Shops


Earlier this year (in May), I had my first visit to Quebec City, probably the last major city in Canada I’ve been very keen to see due to its history. And its old walled city (the only walled city in North America north of Mexico) is indeed a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a short visit as I was there for work but I think I managed to see most of the highlights in my free day and whatever free time I could muster.

My hotel was located about a 10 minute walk from the walled old town (top tip: best not to choose a hotel on Grande Allée Est if you’re not keen on nightlife running into the wee hours of the morning right in front of your window). For my first walk through the city, I looped around the old fortress and headed straight for the river.

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That would be the mighty St Lawrence river! It’s particularly wide here as Québec is located near its mouth. Notice the gloomy day – this was late spring and there were still large lumps of snow that had failed to melt. It was cold!

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My first view of the Château Frontenac was breathtaking (as was the wind that day) – it’s quite a majestic landmark and understandably is one of the main symbols of the city. If it had been winter, it would have been a treat to go down the toboggan slide (located on the left in the photo below) dating back to 1884!

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From the Terrasse Dufferin and its multitude of benches facing the river, it was down the stairs to the lower town below.

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The Quartier Petit Champlain is a particularly charming tourist area with many shops with local products.

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At the end of the main street is a shop specialising in all things maple (Québec is famous for its maple syrup and, I learned, wild blueberries). It’s where I chose to go for my maple taffy later in the visit. Here, maple syrup is cooked to the soft ball stage and then poured over snow (shaved ice here). A stick is used to pick up the taffy and it tasted even better than I expected! This was just one step in my dream to experience a Québécois sugar shack but, y’know, outside the actual season (typically March and April).

Maple taffy! (Recall Little House in the Big Woods?)

There’s a funicular to help you get back up that hill too… And I certainly made use of that when I came back one evening from a work dinner in the lower town. Handy!

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I continued walking around the port area until I reached the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec. This market was made up of many local farm stands selling local products – I picked up some amazing fresh maple sugar as a gift for friends here.

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Fiddlehead ferns (têtes de violon in French – violin heads) were in season and were all over the market. I had a chance to have some at a dinner later on.

Fiddlehead Ferns!

My sugar shack style lunch was had at La Buche, a restaurant specialising in Quebecois cuisine. I went full on with their massive brunch platter that evoked a sugar shack kind of feeling. There were eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, ham, cretons, fèves au lard (the Québec version of baked beans), a crepe with maple syrup, toast with blueberry jam, and fruit salad. Hearty it was and I was very full the rest of the day – I did try my best but no, I didn’t finish the entire thing!

Sugar Shack Plate

There was a very nice dinner that night as well (oof!) and I’ll save that for a post of its own.

The oldest building in Quebec was across the street and it also holds another Quebecois restaurant – it’s not cheap but I’ve heard good things about it.

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Other places I particularly enjoyed visiting? Well, there was the side of the parking lot of the Anglican cathedral, where Aldo the donkey lives. He’s out and about most mornings, I believe.

We met an adorable donkey at the Anglican cathedral this morning! His name is Aldo.

I managed to wander into Le Monastère des Augustines – still a working Augustine convent but now also refurbished to be a hotel, restaurant, café, spa, and all round community space. It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

Le Monastère des Augustines

A visit to the Morrin Centre is a must for lovers of libraries. This historic English language library is tiny but gorgeous.

The Morrin Centre

Nearby is the Maison de la Littérature, a modern library created in a converted church. Again, absolutely beautiful but in its own different way.

Maison de la Littérature

A must-stop shop is the Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. It has many of its original fixings and you can spend an hour here poring over all the goods. It’s also the perfect place to pick up an edible souvenir – I went home with some incredible wild blueberry compote.

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I couldn’t not have poutine in Quebec! That quintessentially Québécois dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy is said to have originated in the fast food chain Chez Ashton. That’s where I went and I wasn’t disappointed. The cheese curds, in particular, were exceptionally fresh, squeaking in between my teeth.

Poutine!!!

My first time in Quebec was certainly good fun if a bit cold. My next post is on Légende, the restaurant, but if you want to see more Quebec photos in the meantime, I’ll direct you to my Flickr album.

We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

For my last post on Stockholm, I’d like to focus on what I always associate with Sweden – baked goods, excellent baked goods. These excellent baked goods made up my breakfasts and my fikas and were eaten on the hoof, in cafes, at tourist attractions.

My first fika was at Vete-Katten, a well-preserved labyrinth of a coffee shop in the centre of Stockholm.

Fika

There was, of course, coffee (apparently Swedes have the 2nd or 3rd highest coffee consumption per capita) and an excellent kardemummabulle (cardamom bun).

Kardemummabulle

And their Prinsesstarta! I never really understood this cake, thinking the green layer on top was all a bit odd but my goodness was it ever good. The lovely thin layer of green marzipan held together the lightest freshest whipped cream and a most delicate sponge. It’s a popular cafe and you may struggle to find a seat on the weekend but it’s worth the wait!

