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Quebec Food Information


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Quebec Food Related Words




Food Terms Used Across the Province

Gaspe Food Terms

Menum menum! That's "Yummy!" in Québec. And it's my reaction to the food words and the word lore of la cuisine Québécoise.

The province's food words were baked in many linguistic ovens. The Québécoise language may have begun as a colonial dialect of European French, but many -- although not most linguists -- would argue that it is today too different and too vigorous to be dismissed with a cozy label like dialect. Québec French bubbles with a rich stew of unique vocabulary drawn in the beginning from the 17th-century vernacular speech of the first immigrants who came to La Nouvelle France from the northwestern provinces of old France, with additions from English and the languages of our First Peoples, later from the zesty slang of joual, and from its own coining of words like acériculture.

Acériculture denotes maple sugar production. Acer is the word for maple in Latin, and also its botanical genus. Incidentally, Latin acer is one of the verbal building blocks that make up the French word for maple érable, which descends -- after shuffling off an unstressed initial syllable and several final unstressed vowels -- from a medieval Latin form acerabulus 'maple tree'. One of the terms coined in Québec French denoted our North American sugar maple, érable à sucre. Also indigenous is érablière 'sugar bush', any maple syrup operation on a farm.

Anticlerical humour, a fixture of popular Québec speech from inception, finds its shocking way into food words of the province, for example, oreilles de crisse, which are little slices of salt pork grilled or fried, but which mean literally 'Christ's ears', so-called from the way the little slices curl up when grilled.

Standard French culinary terms developed new meanings in the new world of New France. For example, in older continental French un réchaud was a portable warming oven, from réchauffer to reheat, to warm up again. But early voyageurs and coureurs de bois venturing across North America to what would become the Canadian Prairies, began to use réchaud to denote pemmican mixed with flour and veggies and warmed over an open camp fire. With variants like richeau, this term for a staple trail food was widely used among French and English-speaking trappers and settlers.

New words were needed for new food sources, especially plant and animal species unique to North America. Thus, many words from Aboriginal languages entered early Québec French, like the Cree and Ojibwa word for a fish, a bass, achigan, occasionally found in early Canagian English as well, and still used in Québec. Achigan in Algonkian languages means 'struggler', 'splasher', 'fighter'. Other loans were more direct, like banique from Gaelic bannock, probably through English and Gaelic in our Maritimes.

Many terms in English were borrowed and spelled to accommodate French speakers; for example, beans baked in salt pork fat could be les binnes, les bines, or les fèves au lard.

Food and kitchen references enter provincial fold sayings. Out in the countryside of rural Québec, a slangy way to say "She is stuck up" or "She is very snooty" is: È se mouche pas avec des pelures d'oignons. 'She doesn't blow her nose with onion peels.' The inference is that some down-to-earth habitante de pure laine might have done so in days long past.

This chapter discusses food terms that are used generally across the whole province, and some that are strictly regional dishes. At the end of the chapter I have listed separately some Gaspé terms including -- to no one's surprise I trust -- some distinct food terms from the Canadian English spoken in the Gaspé and in northern New Brunswick.


Food Terms Generally Used Across Quebec


This word, unique to Québécoise French, denotes two related species of freshwater fish, one a small-mouthed bass, the other a large-mouthed bass, both feisty favorites of sport fishermen. The word was borrowed early into Canadian English and French from the Algonkian languages, Cree and Ojibwa, where achigan means 'struggler', 'splasher', 'fighter'. North of Montréal flows the Rivière de l'Achigan 'Bass River', which counts among the pleasant hamlets along its meandering course Saint-Roch-de-l'Achigan. The river begins at Lac de l'Achigan.

Baboche. Baglosse. Bagosse. Petit Blanc. Robine.

All these colourful Quebecesims refer variously to homebrew, moonshine whisky, and hootch, with the implication in the words that the distillate under discussion is not of the highest quality. In other words, these are pretty good translations of "rotgut". Like all tongues, la langue Québécoise has a lively hoard of booze words and phrases. To wet one's whistle can be translated se mouiller le canayen. To be a female on the wagon is être Jeanne d'Arc. To be a male who has given up ruinous drinking habits is être Lacordaire. If one falls off the wagon, one is likely to
have mal aux cheveus, a hangover, but literally "a hair-ache". So don't go on a bender, that is, partez pas sur une balloune.

The last word on the above list of hootch terms is robine, borrowed from that poisonous tipple of impoverished alcoholics called in English rubbing alcohol, and incidentally the source of the Canadian disparagement, rubbie.  A rubbie or wino or sodden bum in Québec can be called un robineux.


This is the distinct Québec word for a pork jowl, an old dialect form that has disappeared from modern French where the standard term for jowl is bajoue. The suffixes -ot and -otte were originally diminutive endings, popular add-ons in the vernaculars of most Romance languages. Bajottes could be baked or grilled by themselves or ground up along with every other part of the pig except the squeal to make pork sausages. Bajoue was first a compound, in Medieval French bas joue 'low(er) cheek'.


In Québec, this is a slice of bread generously buttered. The standard European French word for a piece of buttered bread is tartine. One might add jam, or on une beurrée de miel, honey. Even more redolent of la cuisine Québécoise would be beurrée de sucre d'érable, a stout cut of home baked whole-wheat bread, slathered with sweet Lactantia(TM) butter, and sprinkled with maple sugar.

