Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Marrying Elegance and First Nations Culture at Wendake and Restaurant La Traite (Quebec, Canada)

Wendake in Quebec is a special place. Wendake is the reservation of the Hurons-Wendat people, who have built a hotel, museum, and restaurant of the First Nations people (Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations). While the Native Americans in the USA tend to have casinos as their means of income, Wendake is very different. It's an elegant hotel that I feel really embodies the values and traditions of the first nations people, while incorporating modern comforts and amenities.

Wendake
The primary draw for me, of course, is the restaurant La Traite, which serves a modern take on first nations cuisine. We first made our way to the lounge for a tasting of their signature cocktails, which are named after the biggest clans of the Huron-Wendat. Some of these contain traditional ingredients like wild blueberries or labrador tea, and one is made with Ungava gin, a Canadian gin made with many unusual, traditional herbs!
La Traite
Since it's too difficult the type out the names with the proper accents, here's a photo of the cocktail menu:

La Traite
A display of some of the herbs and flowers used by the traditional first nations people.
La Traite

At Le Traite, you have the choice between ordering a la carte, or partaking in one of the two prix fixe menus. We were treated to the Premieres Nations experience which is $55 for a 4-course meal. I'm listing the individual a la carte prices, but these dishes were all options on the 4-course prix fixe menu.
La Traite
The most interesting option on the bread basket was the bannock bread. Bannock is the typical quick-bread of the first nations people in Canada - easy to make. The current form of bannock with wheat flour was probably introduced by the Scottish fur traders, but it seems that the First Nations people made a similar type of bread using flour of wild plants before European contact.

Now, on to the rest of dinner. Of course, I always have to order the most unusual items on the menu when I find it, so I couldn't resist when I saw this dish: Seal rillettes, bannock bread with blueberry jam, apple and nut crispy puff pastry ($17)
La Traite
When I told people that I had seal, they invariably asked me if it was fatty or blubbery. Well, it was fatty, but I also had it in the form of a rillettte, which is usually made to be fatty regardless of the meat source. How much fat was in the original meat before being made into rillette, I have no idea! But regardless, the seal rillette was delicious. It was like a slightly fishy red meat - and of course, the rillette is fatty because rillettes are made by slowly cooking the meat in fat.

Being an upscale restaurant, La Traite also always have vegetarian options, like this Wild mushrooms sauteed with apples, warm goat cheese with honey and clover ($15)
La Traite

At Wendake, you can also get a special corn beer that is made by the microbrewery Arhibald in Quebec specifically for Wendake. It's a 4.8% ABV beer made with corn and malt (and hops, of course) that's easy to drink and pairs well with food. The word "kwe" means "welcome" of sorts in the Hurons-Wendat language.
La Traite

One of the second course options: Granita with root flavors
La Traite

I opted for the more traditional dish: The three sisters' soup ($6)
La Traite
"The three sisters" refer to the three main agricultural crop: beans, corn, and squash.

So I did say I have to order the most unusual things ... the entree that I got is definitely not a native Canadian dish: Kangaroo loin, molasses marinade, sweet gale seeds sour cream ($37)
La Traite
I mean, how often do you get to order kangaroo on a menu, though? This was my first time having kangaroo meat. I liked it, but it was definitely one of the gamiest meats I've had. Lean and gamey, but if you don't mind the gaminess, I would recommend it!

More vegetarian option, if you're so inclined: Quinoa, small dried fruits, goat cheese, maple dressing ($29)
La Traite

I only tried a small bite, but my friend really enjoyed them. It is certainly a unique preparation with the goat cheese and dried fruits, though.

Desserts were equally beautifully prepared and presented: Apple donut with apricot coulis
La Traite

Small fruits and nuts with maple ice cream
La Traite

They also offer a variety of Inuit herbal teas with cloudberry, juniper, or a blend.
La Traite

Dinner at La Traite is definitely a unique experience, but as I mentioned, Wendake is a hotel and a museum. The hotel is gorgeous and seems to a tranquil place to stay, I would definitely consider staying here next time.
Wendake

Guests can sit around the fire in the lobby and look out onto the stream and trees.
In fact, the hotel is built following the stream so that every room has a view of the river. Yes,every room. After all, when the native people build their homes, they would also want to build it facing the river.
Wendake
The rooms aren't overly kitschy or themed - there are simple touches of the first nations tradition like the fur that is draped over the chairs or bed.

The most special room at Wendake is the longhouse. The longhouse is the traditional home of the Hurons-Wendat people before they came into contact with Europeans. They've built a replica of it at Wendake that guests can rent overnight.
Wendake
Your stay here will include a gathering around the fireplace listening to myths and legends of the Hurons-Wendat, drinking labrador tea and eating traditional bread (bannock).
Wendake
Renting the longhouse also gets you a room in the main hotel, though, in case you need your modern creature comforts, so don't worry about having to rough it. You can just gather here with your family or friends during the day before sleeping on a real bed, but you can certainly spend the night here, as well.
Wendake
Wendake
You also should't miss the museum while you're here The small walkway before the main entrance is painted with the tale of the world creation. The story of Aataentsic, or "the ancient one", the woman who fell from the "sky world" to earth.
Wendake
Upon entering the museum, you're greeted immediately by trees and a ray of light. After all, nature is the most important part.
Wendake

The museum is small but very well done and well-designed. We didn't have much time to go through the individual exhibits, which talk about the history of the people .
Wendake

I originally did not really pay much attention to the first nations culture when I was planning my trip to Quebec City, but I wanted to try dining at a first nations restaurant since I thought it would be different, but I am glad I came to Wendake! Both La Traite and Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations are really a special place that preserves and promotes the native culture and traditions in a way I had not seen or experienced before. I hope more native tribes in the US and beyond will take a similar approach instead of banking on casinos.

La Traite
and
l'Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations
5, Place de la Rencontre
Wendake, Québec G0A 4V0 
http://tourismewendake.ca/
La Traite Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


2 comments:

Patrick Meunier

Great post. Beautiful imagery. A little mishap though, the address is wrong. ;)
5, Place de la Rencontre, Wendake, Québec G0A 4V0

gourmetpigs

Thank you Patrick! I've corrected the address

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