LONG POST ALERT!
If you have been following our travels on Instagram, you know we recently returned from a short trip to Canada. Québec City & Montreal to be exact. You would also know that we went crazy, made lists of places to see, foods to eat, things to do and to top it all, we color coded the lists. Pffft, you say!
Since we haven’t done a travel post in a long time (click here to view our previous ones and come see us for the many missing ones!), the Canada series will hopefully include two posts on our travel, stay & food experience in the beautiful cities. You must think, we’ve spent such a long time to put up this first post, how long before the next one. But who’s late for their train, huh? We know it’s been over a 10 days we are back but just (a) getting the pictures together (b) sorting them out (c) trying hard not to shortlist every picture (d) making sure we don’t overload you with info and (e) getting the blogging groove back, takes some time, patience and the persistent lack of concentration just doesn’t help. Excuses excuses! But you have to agree that to enjoy your travels and document them at the same time can be pretty challenging.
Anyhow, it’s finally time to put on your walking shoes and take a front row seat on this picturesque journey to Québec City!
To put it in the most predictable manner and like most travel writers & bloggers would, Québec City (QC) is a beautiful, quaint, dreamy and charming city.
QC is known for it rich history, well-preserved (British & French) architecture, fantastic food scene and the much talked about “Poutine”. Also, if you are like us, you’ll love the people watching opportunity the city gives you. Grab it while you can! French is one of the official languages in Canada and although predominantly spoken in QC, you can get your way around by (a) giving a blank stare together with a sheepish grin and a mispronounced bonjour or bonsoir , (b) struggling to get your google translators to work, or (c) combination of (a) and (b). Option (c) was most commonly used by yours truly. 🙂 #truestory.
QC is a fairly compact city which makes it very accessible by foot, which is also our preferred way of exploring a new city. However, we must point out that there are winding uphill roads and lots of stairs that connect two parts of Old Quebec.
So those walking shoes I have been talking about, will do your feet good. Our favorite part of the city is Old Québec (Vieux-Québec) which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Anglo-French architecture, street musicians, colorful shutters and doorways, cobbled streets and winding roads truly give this part of the city so much character.
Like us, you can spend hours walking (at least 8 miles a day!) around the streets aimlessly, taking in the beauty of the city and catching a street show!
On our first day in a new city, we usually love to take a walking tour which gives us an idea of the city and places we would like to revisit and QC was no different. Also, a great way to get some local history lessons.
Moving on to one of the most significant part of our trip and partly the reason for this blog post: food. I have to tell you that our so called “aimless walking around” was pretty strategic. Strategically walking to areas of our interest i.e. food or food related establishments. We think it makes a good focal point and I bet some of you would agree with us. 🙂
There are some young, hip and artsy neighborhoods in most cities known for their restaurants, street cafes, bars and food, in general. The areas to look out for in QC are: Saint-Roch, Saint-Joseph, Rue Saint-Jean, Grande Allee and Avenue Cartier to name a few. Need a coffee/ hot chocolate and croissant fix? You will find a (great) coffee shop, every 100 footsteps, literally! We tried to plan our meals & coffee breaks carefully so we could indulge in f&b as much as our bodies allowed us to! The café culture is as much a part of QC as is in most of Europe and gave so much fuel to our coffee shop obsession (yes, that is a real thing), so just keep sippin’ that cappuccino.
So what were the food highlights of the trip, you ask? Here is a list of places we visited with our humble reviews!
L’Affaire est Ketchup
This small, dimly lit, simply decorated, old-school, word-of-mouth (read: website-less) restaurant serving traditional “Quebecois” food made it to our list only because it made it on Anthony Bourdain’s. Thanks to my self-proclaimed, excellent research skills, we made a reservation a week in advance of our trip and it was our first French food rendezvous in QC. The chalkboard menu keeps changing depending on seasonal local ingredients and a charming bilingual server helped us translate it and plan our meal for the evening. The restaurant takes reservations for only 2 seatings in the evening and we were booked for 8.30 (the earlier one is at 6pm). We were extremely adventurous on our appetizers and went for Langue BBQ (which was barbecued pork tongue served on a bed of chili) and Champignons (which were wild picked Quebec mushrooms served with roasted beef bone marrow); settled with one not-so adventurous main course of Poisson (which was basically Icelandic cod served on a fresh quinoa salad); and finished with delicious fudgy Chocolate Brownie drizzled with salted caramel and Lemon Streusel Panna Cotta for dessert. The flavors were simple and ingredients, quite evidently, high quality. The kitchen housed two electric stoves which is proof that you don’t need no fancy appliances to whip up quirky and delectable meals. If you want to try some traditional local Quebecois food, look no further. This is situated in the St Roch district and has a lot of bars for your pre- and/or post-dinner drinks! We also hear their sister restaurant- Patente et Machin, which is right down the street, is highly rated.
