Thing #27 – Quebec City

Most mornings we walk past our neighborhood bakery and I say, “Mmmm, smells like a train station!” Fresh bread floating in the morning air gives me memories of filling my purse with pastries in Munich.

The smell of a bakery instantly whooshes you into a memory. And it’s personal for everyone. Bakers have the magic power to transport you. And the stories behind their recipes are often rooted in something deeper than we realize. This is why I initially started my blog, after all.

I was reminded of this in Quebec City when I went into a bakery for a baguette and left with an education on French literature.

At Le Paingrüel, we had the treat of talking with the baker of arguably the best artisanal breads in town. He uses traditional baking practices and has committed to studying and perfecting them.

During our visit, we got a crash course on baguettes and learned the Swiss-style baguette was discovered as a result of a mistake. (A delicious one, incidentally.)

He stood alongside a rack of round, crusty loaves of bread and took time to explain them to us. I was only half listening because I was distracted by the pastries, trying to land on which would end up as my breakfast.

When we asked him about the name of the bakery, things got especially interesting. He told us about the French author Francois Rabelais and his tales of a super huge giant named Pantagruel. I’m certainly no expert on French literature (or honestly, any literature), so it was brand new information. Rabelais’ stories of the giant are satirical, poignant and crude – particularly for the 16th century. The baker wrote the author’s name on a piece of paper and told me to check him out.

Which brings me back to the name of the bakery. Mix the French word for bread – pain – and the name of Rabelais’ famous character…et voila! Le Paingrüel. This gives you a peek into the type of eclectic gentleman our baker is.

After much deliberation, I chose my go-to pastry – chocolatine (or pain au chocolat depending where in the French-speaking world you are). It was flaky and perfect, as anticipated.

Between this and the several other bakeries we visited during our trip, we were swimming in breads, pastries and macarons. (Lemon poppyseed!)

Our Quebec food excursion wasn’t all bread and poutine, though. We visited Charlevoix Laiterie for warm, squeaky cheese curds (Wisconsin-girl approved), sampled local wines on Ile d’Orleans and bought sausage at Marché du Vieux Port to accompany our baguette. Most of our trip was spent sitting in the sunshine with a beer and watching people.

We balanced our extreme bread eating with a hike in a national park and climbing endless hills and staircases throughout the city. One of the best climbs was to the Citadelle – an active military base – where we watched soldiers rehearse their changing-of-the-guard posts.

Plus we learned about the Royal 22nd Regiment’s handsome and regal mascot, Batisse, a white Persian goat. He comes from a long line of goats initially gifted to the country by England. Sadly, he wasn’t there as he mostly just attends events and ceremonies during the summer months.

I’ve been daydreaming about coming back in the summer. Not only for the obvious reason of seeing Batisse in person, but to keep sitting in the sun, trying all the Quebecois food and beer. However, there’s a good chance that if go back, I’ll end up growing the size of Pantagruel.

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