Prinsesstarta

Later in the week, I visited another well-known cafe located down the road – Sturekatten (what’s with the cat names?). The cafe is quite a well known one locally with its original vintage furniture and tasty food.

Sturekatten

I settled in with some coffee and a punschrulle (aka the dammsugare, or vacuum cleaner). Both very good though most of the baked goods did look a little better at Vete-Katten.

Coffee and Punsch-roll

And then there were the rest of the bakeries I frequented every morning before work each day for the remainder of the week. I was based that time very close to central Stockholm and I’d grab something from a different place each day. From a chain called Gateau, I tried an orange brioche filled with vanilla cream and then topped with chocolate. Not outstanding but very good. Perhaps it was a bit too much cream for me for breakfast time.

A few Stockholm photos to still get through. This was yesterday's breakfast: an orange brioche filled with vanilla cream and covered in chocolate.

From Fabrique, the Swedish chain with outlets in London (hooray!), an outstanding flaky bun with rhubarb and hazelnuts …

Today's breakfast was a flaky bun with rhubarb and hazelnuts. I'm loving all the buns here.

… and an excellent kardemummabulle (shh, I prefer cardamom buns to cinnamon buns).

A final kardemummabulle. I do prefer the cardamom ones over the cinnamon buns. I'm gonna miss your bakeries, Sweden.

And I discovered the mandelbulle (almond bun) sold at Bröd & Salt, another bakery chain found throughout Stockholm. Imagine that cardamom dough rolled up with frangipane, sliced and then topped with a biscuit topping with lots of whole almonds. Yes, it was amazing.

My big Swedish discovery - the mandelbulle (almond bun). It's like a cross between a cardamom bun and a cinnamon bun but rolled with frangipane and with a biscuit topping with whole almonds. ❤😚

There were even visits to two bakeries in Skansen! There was first the village bakery that actually does sell its wares still to the public.

Bakery

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I purchased a delightfully homemade looking kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) and munched that happily as I continued with my visit.

Kanelbulle

Then there was my favourite – the bakehouse. Here is where the famous Swedish flatbreads are baked for keeping throughout the year and being baked that day was tunnbröd (thin bread). Apparently the traditional version would be baked very dry and the soft versions available at supermarkets (and frozen at Ikea) are fancy modern thin breads.

Bakehouse

There was a proper demonstration of how the dough was rolled out and pricked using the textured rolling pin …

Inside the Bakehouse

… and then baked in the wood-fired oven.

Flatbread Oven

And when it came out, there was butter to slather onto the hot bread… it was excellent!

Tunnbröd

I loved Stockholm! I loved its food and its beautiful surroundings and its flowers and everything. I’m hoping to visit again in the future, bringing Blai with me this time, and he’s keen to go too after seeing all my photos. Thanks to everyone who sent information about Stockholm, its restaurants, and Eurovision, which was on the weekend I was there!

As is usual, all my Stockholm travel photos are sitting in a dedicated Flickr album.

Right, this might be the quickest I’ve ever written anything up. But at lunch yesterday, I got to try the street food purveyor Bian Dang, specialising in Taiwanese lunch boxes (the name means that in Mandarin). I actually sought them out when they came yesterday as part of KERB Paddington – when I heard someone was serving Taiwanese lunch boxes, I knew I had to try it! I loved the lunchboxes that I’d tried in Vancouver (I’ve not been to Taiwan) and I adore Taiwanese pork chops.

Anyway, for £7.50 I got The Beast – a lunch box with everything. Everything was their usual rice, minced pork sauce, stir fried vegetables, pickles and half a slow cooked tea egg topped with all their available toppings: fried pork, fried chicken and fried oyster mushrooms.

The Beast from Bian Dang at KERB Paddington

This was brilliant. Of particular note were the fried oyster mushrooms – these were the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had – and the slow cooked tea egg. But everything in box was excellent. It’s definitely worth trying them out!

Bian Dang
At various locations. Keep track of where they are with their Twitter feed.

We stopped for tea that first afternoon after our time in the Musée Picasso in the 3eme and as we were nearby, I dragged Blai to Jacques Genin’s shop. The one on rue de Turenne has a small salon de thé where you can taste his famous chocolates and caramels as well as pastries. His other shop on the other side of the river is just that – a shop.

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We settled into a sofa in the lovely air conditioned room. There’s a menu but the waitress also rattled off the various flavours and other pastries also available (and I believe they are made in the laboratory upstairs). We chose a chocolate millefeille that would be put together a la minute. This was one excellent millefeuille.

Millefeuille de Chocolat

Coffee for me and a citron pressé for Blai. The chocolates they provided with the drinks were utterly amazing. Seriously, just get them.

Chocolates

We bought a couple of his caramels to takeaway (look at the cute little bags they have for small numbers of sweets) and ate them about an hour later. By that time, they’d softened in the heat in my bag to possibly a perfect texture – they were utterly luscious.

Caramels

I only wish I could have brought back more but the very hot weather prevented all of that. Here’s a good tip: this salon de thé is open on Sundays.

Jacques Genin
133 rue de Turenne
Paris
France

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