Les Binnes or Fèvres au Lard.

It's pork and beans, sweetened not with molasses and brown sugar tonight, but with ambrosial rills of maple syrup. Diced salt pork makes up the meaty bits. Stirred in will be a hefty spoon of fiery dried mustard. As we slip the large casserole into the oven for its five-or-six-hour baking, we may place a tender chicken breast in the beany midst of the dish.

And never, never shall the meat consist of some quick, slipshod, made-do protein like sliced hot dogs. Tabarnac! Why, such sausageoid abominations might contain the curly tails of hapless piggywigs, the noble ears of once proud steeds, the very genitalia of innocent lambkins who lately bleated their bliss on hillsides green. The legal ingredients in hot dogs in Canada -- believe it or not -- also permit a certain amount of "mouse droppings and insect parts". That quote is from the Agriculture Canada regulations. For a bracing corrective, I recommend some eventide a close reading of what is permitted in processed meat in Canada. Read it a considerable time after supper.

Va aux bines! is a provincial slang expression equivalent to "buzz off!" in English.

Blé d'Inde.

This North American French term for corn first appeared in print in 1603. A variant was blé indien. Both mean 'Indian corn'. The French in North America called it blé d'Inde because some Aboriginal peoples encountered by early Europeans told them that the cultivation of corn occurred first in the islands des Indes Occidentales 'of the West Indies'. In fact, the Taino, the Caribs, and other island peoples brought knowledge of corn growing with them from the mainland. The earliest corn remnants found by paleobotanists and archaeologists at Tehuacán in Mexico have been carbon-dated as being 7,500 years old. Corn's cultivation had spread southward and northward long before Europeans arrived in the "New" World. Explorer Jacques Cartier found it being grown plentifully along the St. Lawrence in 1535.

Although blé means 'wheat' in modern French, earlier it referred to corn in the sense of seeds of any cereal crop. Corn still has this meaning in British English. The word blé appears in French manuscripts as early as 1080, with subforms like blet, derived from the language of the ancient Franks where blad meant 'something harvested from the earth'. The ultimate Indo-European root of blé is * bhle- 'flower, leaf, plant part'. The asterisk preceding an IE root citation labels the form as hypothetical, a root based on comparative research and conjecture as opposed to printed proof. Since the earliest speakers of Indo-European were pre-alphabetic, no inscriptions survive.

In standard French, corn is maïs, as it is maize in Great Britain, both derived from Spanish maíz. Spanish conquerors first encountered corn on the island of Hispaniola being grown by the Taino people. The Taino lived on several other Caribbean island groups such as the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. They and their Arawakan language are now extinct. Corn in Taino was mahiz.

Bouillon d'Habitant.

In ancient France, bouillon was the broth or stock rendered from boiling (bouiller 'to boil') vegetables or meat, and many a humble kitchen kept a stock pot ready to simmer in a permanent place on the stove. In classic French cuisine, bouillon is the liquid part of a pot-au-feu. But among the first French settlers and explorers of what became Canada, a bouillon came to refer to a hearty stew of whatever vegetables and meat or fish were readily to hand. So pervasive was its use that the word passed into Canadian English. Various recipes and local adaptations of bouillon d'habitant 'farmer's stew' were carried across the country right to the Pacific and into our North by French traders, trappers, and much later by bûcherons 'lumberjacks'.

One writer about the rolling lands of our Dominion was Stewart E. White who sings the delights of this stew in The Forest published in 1903: "[trout] mingled in the famous North Country bouillon, whose other ingredients are partridges, and tomatoes, and potatoes, and onions, and salt pork, and flour in combination delicious beyond belief".  From the same verb bouiller 'to boil' comes another common food noun, bouilli, which in France, as still in Québec today, is a boiled dinner.

A Note on Habitant.

A few words are of interest here concerning the people who brought the old recipes to Québec and who through the centuries have grown so much of its food. At different times in the history of Québec, this familiar word has had different meanings. Habitant began as a legal term in the "new" feudalism of New France. A habitant was a free proprietor who held land in tenure within the seigneurial system. This system, in legal force from 1627 until 1854, was a way to distribute and occupy land in a new colony. Seigneuries were large tracts of land granted to the richest colonists of New France, often sons of French nobles.

In return for their probision of teaching and medical services, convents and other religious bodies could also be seigneuries. These large tracts of land were also granted to high military officers and certain civil administrators. In turn, the seigneur divided his land grant into parcels, and leased these smaller farms by contract to tenants, called censitaires or habitants. The habitant was obliged to put the land into fertile production as soon as possible, to grow enough food to sustain his family, and to be productive enough to have some crops or money left over to pay his tenant's rent to the seigneur. This fee was the famous cens et rente, the cens being a small feudal tithe, the rent being money or its equivalent in produce. The habitant also had to pay a grain tax called les banalités.

