centuries, varieties of fruits and vegetables were created in Quebec. The need to cultivate Quebec's strains has evaporated in recent times, causing most varieties to become lost. Here are some strains that have been saved or rediscovered:
- White canadian corn
- The crotte-d’ours potato of Louis-Marie
- The Thibodeau bean of Saint-Jules
- The pomme Fameuse
- The Montreal melon
- The Mémé tomato of Beauce
- The potato onion
- Neuville corn
Though less numerous now, these breeds created in Quebec are still used today:
Cuisine of Quebec in Media
TV shows about Quebec quisine include À la di Stasio, L'Effet Vézina, Le Cuisinier rebelle, Curieux Bégin, Les Chefs!, Et que ça saute, Ricardo and the Zeste channel.
In literature, the publishing house Les Éditions Debeur and some magazines such as Ricardo, je Cuisine, and Caribou are dedicated to this subject.
Internet sites with content about Quebec quisine include Recettes du Québec, 'Zeste, Allrecipes, Chef Cuisto.
Cuisine of Quebec Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.