Cathedrals, monasteries, city walls and vineyards – does not exactly sound like your regular North American road trip. Seldom heard of outside its borders, Québec is a very much alive and prosperous French-speaking territory in Canada. For many Americans it is probably the most affordable foreign destination. A one-day drive from New York and Boston, it is a charming French islands in the Anglo-Saxon ocean.
The mighty St. Lawrence River, a long and vast fjord in fact, dominates the region. It is the trade artery and the hinge of all things Quebecois. Its water is salty and it takes up to two hours to cross it. It is the St. Lawrence that helped Montreal become the world's largest inland and America's largest container port. It also tempers, a to a degree, the climate and allows for intensive agriculture on its flat arable shores.
As you drive eastwards from Montreal, English signposts fade away until you hit the point somewhere right past Quebec City where people act like they have never seen or heard a word in English. Probably, they are not even faking it: with all movies dubbed in French, planefuls of French tourists arriving straight from Paris and French-speaking channels from such Gallic bulwarks as Wallonie and western Swiss cantons, New York and Toronto seem like another planet. Transat flies daily flights from Québec City and Montreal to Guadeloupe and Martinique so that the Québécois stay blissfully unaware that the Caribbean, in fact, is predominantly English-speaking. I see a rationale behind sich foolhardiness: without a certain degree consciously pig-headed there would be now way of withstanding the massive cultural onslaught of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Quebecois may deny it, but there is definitely a strong North-American flavour to their lifestyle. One such trait is the luxury habit, if with a certain French twist – mastodontic cars, huge pillows, large houses, tons of gadgets that make life so comfortable.Quebec is by no means a piece of good old France miraculously transplanted over the ocean, it is a culture in its own right harking back to the Old Country only about as much as the USA relates to England, with reverence and some nostalgia but without epigonic subservience. After 400 years the Quebecois are North American, not European emigres fresh from the boat.
Somehow when crossing oceans, first thing emigrants lose is the variety of cooking of the Old Country. Of all the Italian goodies only Milanesa (batterd steak) and pizza made it to Argentina. You will be hard pressed to find any of the traditional Spanish delicacies there either. Absence of familiar ingredients, harshness of life in a new country, or possibly the fact that new settlers were mostly from families of modest incomes and social background – all those factors contribute to the sharp drop of gastronomic variety in the new country. In its entire 400-year history, Quebec came up with only one cheese, Le Riopelle de l'Isle, that tastes like lean butter vaguely smelling of champignons. I now see why it is easy for the Anglos to govern this country.
Quebec does boast haute cuisine venues; French culinary tradition is upheld by a number of world class chefs in star-studded establishments. That is, however, a recent development purposefully initiated by culturally-aware restaurateurs and hoteliers. On a daily level, there is little of the brasseries and charcuterie sophistication of France. Regular meals stick to the invariable North American choice of pizza, steak and fried chicken. Quebec’s only gastronomical specialty, poutine is a hearty but hardly refined mix of French fries, cheese and sliced meat topped with gravy. There is an up-market version of it with foie gras on which I simply decline to comment. Even the pinnacle of French culinary sophistication, the assiette de fruits de mer got mercilessly bastardised here. And as it goes, Gallic palate does not take easily to ethnic novelties: outside the multicultural melange of Montreal, ethnic eateries are very far and between.
- Toronto - Hip And Laid-Back
- Ottawa - A Marriage Of Convenience
- Montreal - Straddling The Anglo-Gallic Watershed
- Ode to Canada The Beautiful
- Quebec - The Most European City In North America
- Quebec's Tipping Point: Change Becomes Unstoppable
- Acadia, New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia - Canada's Ocean Playground
- America’s Love Affair With The Automobile
- Maine: Acadia N.P. & Asticou Azalea Garden
- Amsterdam, NY - How Could We Have Missed That?
- Niagara Falls - Big American Disappointment
- Do You Really Know American Food?
- Niagara-on-the-Lake - Possibly The Twee'est Town On Earth
- Yes, Canadian Wine!