The seigneur was given other rights pertaining to his land. A seigneur could set up a court of law, a mill, a commune, and sell licenses to hunt, to fish, and to cut wood on his land. The habitant was under legal obligation to grind grain at the mill of his seigneur. As well, the seigneur could demand a certain number of days of free work from each tenant. This required labour was une corvée. As the corvée was technically illegal, it generated resentment, and was eventually suppressed. By the 1850's, corvée gained a new meaning and denoted the volunteer work that local people performed to help build a barn, a new silo, or a church. 

As the 19th century dawned, almost 80 percent of Québecers lived as habitants, and another system of land distribution, the township system -- still familiar to us -- began to grow alongside the seigneurial holdings.  Tenured land favoured the wealthy seigneurs, and prevented economic and  industrial progress, so, as the century reached midpoint, a bitter struggle to end the seigneuries ensued. Finally, in 1854, it was abolished and habitants could claim farmlands as their own.

By the end of the 18th century, a growing number of people held no land even in tenure. They worked as farmhands for landed peasants, and they, too, came to be called habitants in North American French. Eventually in Québécoise, habitant meant simply any 'farmer'. In modern Québec French, it also carries a subsidiary meaning reeking of classist put-down. For example, un habitant can mean 'a person with boorish manners'. Faites pas l'habitant icette could be translated: 'Don't try that country hick act around here'. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, habitant in English referred to anyone from rural Québec, not always in a pejorative sense.


Here is a modern, spritely portmanteau word that combines calvados and Québec to name an eau de-vie or brandy distilled from apple cider. Calvados is a department of Normandy in northern France noted for its apple brandy, also called calvados. In France, the short form is widely used when ordering in restaurants: "Garçon, un calva, s'il vous plaît". So it was natural to name a local apple brandy un calva de Québec or un calvabec.


It means 'ground meat' in Québec, and also has the more general slang  sense of 'grub'. Chiard also names a tasty fried hash: hamburger or leftover meat chopped up and fried with potatoes and onions, seasoned with the most popular herb in la belle province, savory. Diced salt pork was once a favourite ingredient of chiard or chiards blancs (white hash because of the potatoes). Once fried, this "grub" would keep for a day or two, and could be packed as a meal for a fisherman, hunter, or trapper going out on a short trip. In fact, it has variant names like chiard de goélette 'fishing-boat hash' and chiard du pêcheur 'fisherman's hash'.

Extended figurative meanings occur as well, where un chiard is 'a mess', 'a large crowd of people', and 'a small fight, a scrap'. "Quel beau chiard!" "What a major-league screw-up!"

Some authorities -- those few who deign to speculate on the origins of French slang -- suggest that the prime meaning of chiard is 'mess', and that it begins as a popular cradle word for a child, and stems from the vulgar French verb chier 'to shit', ultimately from Latin cacare. Thus, chiard has the verbal stem chi- and adds the common French pejorative and agent suffix -ard, so that its literal meaning is 'shitter', but in its use as a French nursery term, chiard is playfully applied and means 'little shitter' as an endearment. In the slang of present-day France, chiard is still used this way. So, could it have once named a fecal-brown hash? Seems quite likely.

The Petit Robert, a well-known French dictionary, states that chiard to describe a child is a coinage of the mid-20th century. I suggest, first, that we know the verb chier has been in French since the 13th century, and, second, that chiard was coined hundreds of years before the mid-20th century, and carried by immigrants from northern France to the new world as a humorous tag for a peasant hash.


Here is a word for a layered meat pie familiar to all who love Québec cookery. Not so well known is the delightful linguistic dispute attached to this term. Both French and English claim its origin. According to most recent etymological probings, Québec's cipaille is just the English phrase sea pie wearing French spelling. Borrowed from British nautical slang -- where it named leftovers of meat and vegetables layered in a big pot since at least 1751 -- sea pie now is a deep-dish meat pie made by layering assorted uncooked, cubed meats inside a pastry-lined Dutch oven. Herbs, onions, potatoes are added, then bouillon, and perhaps wine. Nineteenth-century British sailors spoke of two- or three-decker sea pies.

But one alternative source is warmly embraced by French etymologists who state that cipaille derives ultimately from Latin caepa 'onion' because both the dish and bulb have many layers. To arrive at the French form cipaille, one might posit an intermediary diminutive or affectionate form like *cepallus 'little onion'. *Cepallus is a hypothetical construct -- that's what some linguists call an informed guess, and that's what the asterisk means. However, caepulla 'onion bed' is an attested form in a farming handbook written in postclassical Latin in a manuscript dated around AD350. Latin caepulla is the source of the modern Italian word for onion, cipolla. In fact, the Italian could be the transmission form into French, through one of the southern French dialects, in a chain that might look like this: cipollo > cipallo > cipaillo > cipaille. Which origin is correct? Well, the British sea pie is the earliest in print, by 1751. But that is no proof that French borrowed it from English.

We must await printed or written evidence that cipaille appears earlier than sea pie. Then perhaps we can begin to sift such evidence. On every list of traditional Québec foods, cipaille was and is a particular favourite at Réveillon, the Christmas feast after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Throughout the province there are many regional variations of cipaille, and in some places the food is called tourtière (see entry in this chapter), although that term usually describes a shallow-dished, thinner-crusted, unlayered meat pie. The Aboriginal Montagnais people of Québec adapted wheat flour, which arrived with white settlers, to create their own distinctive version of cipaille where the meat is a selection of wild game. In their earliest recipe, the dish was cooked in an earthenware pot and the dough pastry was put only on top of the pot contents near the end of the cooking.