Crêperie-bistro Le Billig
We could not have left QC without trying the quintessential French crepes! The best crepes we’ve had so far have been at Le Billig. They serve both sweet & savory crepes and their savory crepes are made with buckwheat flour which look a lot like our Indian sooji/ rawa dosas. To satisfy my very dependable sweet tooth, I went for the The Suzette which was a wheat crepe with candied orange sauce, ginger flambéed with Grand Marnier. To put it simply, it was absolutely delicious and so so flavorful. The Mr. went for a house special- The Béarn which was duck confit, spinach, Swiss & goat cheese with onion marmalade wrapped in a buckwheat crepe served with a side of a fresh mixed green salad. Again, an extremely scrumptious crepe. We paired the meal with endless cups of hot chocolates & cappuccinos and we were set for the day. Le Billig is an absolute must-go place for your next visit to QC!
Erico is one of the most famous gourmet chocolate store that houses a mini chocolate museum as well! Although, the interior may seem slightly dull and boring, don’t be fooled. In our experience, they lived up to the hype in taste & flavor. They have everything chocolaty- sorbets, gelato, ice-cream, frozen yogurt, hot chocolate and baking chocolate of all possible varieties ranging from milk to 80 % dark chocolate. We tried the 70% chocolate gelato and the Antigua which is a hot chocolate made with dark chocolate with an infusion of Antigua Guatemala coffee. It was well worth a 1.2 mile walk to fulfill our chocolate cravings on a windy Quebec evening!
Marche du Vieux Port
You are not a wannabe food connoisseur if you don’t visit a farmer’s market in a place like Quebec City! We spent an afternoon strolling around this beautiful market in the old city by the port. The market is brim full with fresh produce, all of which come from local farms. The most beautiful vegetables we’ve seen. Gorgeous field tomatoes, beans, peppers, berries, you name it, they’ve got it. Want fresh fish? It’s there. Want fresh pasta? They’ve got it. The vendors were so friendly in spite of our lack of French beyond bonjour. Like us, grab a box of berries, boiled corn, fresh fried duck confit rolls and enjoy the view! Another not-to-be-missed spot. The pictures tell the story better.
Nina Pizza Napolitaine
Why would pizza make it on our must-eat list in QC? Well, over-planners are not always the smartest people and when they don’t make dinner reservations at a supposedly great Asian restaurant and land up at their door only to be turned away, they eat pizza. Good pizza. Although, Nina wasn’t our first choice for dinner, it was the best back up we could have asked for. Another restaurant that requires reservations, we were lucky to manage a tiny table for two by the window! Their menu is limited but great. Again, good ingredients & even better combinations make for great food. We started with a classic Crostini Tomates (toasted bread topped with tomatoes, basil, olive oil & mozzarella) and had Piselli Pancetta (pizza topped with peas, pancetta, mozzarella, mint, mascarpone, lemon & olive oil) for the pizza course. Just brilliant combination of ingredients on both. Fresh & bursting with flavor! Albeit the not-so-good service, excellent food.
We cannot rave enough about this bakery-cum-bistro. The best croissants, breads and pastries you’ll find in QC are here. Paillard was usually our go to breakfast and mid-afternoon snack place and I cannot emphasize enough on how crisp, flaky & buttery (yet not too much) their croissants are. If that was not enough, the Chocolate Orange Brioche bun was no less a show stopper! It’s amazing how we hardly have enough pictures of a place we loved so much, but well, we were there to eat and so we did. Located conveniently on Rue Saint-Jean, you’d want to grab a bite each time you pass by it (which was quite a few times a day for us!)
And finally, we tried the famous Canadian calorie-rich wonder that is Poutine! Poutine is traditionally French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Of course, the many advancements in the culinary world also means countless variations of the original dish. Toppings include just about anything you’d put on your pizza, in your curries, pasta- basically a kitchen sink dish yet so good and of course, greasy. Since it’s a dish that originates from the province of Quebec, you’ll find poutine on almost every menu in QC & Montreal. The trick, however, is to find a good one. Poutineville was actually not on our list of places to try but we are happy that we stopped by one evening while exploring the Saint-Roch district. Also, now having tried Poutine at a few more places, we can certainly say that this was the best. Other places that we hear are good (but did not get a chance to try) are Chez Ashton, Le Chic Shack and Snack Bar St-Jean.
So while these were the highlights, we did have a few not-so-good food experiences. Restaurant Apsara tops the list only because of the hype they created by making us wait even after a reservation! Known to be a family run Asian kitchen, the food was generally very bland and disappointing. Casse Crepe Breton, on the touristy yet charming Rue St-Jean, is also a slightly run-of-the-mill crepe joint that one could totally avoid.
However, here are some other recommended places that we couldn’t go to but would love to on our next visit:
Bati Bassak (highly rated Thai restaurant)
Chez Ashton (chain restaurant but apparently good for Poutine)
Nektar (good coffee & hot chocolates)
Le Chic Shack
For stay, we would highly recommend staying in the Old Québec area. We put ourselves up at Hotel Champlain which is a small-ish boutique hotel. Since you are going to be doing a lot of walking you want the option of coming back to your hotel for a quick half an hour r&r before heading out again. Also, does it help if I tell you that this hotel has the best coffee in all of Québec? Just saying!
Now that we’ve given you a download of our QC adventures, I am going to try to go back in time and pause. Until we see you again, keep calm, be safe & eat away! Leaving you with one last…
and then another…