Gluten Free in Québec City: my search for gluten-free food

September 17, 2015 Lisa Cantkier

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Je me souviens. My family and I decided to go on adventure and take the train from Toronto to Québec City the first week of September. I love French culture — the language, the fashion, the artwork, the architecture. Although I’ve been to Montreal, Gatineau and other parts of Quebec many times (I discuss one of my gluten-free trips here), I had not been to Québec City and it’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit. The trip sharpened our French skills and brought our Canadian history lessons to life.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

I must say, it is impossible to explain in a blog post how breathtakingly beautiful Québec City is. It truly is North America’s Paris. I’ve been to Paris and other parts of France (although it was several years ago) and I felt like I was back again. The people are fantastique in Québec City (and all of Québec as far as I’m concerned) — polite, courteous, friendly and very helpful. At 407 years old, the city is clean, safe, well preserved, romantic, vibrant and full of history and charm. There are endless beautiful green spaces ordained with flowers, sculptures and fountains. Each day brought us new adventures and I truly didn’t want to leave so soon.

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Everyone makes you feel welcome here!

Here are some of the places we visited and loved (I will get to the topic of food, next).

Festival de Magie De Québec — This festival takes place every year around the Labour Day long weekend. About thirty magicians from across Canada and around the world put on shows in the St-Roch district. The program includes magic conferences, free workshops and the Michel Cailloux International Magic Contest.

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Fortifications of Québec — Québec is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico, with nearly 4.6 km of walls and imposing gates, showing beautiful cityscapes and how Québec’s defenses developed under French and English regimes. Preserved are Cannons, loopholes, a star-shaped Citadel and its changing of the guard, Artillery Park and fortresses.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec — Located in the heart of the Plains of Abraham, the museum complex consists of three pavilions. The collection includes more than 37,000 works from the 17th century to today. It’s the only museum entirely devoted to Québec art.

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Old Québec City — Within the “old” city, also referred to as the lower city, there are an endless number of historical buildings, including Château Frontenac (the world’s most photographed hotel), the centuries-old architecture and the historic sites. You can go up a special elevator to oversee the city scape.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Québec’s Parliament Hill — Stunning is all I can say, with an endless number of bronze sculptures, rolling hills, fountains and gardens — the federal parliament buildings in Ottawa don’t come close to comparison. Québec’s National Assembly convenes .3in the Parliament Building.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Place Royale — The oldest neighbourhood in North America, this is where Samuel de Champlain founded his first “habitation” in 1608. Quartier Petit Champlain (nearby) offers shoppes with crafts and artwork created by local artisans.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Plains of Abraham — This is where the 1759 battle between generals Wolfe and Montcalm took place. Here is one of the world’s largest and finest urban parks.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

The St. Lawrence River — The gorgeous river cuts across the city. It’s been part of the city’s economy for 400+ years. A public market, park, bike path and shows line the river.

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Photo Credit: Nathan Cantkier

Now, did someone say food?

When it came to food, the gluten eaters in my family had no problems — there’s no debating it: Québec food is excellent. I won’t mention how I drooled over watching others tear apart flaky croissants, baguettes and other bakery treats, poutine loaded with cheese and gravy, and many other fresh foods… Le pain! Le beurre! La mayonaisse! Le fromage! We walked and walked, searched and searched, but to my dismay, the hunt for gluten-free food in restaurants, bakeries and stores (with the exception of large grocery stores offering a gluten-free section) left me empty handed. It was rather shocking!

How could such a popular tourist destination with a population of over 800,000 be lacking in gluten-free and allergy-friendly options? I asked around and the response I got was a lot of “Je ne sais pas!” Could it be that the food is fresher, less processed and healthier here, so that the rates of food sensitivities/intolerances and celiac disease are lower? Not according to the Canadian Celiac Association and Statistics Canada.

I was able to rely on eating fresh salads, naturally gluten-free foods, some store bought foods from the local Métro grocery store (good thing we requested a fridge in our room), as well as the stash of protein bars I brought along.

The surprising part…

I spoke with many locals and did plenty of research on the internet, but could only find 2 restaurants that offered a gluten-free menu (in the old city), which happily ended up being worth visiting. The first, Cosmos Restaurant (I read about this restaurant on Gluten-Free Living magazine’s website) offers a gluten-free menu, however, there are only 2 main course options right now. Two seems to be the lucky number in Québec! Our server said the menu will be expanding — great. I ended up having a green salad with mushrooms, hard cheeses and a balsamic and crème sauce. It might sound boring but it was excellent. The bright lights and loud music made Cosmos seem more like a 1980’s themed French nightclub, but hey – I finally found a gluten-free menu!

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This lady looks pretty happy eating at Cosmos, so how can you go wrong?

The second resto find was Pacini, an authentic Italian restaurant founded 35 years ago, which has expanded, offering locations across the province. They have an extensive gluten-free menu with pizza and pasta options, and take special care to avoid cross contamination. Gluten-free bread is available as well. Their gluten-free pizza was very good.

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There is a (non gluten free) bread bar at Pacini, but you don’t have to feel left out as you can order your own gluten-free bread.

At the end of our last day touring around the old city (after having eaten, of course), I noticed the words “sans gluten” on the menu in the window of a restaurant called “Les Frères de la Côte.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to check it out, however, it looked interesting.

Even though the amount of gluten-free choice is (surprisingly) limited, I haven’t fallen out of love with Québec City and doubt I ever will. ♦


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