Saint-Roch is an up-and-coming neighborhood bursting with culinary energy.
If you want to experience the culture of a city, indulge in its food and drink. Foodie tours are an excellent way to sample the local tastes in two or three hours.
I’ve been fortunate to take several foodie tours in different cities, and I highly recommend them. Guides are passionate about sharing their knowledge of the cuisine, history and, occasionally, quirks of their hometowns. Some are artists or architecture students, and others are retirees with a love of history. Most are volunteers who appreciate your tips. Their insider info makes the tours all the more fun!
During a recent visit to Canada, I was invited to join a walking foodie tour in the trendy, urban Saint-Roch neighborhood of Quebec City. (A hearty thanks to Quebec City Food Tours for hosting me!)
Located on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, Saint-Roch has a colorful history centuries old. It was named after the Catholic Saint Roch, the patron saint of people who are ill or falsely accused, and dogs. Since the neighborhood was first settled in the early 17th Century, it made turns as a center for ship-building, manufacturing and commerce before being largely abandoned in the late 1900s.
Saint-Roch in recent years has undergone yet another transformation. Students, artists, tekkies, hipsters and entrepreneurs of all ages and cultures have infused the neighborhood with new energy and creativity. The streets are dotted with myriad small shops, cafes, eateries and bars. New buildings mingle easily with vintage rehabs. Saint-Roch isn’t chic or touristy, but it’s genuine and a bit gritty.
Most of our walking tour was along rue Saint-Joseph between rue Caron and rue Monseigneur Gauvreau, but we deviated around a couple of blocks so our guide, Florence, could point out compelling architecture or chat about historic moments. Starting in the late morning, we made six stops for food and beverage, which added up to a hearty, satisfying lunch.
Here are the highlights of our tour–yours may vary slightly:
We began at Fromagerie des Grondines & Ses Amis, a cheese shop, gourmet food boutique and casual eatery. Grondines is a brand name for cheese made by the owners with organic raw milk from Swiss brown cows. Their farm is about an hour away from the store. The shop also sells cheese, meats and other locally made food products. “Ses Amis” translates to “his friends.” (Note the feature photo at the top of this post.)
“By local, we mean within 100 kilometers,” Florence said.
We sampled several cheeses and charcuterie as well as a bright orange drink new to me called Argouille. It’s a carbonated beverage made from the juice of tart sea buckthorn berries and sweetened with maple syrup, sort of a Canadian interpretation of lemonade. The samples were generously sized–and then the staff brought out a tray of grilled cheese and ham sandwiches with artichoke spread on rustic bread!
Next up was NESS Restaurant Sante, a cheerful vegan and vegetarian eatery with an extensive dine in and carryout menu. Lots of gluten-free selections, too. There, our tasting was a lime tart made from almonds, coconut, dates avocado and lime juice.
Our third stop, Noctem Artisans Brasseurs, is a craft brewpub with an innovative farm-to-table menu and a black-cat-themed decor. An extensive beer selection includes ales, IPAs, stouts, pilsners and ciders with names like Catnip and Helia Peppercat. We were treated to octopus ceviche, and macaroni and cheese with smoked chicken, along with two beers: A seasonal brew infused with rosemary, sage and thyme, and a very hoppy stout.
Chez Ashton is a fast-food chain of about two dozen restaurants, but don’t let that turn you off. The restaurant specializes in poutine, a Quebec original since the 1950s. Poutine is a carb-happy concoction of French fries and fresh cheddar cheese curds smothered in a tasty brown sauce (please don’t call it “gravy”).
“When the bars close down, this is the best thing to soak up all the alcohol you drank,” Florence said with a smile.
You know the cheese is fresh when you bite into a curd and hear a little squeak. After 24 hours, the cheese loses its moisture, and it doesn’t squeak anymore.
Poutine (pronounced POO-tin, she said, but I’ve heard it pronounced by other Canadians as poo-TEEN) can be upgraded with meat or chicken. The brown sauce also can be ordered spicy.
At Camellia Sinensis Maison de Thé, we were served cups of freshly brewed Labrador tea, a soothing herbal tea used for medicinal purposes by the First Nations. The plant is native to the peatland of Lac (or Lake) Saint-Jean in Quebec province. Almost colorless with a citrusy aroma, Labrador tea is said to be an anti-inflammatory and decongestant, and to have a calming effect. The shop sells more than 100 different teas from around the world as well as an array of cups, pots and other accessories.
Our final stop was the Champagne Chocolatier, an upscale confectionery and sweets shop. Our stomachs were quite full by this time, but there’s always room for chocolate, right? Right. It was summertime, so we delighted in chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. Winter tours feature homemade hot chocolate. Either way, it’s a delicious ending to the Quebec City Food Tour!