A big sea pie is still the favoured provender of a high feast among the Montagnais and may simmer for six hours, with each vast pot feeding twenty-five feasters.  Traditional meats in a cipaille included venison, pheasant, hare, or duck.  After imported spices had been made regularly available in the province, the sweet pungency of cloves became de rigueur in the cipaille of some districts of Québec. Nowadays, the ubiquity of these wizened little flower heads of the tropical clove tree have made cooks blasé about their inclusion. Often, today, spicing of cipaille consists of salt and pepper and a trite mélange of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.


In some Québec places, cipâte is a synonym for cipaille to name a layered meat pie. There is even a local variant, cipâre. The Gaspé region boasts a salmon cipâte. French folk etymology suggests that cipâte is a shortened form of six-pâtes 'six pastries', alluding to the numerous layers.


This is a children's candy in the form of a cone of taffy. The name of this candy kiss is derived from a brand name, Klondyke, after the gold rush locality of the Klondike. The candy is also referred to in spoken Québécoise as kiss or tire.


This, the favourite potted meat dish in the whole province, is a coarse pâté de champagne of medieval origin, made of ground pork and pork fat flavoured with cinnamon and cloves. The pâté is made from parts like pork shoulder and kidney put through a meat grinder and then into a saucepan with onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Add water; heat to a boil; simmer for two hours. The mixture is put into cold bowls or moulds (thus "potted"), and let stand to cool. Then it goes into the fridge to "mature" for one or two days.

In Old French, creton or criton designated a piece of pork fat fried in a pan. But creton has virtually disappeared from modern European French. The dish called cretons in Québec is similar to pot de rillettes, a potted mince of pork which is one of the specialties of Tours. Other European synonyms are rillons or rillettes by itself, both from 15th-century French rille 'a strip of lard'.


In Québec, a croquignole is a homemade doughnut fried in lard. In France, it's a small, dry, crunchy biscuit, its name derived from croquer 'to crunch (between the teeth)'.


Here's a Québec coinage, in print from 1862, to name a social and working occasion, a corn-husking bee, a shuckfest as it's called in Iowa. Although these pleasant get-togethers have vanished with the advent of automatic husking machines, another use has sprung up, in the current phrase, épluchette de blé d'Inde 'corn roast', held as a party, part of a family reunion, or to raise money for charitable purposes. Éplucher 'to peel' is ultimately from Latin ex 'off, out' + pilus 'hair, skin, fur'. Latin pilare 'to deprive of hair or skin' is the source of our English verb, to peel.  Latin pilus also gives us the pile of a carpet (its 'hair').


This is a sharp, salty blue cheese made by monks of the Benedictine monastery at St.-Benoît-du-Lac in the eastern townships of Québec and named 'the hermit' or l'ermite because the place is a well-known Roman Catholic retreat. The Saint Benoît in the name of the locality is, of course, Saint Benedict of Norcia, founder of the Benedictine Order. The lake is the nearby and wonderfully named Memphremagog, which is a slight mangling of its first name in the Abenaki language, mamhlawbagak 'wide stretch of water', referring to the forty-four-kilometre length of the body of water.

Galette des Rois (Twelfth Night Cookie).

Three Kings' Biscuit is a treat baked on the church feast of Epiphany, January 6, commemorating the coming of the three wise men or Magi to worship the baby Jesus. The feast of Epiphany is also called Twelfth Night in English. Roman Catholic immigrants to North America brought this traditional confection from France. Each little cookie usually contains one bean, la fève des Rois, the bean of the Magi.

The word galette has been in continental French from the 13th century to denote a flat round cake, derived from an older but still extant word galet 'a flat beach pebble polished by wave action'. Galet is a diminutive form of gal 'rock, stone' from Gaulish gallos 'stone'.

Other Uses of the Word Galette.

An older bit of comic dismissal in joyal, the lively slang of Québec, is:  baise ma galette! or buzz off! Literally, of course, it means 'kiss my cookie'. In old nautical French, galette was the word for hard tack biscuit, and it was used among French-speaking travellers across early Canada to refer to bannock bread done over a campfire or shanty cook stove.  As well, galette is used to denote certain crêpes. In Québec and in some old regional dialects of France, une galette de sarrasin is a buckwheat pancake, while flat cornmeal cakes are galettes de blé d'Inde.


This is French fries, cheese curds, sliced chicken, peas, and coleslaw, sometimes slathered with chicken gravy. The name of this homey slop arises from a vernacular French verb, galvauder 'to bum around', with other connotations like 'misuse', and 'desecrate', especially with reference to words or names. So it might be said that this dish galvaude(s) the good name of poutine, of which this is really a culinary variation. See the poutine entry later in this chapter. Galvauder can also mean 'to chew food noisily', 'to mess up something', and 'to rummage around (in a drawer or closet)', therefore, as a recipe name, it might be translated playfully as
'sloshy slop'.

Gateau Jos. Louis.

