Quebec city – an ode to poutine

View all of the Quebec photos here

I’m sure there’s more to Quebec than the old walled town, but we didn’t see a great much of that, and really, why would you bother when this sumptuously historic artefact, the only remaining walled city left north of Mexico, perched above the St Lawrence river.

True, we did stay in a hotel further up the highway from the centre of Quebec city which was a bit quieter and cheaper.  It was near the hotel that I lost my poutine virginity at Chez Ashton, a fast food chain that specialises in the incredibly fattening dish native to this part of the world.  Elsewhere this dish is known as chips and gravy with melted cheese, but it is the small things that make all the difference to a good poutine.  The fries must be incredibly crisp, the gravy flavoursome and the cheese must squeak.  In an authentic poutine they use cheese curd which is soft, white, has the texture of bocconcini, and which squeaks as you eat it.  If it doesn’t squeak it’s not a real poutine.

Poutine had been built up in my mind ever since Sarah and I had some chips and Lord of the Fries in Melbourne.  They do a faux poutine flavour here that is fine, but Sarah assured me was nothing like the real thing.  Since arriving in Canada poutine has been on my lips everywhere.  It is possible to get poutine at Burger King now, but I saved myself until we arrived in the area where poutine originated Quebec.  A blog dedicated to reviewing poutine even criticises the Montreal poutines as being inferior to the Quebec City varieties.  For health reasons the guy who reviews poutine only eats one per week.  This is a lethally fattening dish.

Chez Ashton, despite being a chain, is highly recommended for its poutine, so when we checked in at our Quebec hotel late in the day I was pretty happy to here that there was a Chez Ashton’s within walking distance.  I ordered the biggest size.  The biggest size is only slightly smaller than a family-size meat pie.  It was delicious but to my undying shame Sarah had to help me finish it.  I don’t think I need to eat too many more, but it’s our last day in Quebec today and there is a Chez Ashton in the old quarter, so I might have to bid adieu with a small serving (which I then did – it sure hit the spot on a rainy Autumn day).

Quebec City takes Montreal’s old town and notches up the history a degree or two.  The old city is perched on a hill and surrounded by the original old walls and gates which formed the fortress of the town.  There is a rich history of conquest here.  The British captured Quebec City in 1759 after a prolonged siege.  It stayed in British hands until the war of independence in the US.  Quebec, rather than siding with the US, cut a deal with the British which allowed them to remain French-speaking and gave the some degree of autonomy, which is why Quebec is 90% French speaking to this day.  Of course Quebec has a strong separatist movement as well but narrowly voted not to secede in 1995.  You can still see graffiti in support of Quebec nationalism sprayed around town.

I can see how Quebec City would be awful in peak summer season, when Sarah last visited.  There is only so much space in the old quarter and this would quickly be taken up with the zombie tourist hordes craning for the best photo opportunity and matching buskers playing the hits of The Beatles.  Montreal is a bigger city more able to accommodate this influx of foreign bodies without becoming infected itself.  Quebec City is a town of around 700,000 and gets 5 million tourists a year.  I suspect the locals have just about quarantined the old town and get on with their lives in the more modern parts of the city.

That said, this place is popular with touristas for a reason.  You couldn’t get a more quaint and pretty city outside Europe.  The natural charm of the place is captivating.

View all of the Quebec photos here

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