Québec is an ideal destination for food lovers. With 75% of all Canadian maple syrup coming from there, the French-speaking region is by far the largest producer of this liquid gold in Canada and in the whole world. Indeed, the ingredient features in many traditional French Canadian dishes.
But, the cuisine of Québec is diverse and can’t be reduced to a single foodstuff — iconic though it may be. Québecois chefs make the most of all the natural resources around them, all while celebrating the history and culture of the land they call home. With historical influences from French and British immigrants and from First Nations people, French Canadian cuisine is a melting pot that reflects how the country has shifted, evolved and (in some ways) stayed the same since pioneering times. We’re sure you’ll love our selection of eight treats from French Canadian cuisine. They may even increase your appetite to learn French!
1. Soupe aux pois
Considering soupe aux pois means “pea soup,” you won’t be too surprised to learn that yellow peas are the main ingredient of this comfort-food staple. This traditional dish from the cuisine of Québec is also made of salt pork, herbs and garden vegetables such as carrots, celery, leeks, onions and chives. To top it all off, the soup is usually served with bread garnished with creamy butter.
Vegetarians, be warned: This savory pie is for meat lovers only! Depending on which region you are in, you may be served a different version of the tourtière. But it will always contain some type of meat, be it pork, beef, veal or even wild game like moose or duck. Even the pastry topping on this deep-dish pie contains lard. To add a bit of green, the meat may be mixed with vegetables and spiced with cinnamon, cloves and various herbs. This centerpiece of French Canadian food often appears on tables around Christmas time.
3. Fèves au lard
Translated literally, fèves au lard means “beans with fat,” which immediately gives you a sense of just how hearty this traditional food from French Canada is. Adapted from the French cassoulet, it mixes beans with salt pork or bacon that’s been slow-cooked in the oven with sweet maple syrup.
In Québec’s early history, pioneers and fur trappers used to eat fèves au lard to load up on energy before a hard day’s work. Today, it’s still commonly served in sugar shacks, especially for breakfast. It’s also a common feature of le temps des sucres (the time of sugars), which marks the season from mid-March to the end of April when maple syrup is being produced.
Aside from maple syrup, this is one of the most proudly Canadian dishes out there — iconic not only in Québec but across the whole of Canada. Canadians love poutine so much that it even has its own festival. First launched in 2013, la Semaine de la Poutine (Poutine Week) takes place every year during the first two weeks of February. Though initially limited to Montreal, the festival now takes place across various restaurants in some of Canada’s other top cities, namely Québec City, Ottawa and Toronto. It’s the perfect occasion to taste a version of this dish, which is traditionally made of French fries, cheddar-cheese curls and brown gravy.
Another treat for meat lovers among French Canadian dishes, creton is a pâté-like spread of salty ground pork, veal, lard and spices. Early French settlers originally developed the recipe to feed manual workers and farmers in the morning, but First Nation cooking traditions also influenced the way it is prepared nowadays. As such, it’s a perfect example of the history behind French Canadian cuisine. Nowadays, it continues to be served for breakfast, usually on bread or toast.
6. Pâté chinois
Québec’s answer to shepherd’s pie, this classic dish is composed of layers of ground beef or pork, sautéed onions and corn — all of it covered by a delicious crust made of mashed potatoes. The name pâté chinois, which can be literally translated as “Chinese pâté,” refers to the Chinese workers who helped build Canadian railroads in the 19th century and ate simple meals prepared with cheap ingredients.
7. Pudding chômeur
Switching to desserts, the pudding chômeur is another staple of French Canadian food. The name, which can be translated as “the jobless man’s pudding,” refers not only to the simplicity of this dish but also to its humble beginnings. The story goes that it first came to be in the mid-19th century when English-speaking and French-speaking workers exchanged recipes with basic ingredients. Baked with stale bread, milk and maple syrup, this cake is simply delicious.
8. Tire d’érable
To finish our list of the best French Canadian dishes, it’s hard to think of anything more quintessentially québecois than the tire d’érable (maple taffy). This sweet treat is made solely of the star ingredient of the region, maple syrup. It consists of boiled maple syrup poured over snow or ice. Once hardened, it makes for delicious candy. You’ll find it in about any cabane à sucre (sugar shack) during maple harvesting in spring.
Get your fill of food from French Canada
These eight culinary delights don’t only show the best that French Canadian cuisine has to offer and the rich natural resources Québec benefits from. They also serve as a reminder of French Canada’s pioneer history and reflect the region’s status as a cultural melting pot. Tasting them is really tasting a piece of this fascinating land.