Gateau Jos. Louis is Québec's favourite packaged little cake invented by the Vachon family in the town of Sainte-Marie-de-la-Beauce. I grew up in southern Ontario and gobbled myriad Jos. Louis as a kid, to the undelight of parents and dentists.La Beauce, south of Québec City, home of vast maple stands, is one of the prettiest of Québec regions. The nickname of residents there, les Beaucerons, is les jarrets noirs 'the black hocks' referring to the black hocks of horses' feet that pulled farmers' wagons hauling produce to town along the muddy roads in days of yore. Among the local culinary features of la Beauce are viande boucanée, salt pork smoked in the rafters of a maple sugar shack, and an omelette beauceronne stuffed with lardons, tomatoes, and the mild cheddar de la Beauce.


A word coined in France to mean 'dirty joke' or 'trifling thing', gaudriole in Québec referred to a mixture of oats, peas, and sometimes buckwheat, ground to a flour or rough meal and used to fatten pigs. Although it usually fed livestock, this mélange was eaten by humans in dire straits, according to the diaries of several early Québec settlers.


Gibelotte de Sorel is a catfish or perch stew from les Îles de Sorel, islands off the little city of Sorel in the Côte du Sud region on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, and east of Québec City. Every July there is a Gibelotte festival in Sorel, the fourth oldest city in Canada.

In popular speech of the province gibelotte has extensions of meaning like 'grub', 'messy affair', and the less common connotation of 'twaddle' or 'gibberish'. As a food term of France, gibelotte's oldest meaning (1617) refers to a method of preparing fish. Then it came to name a fricassée, a stew of rabbit or fowl. Gibelotte is a variant of the earlier gibelet 'a dish of bird's flesh' from Old French gibier 'to hunt fowl'. Middle English borrowed gibelet to give giblets, the edible viscera of birds.


A French dialectic variant of grelot, whose original meaning was a bell tied to an animal's neck, gorlot referred in Québec first to sleigh bells on a cutter or on a horse's neck. By later analogy, gorlot denoted a very small, round, "new" potato. A juicy bit of provincial slang arose using this word as well, when gorlot acquired the slang meaning of 'mouth' or 'voice'. "Ferme ton gorlot" equalled "Shut up!" or literally 'stop your sleigh bells, shut your mouth'.

In some regional dialects of Québec, the original French form grelots 'sleigh bells' has the vulgar meaning of 'balls' or 'testicles', while its metathetical form gorlot can mean 'dumbbell' or 'practical joker'. A busy pair of wordlets, this grelot-gorlot duo.

Goudille or Guédilles.

Un goudille is a heap of mayonnaise-gooped coleslaw served on a hot dog bun, a sort of very deprived and forlorn submarine sandwich. One slightly improbable source of this Québecism has been suggested, namely, the English vernacular term, goody 'something good to eat, a treat, a tasty food'. A particularly notable regional variation from the Gaspé is quadielle or pieces of boiled lobster in butter presented on a toasted hot dog bun.


Gourgane is one of the most popular of Québec beans, a large green bean with red stripes, especially popular in cookery of the Charlevoix region and in the Saguenay where soupe aux gourganes is a local delight. The gourgane is a variety of the fève des Marais, a French bog-bean from the famous area around Paris brought to la Nouvelle France by the earliest colonists. Farms in the Oac-Saint-Jean area grow billions of gourganes for export every season.


Standard French for grandfather, in Québec this is a dumpling boiled in water, soup, or broth, and eaten with maple syrup.

Herbes Sâlées.

Herbes sâlées were the result of a special way that cooks in New France preserved herbs through the long winter. They mixed fresh herbs and
vegetables in alternating layers in thick brine, bottled it, and used spoonfuls of herbes sâlées 'salted herbs' to flavour winter soups and stews. Many chefs both at home and in restaurant kitchens declare that no pea soup 'soupe aux pois' can be pronounced authentically Québécoise unless it be flavoured with herbes sâlées. Especially zingy bottles of herbes sâlées are often available in gourmet food shops throughout Québec, the best being Herbes sâlées du bas du fleuve made by J. Y. Roy at Ste.-Flavie, gateway to the Gaspé region, or as its promotional literature reads "la Porte de la Gaspésie".


Lardons begin and accompany many traditional recipes of Québec. They are what the British call streaky bacon, that is, salt pork strips fried to make browning fat or eaten crispy as a side dish, much like fat back or Newfie scrunchins. Salt pork lardons often join cod and other fish in a gently heated frying pan. Fine-cut lardon slices are also part of some omelettes.


Popularized by some of Montréal's 125,000 Lebanese people and others from the Middle East, this is the Arabic word for barbecue, usually a whole side of wild boar or venison or bison(!) rotated on a motorized spit, slowly, at a family reunion, company picnic, or wherever food for a large party is needed. Arabic mechoui is literally 'skewered', hence 'barbecued'.


The most renowned of Québec cheese, Oka gains its unique flavour during a special curing process in which the semihard cheese rounds are painted with brine, originally by Trappist monks at their Abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, called La Trappe, just west of Montréal and still one of the largest Cistercian monasteries in the world. Much in the news is the nearby Kanesatake reserve where more than 800 Mohawk people live. Oka takes its name from a former Algonquian tribe who named themselves after their totemic animal, the okow, called the dory or golden pickerel in Canadian English, a golden-coloured, sweet-tasting fish still said to frolic in nearby waters and known commonly in Québec as poisson doré.


