The sun has decided to play hide and seek as I venture down rue Sainte-Anne towards Le Chic Shack on rue du Fort; the wind is chilly and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m underdressed for a 2.5-hour food tour in Old Quebec City. Yoga pants, a t-shirt, runners and a light spring jacket seemed like the ideal outfit for an afternoon of eating and walking. I’m about to take the Old Quebec Food Tour by Quebec City Food Tours and I could not be more excited.
The tour begins at Le Chick Shack (with a small serving of poutine, a good thing as the portions are usually very large and there is no way one could do a food tour after eating a full portion (hell, it is difficult to eat a poutine and burger at Le Chic Shack without imploding).
As we dig into our poutine 2.0 (La Braisée: big chunks of fried potato served on top of red beer braised beef; topped with squeaky cheese curds, parmesan cheese, horseradish aioli, pickled onions and fresh herbs), our guide, Florence, talks about the history of poutine in Québec.
Florence quickly charms the group with her bubbly personality and quips about Québec food and history; within a few minutes, it is clear that Florence has an intense passion for food – especially in Québec City.
Over the next thirty minutes, we spend time on Dufferin Terrace, in the urban garden of Hôtel de Ville de Québec (City Hall) and outside the Morrin Centre. During this time Florence shares tales about Québec’s history, jokingly to let everyone know when her information is more of an opinion rather than fact.
It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Old Québec is full of tourists, school groups and small tours; all sharing the public spaces that surround some of Québec City’s best tourism and historic sites.
With so many people wandering around the old city, it is amazing how a walking tour can still feel intimate, instead of overwhelming and crowded. This is, in part, the sign of a good guide and a well-constructed tour.
As a group of fourteen, we are large enough to fill tiny spaces but small enough that we are able to manoeuvre the crowded streets of Old Québec without losing anyone.
Our next food stop is BEclub Bistro-Bar. Formally five-star restaurant, Le Patriarche, BEclub is owned by Stéphan Roth (also the chef at Tournebroche) along with two former employees. While the menu still features dishes with complex flavours, the ambience and price point of BEclub are more suitable to the neighbourhood of Old Québec; and is easily one of the most delicious old city restaurants.
Sitting along a wooden bar surrounding a square opening with a view of the main floor of BEclub Bistro, the group is served a glass of red wine (a virgin drink is available for non-drinkers) followed by a sample of the smoked meat club sandwich, one of the bistro’s signature dishes. The sandwich is lightly toasted with thin slices of tomato, crisp iceberg lettuce, smoked meat and a blackcurrant grain mustard.
A refreshing food stop that leaves most of us longing to return later on to enjoy a full sandwich, or perhaps indulge in wild game tataki or Foie gras poutine.
From BEclub we walk towards Paillard, a Québec City institution and quite possibly one of the busiest café-boulangerie in the city. Stopping inside Paillard for longer than a couple minutes is next to impossible, so it becomes a foodie drive-by of sorts with Florence talking about the café’s history while outside, then leading the group on a short walk through before handing everyone a warm treat to eat on the go.
While some dug in, others, like myself, decided to pocket the bagged treat to enjoy later in the day. A good way to ensure I would still have room for the remaining food stops on the tour.
A quick stop to one of my favourite new cafés (and pseudo workspaces), Comptoir Boréal, for a sweet treat left everyone swooning.
Comptoir Boréal was, as explained by Florence, an extra stop. Whether it is being added to the tours in the future, I’m not sure, but if it is not, you still need to go!
While the décor of Batinse had many of the girls on the tour dreaming of their next Instagram shot, not everyone was excited about their tasting of the St. Lawrence Bhajis, perhaps it was the strong flavour of the Indian fritter in comparison to the lighter dishes served throughout the rest tour.
I, however, enjoyed the strong flavour of the chickpea flour fritter stuffed with cod, shrimp and vegetables; especially when eaten with the accompanying schmear of Maple and tamarind chutney that gave the Indian-style fritters the perfect touch of sweetness.
With the sun shining and everyone’s bellies full of delicious food, the tour ended at Le Monastère des Augustines, a monastery which has been converted into a hotel, wellness centre, and healthy restaurant.
It is here that Florence shares the history of the Augustinian sisters who arrived in the colony of New France (now Québec City) in 1639, how they started the first hospital (Hôtel-Dieu de Québec) and the decision to turn the monastery into what is it today.
I have participated in several food tours over the years, and the ones that stand out (for me) are those that incorporate interesting facts, delicious food created by locally owned vendors and passionate guides.
I want a tour to guide my heart (and stomach) in such a way that I fall in love with the city I am visiting. Or, in this case, continue to fuel my passion for the city I call home.
The Old Québec Food Tour by Québec City Food Tours is one that I would recommend to any foodie visiting the city. The tour offers an introduction to Québec City’s history, as well as some of the (many) delicious restaurants in the old city – many of which are a short walk from hotels, and several bed and breakfasts.
Wear good shoes and dress warmly if your tour is on a cloudy day. I wouldn’t recommend having a heavy breakfast, something light will do as you will have plenty of food and snacks during the tour to last until evening.
At the end of the tour, it is customary to give your guide a tip. All guides in Québec City are professionals, they are required to take a course, as well as an exam, and pay for a guiding license each year. This ensures that everyone is on the same page in terms of the information shared about Québec City and its history (the old city is a UNESCO site, so this is very important).
The customary tip for a tour guide is 15% of the tour cost before taxes.