The Quebec Standards

Words by Pete Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck
When travel gives you the opportunity to taste food at its origin – fresh pasta crafted by hand in Italy, authentic pierogi in Poland, baba ganuj in Jordan – it has the unintentional affect of turning ones palate more discriminatory. I’ve turned into a food snob, I totally admit it. I often steer away from these specific cuisine-style restaurants outside of their original countries. While the food can still be quite good, it just doesn’t taste the same in comparison.Our return to Quebec was highly anticipated for several reasons, one significant one being that it is the home of Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine. We savoured our first real taste two years ago on a mammoth 6 hour food tour through various Montreal neighbourhoods and we sampled some of the best. These items are popular across Canada and we’ve tasted it on several other occasions, but it of course was never quite the same. And while Quebec’s food history is an interesting and varied one – from native cuisine to French, to English, to Quebecois, and includes some quite interesting and entertaining side stories (seriously, read this account of how the Pope was petitioned to make beaver tail declared a fish) – my interest, and my salivary glands, drove me back to these two standards.

Our return to Quebec was highly anticipated for several reasons, one significant one being that it is the home of Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine.

Smoked Meat

Smoked Meat Sandwich

Quoted by Montreal writer Mordecai Richler: smoked meat is a “maddening aphrodisiac”. Similar to Pastrami but packed with more flavour and less sugar, it’s a beef brisket that has been salted and cured and covered in spices for over a week, hot smoked and finally steamed to completion. The most common preparation stacks the meat between two pieces of rye bread. The result is melt in your mouth meat full of smoked flavour.It’s unclear who brought the godly meat sandwich to Quebec, but most indications are that the creators were from Eastern Europe. But regardless, shrines should be built for whoever did. Simple, delicious, and I have yet to find it so good elsewhere on this planet.

While the majority of people immediately default to Montreal when discussing smoked meat, that best we sampled in Quebec easily rivaled it. In fact, we frequented La Fabrique du Smokemeat on more than one occasion. The clear indicator that this small shop outside of the tourist centre is the real-deal is the fact that there was a staff member outside to guide traffic during the lunch hour rush. It is that popular, and that good.

The most common preparation stacks the meat between two pieces of rye bread. The result is melt in your mouth meat full of smoked flavour.

Poutine

Traditional Poutine

Typically served up in Quebec’s greasy-spoon-diner style places, it consists of french fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and doused in gravy. In fact according to Merriam-Webster, poutine is from a Quebecois slang word which quite appropriately means “mess”. It was thought the dish was originally topped solely with the cheese curds, and the gravy added later in an effort to keep the fries warmer longer.It sounds like a heart attack in a bowl and it pretty much is. But damn if it isn’t the perfect hangover cure or comfort food. There are restaurants dedicated solely to it and even many variations to the plain poutine. But I found simple to be the way to go. Leave all the other toppings for some other dish.

Frite A’lors is an excellent spot for a diverse menu of different classic poutines. I also liked Le Chic Shack that does a more gourmet variation: smashed potatoes instead of fries and the gravy settling on the bottom as opposed to oozing over the top, to save the crispness of the potatoes.

It sounds like a heart attack in a bowl and it pretty much is. But damn if it isn’t the perfect hangover cure or comfort food..

Loaded Poutine

15 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • February 9 2015

    Totally agree on how once you’ve had the luxury of eating food in its native culture, nothing that you can get at home quite compares. In the US/ Canada its also the price tag — all I can think of in a Thai restaurant these days is…you want me to pay HOW MUCH for this tom yum?!
    Jenia from HTL recently posted..Hanoi to Hoi An by Motorcycle

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    February 9 2015

    I am eternally chagrined that during my 5-month visit back to Canada this summer/fall, I didn’t have poutine once. Think they’ll revoke my passport?!?

  • February 9 2015

    I still haven’t been able to find a good poutine spot at home in Alberta. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’ll probably just have go back to Quebec for poutine (and smoked meat sandwiches), which seems like a good idea to me.

  • OK my mouth is watering despite it being 9.30am here! I had poutine for dinner on Sunday night at a Canadian diner in Sydney. You are right that it isn’t the same (especially as unpasterized cheese isn’t allowed in Australia so no curds) but it was still damn good and better than not having it at all
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..A day among the vines in the Cape Winelands

  • February 9 2015

    Glad you like my hometown’s poutine. You would have flipped, we just had a week long poutine festival!
    Jennifer recently posted..10 plats vietnamiens qui vous feront saliver

  • February 9 2015

    OMG that poutine. I’m having heart palpitations just looking at it, but I don’t even care. NOM!
    Amanda recently posted..Why I DIDN’T Quit My Job to Travel

  • February 10 2015

    Good writeup. I went to Montreal for the first time last December, and yeah, the smoked meat is awesome. There was a huge line for it outside of Schwartz’s despite the freezing wind. L’Avenue Restaurant in the Plateau had a smoked meat benedict that is nothing short of insane.

  • February 11 2015

    It looks like the Quebecois have managed to make French frites even better. Never tried poutine but it’s now going on my bucket list (for food!). I got lots of different bucket lists.

  • Tricia
    February 11 2015

    The poutine sounds delicious and I don’t even like gravy.

  • February 11 2015

    I wish I had a a stop watch because I think I just wasted at least 10 minutes staring at that smoked meat sandwich!

    Yum, Yum, Yum!

  • I have yet to try poutine! It does sound like the perfect hangover food. I love foodie posts, thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels 🙂
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..24 Hours in Antwerp!

  • February 13 2015

    That poutine looks delicious! What is the gravy made of? I am a pure veggie so anything non veg and the dish goes out of my foodie list.
    Arti recently posted..Vada Pav, Misal Pav and South Indian: A Travel Blogger’s Food Guide For Pune!

  • bikeboy999
    February 16 2015

    Well there’s a deli in Ottawa that makes the best smoked meat in Canada. I think the secret part about Quebec poutine is they prepare the potatoes. They don’t buy frozen crap and pass off the result as french fries. BTW the best Dahl i have ever had was last night. At Tonka in Melbourne.

    B

  • February 17 2015

    There is nothing as fresh and authentic as tasting a dish in its homeland. You definitely have my mouth watering!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..The 10 Best Canoe Trips For Your World Travel Bucket List

  • February 22 2015

    Smoked meat is always good but poutine? Nah… :))

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