This prize eating fish of Lac-Saint-Jean, Lac Mégantic, and certain other lakes in Ontario and Québec is now very scarce and was never plentiful. It is a small, landlocked, fresh-water salmon of the Atlantic salmon family, whose zoological tag is Salmo salar ouananiche. The word was borrowed directly in Canadian French from the Montagnais language where wananish means 'little salmon', -ish being a common diminutive ending in this Algonquian tongue. Excessive sport fishing and industrial pollution sealed the fate of this delicate-fleshed creature. Near the town of Roberval there still flows the Rivière Ouananiche, but few 'little salmon' leap upstream to spawn now.


There are several interesting expression unique to provincial French that contain the word for 'bread', among them pain-fesses, a double bread-loaf shaped like human buttocks. After all, English has its 'buns'. Être né pour un petit pain is 'to be born into the underclass', to be a second-class citizen by birth and to be assured of only bread scraps. Homemade bread in Québec is pain d'habitant. French toast is pan doré. Perdre un pain de sa fournée is literally 'to lose a loaf in the oven' but means 'to be very disappointed' or 'to have cold water thrown on one'.Ambitionner sur le pain bénit means 'to go way overboard', 'to take outrageous advantage of a situation', le pain bénit being the consecrated bread of Holy Communion.
My favourite bread term from old Québec is pain Jack, a square loaf of a French bread said to derive from pain Jacobin, which might have been bread baked by Dominicans at their first convent in Paris situated on the Rue St. Jacques near an old Parisian entrance route, St. James' Gare, which was porta Jacobina in monkish medieval Latin. Or pain Jack might recall a loaf popular with the later Jacobins, the ruthless terrorists of the French Revolution.

Paté Chinois.

Paté chinois is basically shepherd's pie, called Chinese pie in Québec.  Julian Armstrong, in her excellent recipe book, A Taste of Quebec, gives the following origin: "The name has been traced by Quebec food historian Claude Poirier to a town in the state of Maine called China. In the late 19th century, thousands of Quebecers migrated to the northeastern United States to work in the mills. Those who settled in the town of China returned eventually to Quebec with a recipe for shepherd's pie which they called pâté chinois."


Although this is the standard French word for guinea hen, used in France and Québec, pintadine here is a large guinea hen specially bred as gourmet fowl on the Île d'Orléans. One of the scrumptious local recipes for it is pintadine de L'Île d'Orléans aux groseilles or guinea hen in a red currant sauce. Pintadine is a French expansion (1819) of pintade, a word for the African guinea fowl borrowed in French around 1643 from Portuguese pintada 'painted [bird]'.


This is a type of Québec pork pie made of seasoned, chopped pork topped with a cap of pastry dough and fried. Plorine means 'old horse', 'nag', or 'ugly woman'.


Among Acadiens and speakers of Québec French, this is a hot toddy given by mothers to children with colds and -- with more alcohol added -- a traditional drink to warm an adult after a winter outing. Hot water, alcohol, honey, and lemon are the common ingredients of this toddy. Dozens of variations exist using cognac, gin, rum, and spices like nutmeg or cinnamon sticks.

Ponce is a northern French dialect form of ponche, itself a variant of punch, borrowed into French as early as 1673. Later French writers, especially Voltaire and Rousseau, popularized the spelling punch. Punch had entered English by 1632, brought back from India by returning officers of the East India Company who had enjoyed a mixed drink there made with five traditional ingredients: rum, water, lemon, sugar, and spice. Punch is the Hindi word for the numeral five. In Persian, five is panj; in Sanskrit, a classical language of ancient India, five is panchan. These are all Indo- European languages distantly related to English, German, Latin, and even to Greek where the word for five is the similar pente, as in our terms pentagram and pentagon.

Another putative origin lies in a British naval word for a big barrel used on board sailing vessels to store rum, a puncheon, a large cask from which sailors were offered drinks.

Poulamon or Petit Poisson des Chenaux (Tommycod).

Tommycod, once abundant in the St. Lawrence, have been much reduced by pollution. But there is still an annual ice fishing derby for these petits poissons des chenaux held every January and February at Ste - Anne-de-la-Pérade. Tommycod come out of the St. Lawrence in midwinter, swimming into smaller streams to spawn. Then the Saint Anne River is crowded with hundreds of heated fishing cabins put on the thick ice. Tommycod is fished through holes in the ice inside the little cabins. Lit up at night, the windows of these cabanes give wintry twinklings to the frozen stretch of river which seems suspended in light between white snow and black star-flecked sky.

Poulamon was borrowed into early North American French in our Maritimes where it is the word for tommycod in the language of the Mi'kmaq people. To ichthyologists, tommycod is Microgadus tomcod.


This word named many kinds of food in Québec and Acadia. Here we discuss only the modern Québec dish and provincial uses of the word. For details on Acadian use as in poutines râpées and poutine au pain, please see the poutine entry under Acadian food words.

Now pronounced [poo-TSIN] in Canadian French, the word stems ultimately from the English word pudding. Fascinatingly, it has been borrowed at least four different times into French. Le pudding was in French print by 1678 to denote a pudding steamed in a cloth bag. This acquired several variants including le pouding and, in northern France, poudin. Then again in 1753 French geologists borrowed an English phrase, pudding stone, that named a certain kind of conglomerate of pebbles embedded in a finer matrix. This went into French geology as la poudingue. The third borrowing happened along the shores of the Mediterranean. Pudding had been borrowed into Italian by i nizzardi, natives of the city of Nice and surrounding territory. In the dialect of Nice, pudding became la poutina, but it named a mess of fried sardines and anchovies done in lemon and oil and used to accompany a soup or even to fill an omelette. In the south of France, maritime cooks borrowed the Italian word and named this fishy Italian fry poutine. Finally, northern French people immigrating to North America, to become eventually Acadians, reborrowed pudding as poutine and began the evolution of its present pronunciation [poo-TSIN].

The most recent reincarnation -- or should we say re-empuddingment -- of poutine happened in Québec in the fall of 1957, and made poutine the most familiar Québec food word in North America, to the chagrin of Quebecers proud of the gourmet delights of their provincial cookery.  Why, they wonder, does poutine get all the fanfare while truly exquisite and scrumptious recipes like pintadine de L'Île d'Orléans aux groseilles do not receive the attention they deserve? Perhaps more people like junk food than appreciate guinea hen in a red currant sauce?

Today's poutine is a serving of thick-cut French fries, topped with fresh cheese curds and hot gravy poured on top of the curds before serving or, by some cooks, served in a little gravy dish on the side so the fries do not get soggy.  Two men claim to have invented this poutine in the fall of 1957 in a region of the province's Eastern Townships called Bois-Francs "hardwoods" just south of the St. Lawrence. In Warwick, Québec, near Victoriaville, halfway between Montréal and Québec City, Fernand Lachance, "le père de la poutine", and his wife Germaine operated the Café Ideal. One of the piliers du café 'regulars' was truck driver Eddy Lainesse. Now the region of Bois-Francs is dairy country, famous for its fresh cheese curds, and M. Lachance sold little boxes of the fresh curd in his eatery. One autumn day, Eddy Lainesse suggested mixing the cheese curds with fries. Et voilà!

The gravy was not beef gravy at first, but Germaine Lachance's special recipe of brown sugar, ketchup, and a plop or two of Worcestershire sauce. After interviewing these three innovators for the October 9, 1997, edition of the Globe and Mail, reporter Tu Thanh Ha points out just how popular this poutine is in the province: "Burger King's decision to add it to the menu in 1992 generated an extra $2-million in curds business for Warwick's Fromagerie Côté." Wherever Quebecers travel in numbers, from Alberta to New England, they like to see on distant menus some home dish; for some residents especially that mets à la maison is poutine. I've eaten it in a Manhattan restaurant -- but the cheese curds had been stored in a refrigerator too long and were rubbery. Restaurants in Florida that cater to vacationing snowbirds from Québec actually fly in fresh curds by air freight.


The special Canadian, now obsolescent use of this medieval French word for festive celebration involved the canniness of the superintendent factors of the North West Company, and later the Hudson's Bay Company. Drinking on post property was discouraged. But when trappers were setting out on a long, possibly hazardous canoe journey, probably returning to tend distant traplines, they were issued a pint of rum, with the understanding that said spirits should be drunk well away from the fort or trading post. A rum régale might be passed out to men coming in after a lengthy trip too, as long as they went off in the bush to drink it. A ration of liquor, usually a noggin of rum, given out on New Year's Eve or near Christmas, was also a régale. When whites and Aboriginal trappers had been given their rum ration and were getting ready to party, their wives and womenfolk, long before the preparation of festive foods, often took the initial precaution of hiding all the knives, rifles, bows and arrows, and other objects that might become weaponry if party antics escalated to violence.

Distinct, modern Québec terms for what the British call "a right piss-up" or wild drinking party include une buverie, une fringue, une ripe, and une soûlade.

Smith Brothers Cough Drops (TM).

Smith Brothers cough drops are throat soothers invented by a restaurant owner in St. Armand, Québec, one James Smith. After his death, when his two sons, William and Andrew, took over the cough drop business, they put the engravings of their own bearded selves on the box as a trade-mark. Many suckers of cough drops thought the two hirsute worthies were inventions of an advertising artist, and that their names were Trade and Mark.

Tart à la Ferlouche.

Tarte à la ferlouche is a yum my raisin-and-molasses pie. Several spelling variants exist, like farlouche, ferluche and forlouche. It is popular from the Outaouais region along the Ottawa River on the Québec side all the way east to Acadian country. The word may be of Aboriginal origin, but I have been unable to find an exact source. Anyone who knows the provenance of ferlouche, please write and tell me.

Tarte au Sucre.

This familiar Québec brown-sugar pie has an addition when done à la Gaspésienne. Scottish-style rolled oats are mixed with the brown sugar -- sometimes maple sugar or maple syrup is added -- and spread over a pastry crust. A latticed pastry top covers the pie, and evaporated milk is poured through the pastry strips just before ovening.  No calorie=counters should nibble even a small slice of tarte au sucre! In regional varieties of this pie, crunch is added to the filling by the inclusion of different kinds of nutmeats, while other cooks put fruit preserves in the sugar-and-oats mix.


A tourtière is a shallow meat pie with onions, often flavoured with the traditional French medieval spice combo of cinnamon and cloves. In kitchens along the majestic Saguenay River, a tourtière can be quite a production, consisting of cubed meat, potatoes, onions baked in many layers in a deep, pastry-lined casserole: in other words, what would have been called a cipaille or pâté de famille in older days is here a tourtière de Saguenay.
In 1836 in Québec, a tourtière was a pork pie. One local tourtière became a favourite of Scottish and British soldiers posted to the citadel at Québec City who then stayed on, buying outskirt farms and growing oats. Thus, in one Québec City tourtière oatmeal thickens the ground pork filling instead of the traditional French potatoes.

The food tourtière took its name from the utensil in which it was baked. The original tourtière, in French print by 1573, was a pie pan for baking tourtes. In old French cookery, a tourte was a round pastry pie with a pastry top and filled either with meat and vegetables if it was a savoury or with fruit and cream if it was a dessert tourte. This word stems from
the street Latin phrase tortus panis 'a round of bread'. The word tourtière also names the mould used to make these pastry tourtes. This tourtière has an expandable circum-ference, can be made of porcelain, clay, or glass, and can serve as a pie dish, a tart mould, or a flan ring.


Gaspé Food Terms

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Gaspé derives from the Mi'kmaq word gespeg 'end of our land', and indeed the peninsula is the traditional northern limit of Mi'kmaq territory. One nickname of Gaspé residents in Québec French, which local people do not always appreciate but which is nevertheless colourful, is mangeurs de morue 'cod-gobbers'. Residents must admit that cod is here THE fish. For example, bouillabaisse gaspésienne is a local version of the famous stew that naturally features codfish. There are English speakers in the Gaspé region, and they too have some distinctive food lingo which I present below along with French terms. It is said of the rare, bad cook in the Gaspé and northern New Brunswick: "That cook couldn't parboil shit for a tramp."


Bread from outdoor bake ovens in the Gaspé and New Brunswick can be flavoured depending on what kind of wood burns in the oven, thus one still hears about birchbark bread, pine bread, and maple bread.


Bugger-in-a-bag around Cascapedia Bay is a fresh-raspberry pudding in a cotton bag that has been oiled and floured to make it waterproof. The bugger is steamed for several hours and served with a sweet sauce.


Cakin' around New Richmond on the Gaspé peninsula is visiting neighbours during the twelve days of Christmas, to receive a piece of Christmas cake.  Receiving and eating twelve pieces of cake, each one made by a different neighbour, is said to bring good luck throughout the twelve months of the new year.

Carry Tos.

Carry tos to mean 'any form of social welfare' is used around Shigawake in the Gaspé. It's a bit of franglais or an anglicization of a word in ecclesiastical Latin, caritas 'Christian love of one's fellow human', and the origin, through French, of the word charity.

Chaussons aux Pommes.

Chaussons aux pommes is a fancy Malbaie dessert in which a whole apple is sugared, cinnamoned, and wrapped up in pastry, then baked and presented with a gooey crown of maple syrup and whipped cream. It originated in one of the France's best apple-growing areas of Normandy where it is still called la pomme en cage. Malbaie is near the famous Percé rock on an eastern tip of the Gaspé peninsula. It was named "bad bay" because numerous sandbars or barachois along the shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence made putting ashore tricky or impossible for pilots of sea-going ships long ago.

Cipâte Gaspésien.

Cipâte gaspésien is a layered, pastry-topped, salmon pie, cousin to the many cipâtes québécois whoe layers contain no fish.

Elbow Cake.

Elbow cake is Mi'kmaq English, from the Maria Band in the Gaspé, to name a hot biscuit. The words for 'bread' and 'elbow' are phonetically similar in Mi'kmaq: looskaneegan. The surface of the hot biscuit vaguely resembles the skin pattern at the human elbow.

Gaspé Steak.

A humorous put-down happens here in the term Gaspé steak. It is always fried bologna, a staple of lumber camp cooking.

Horse Bean.

Horse beans are Windsor broad beans (Vicia faba), popular in the cold, wet soil of the Gaspé. Horse beans are shelled and boiled or baked. They can also be dried and stored for winter use.

Laughin' Potatoes.

Laughin' potatoes are new, dry potatoes that burst their skins when cooks.  And whether the split taties appear to be exploding with mirth, or whether it is the sound they make when they burst, their nickname is apt.

Mother of Vinegar.

Mother of vinegar, also called "the old woman", is an acetobacillus culture allowed to grow at the bottom of the vinegar bottle, for use as a starter the next time vinegar is made.

Perdrix aux Choux.

Perdrix aux choux from the Percé area of Gaspé is partridge with cabbage, and perhaps sausage, salt pork, carrots, and onions.

Pouding du Chômeur.

Pouding du chômeur is a 'welfare pudding' in which cake batter is baked and then drenched with brown-sugar syrup. La chômage is unemployment insurance in Québec. Un chômeur is someone on the dole. In France, the French verb chômer from which chômeur and chômage sprang has less pejorative meanings.  Chôer is 'to take off work during holidays', and 'to be unemployed due to legitimate lack of work'.

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Contributed to the FareShare Gazette by Hallie; June 2008

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