Tourtière: Québecois for Christmas

For French-Canadians, the must-have holiday food is a spiced meat pie

Only in Quebec, the tourtiere -- a holiday meat pie.
Only in Quebec, the tourtiere -- a holiday meat pie. Image courtesy of Flickr user KennethMoyle

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is that there are so many delicious foods that appear only this time of year—and every part of the world that celebrates Christmas has its own specialties. You could spend all of December eating a different regional food every night (hmm, not a bad idea). But, as Jesse wrote in this week’s Inviting Writing, most people have at least one favorite holiday food that they absolutely must have or it isn’t truly Christmas.

For French-Canadians, that dish is probably tourtière, a spiced meat pie that’s eaten around Christmas and New Year; it was traditionally served after midnight mass or at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Usually filled with minced pork or a mixture of pork, beef and/or veal, it can also be made with other kinds of meat. Spices might include cinnamon, nutmeg, mace or cloves.

According to The Ottawa Citizen, the name comes from the dish used to bake a tourte, and the word tourte can refer either to the pie or to the passenger pigeon, a now-extinct species once used to fill the pie. The same article includes several intriguing variations on the basic tourtière, including one made with seafood.

I first heard of tourtière when I moved to the Adirondack Mountains in New York, a stone’s throw from the Quebec border. The French-Canadian influence here is evident in French surnames and place names, the popularity of hockey and curling, and the occasional appearance of poutine on restaurant menus. A few places around here sell tourtières around the holidays, but I never had one until this weekend, when I took a trip to Montreal.

I bought a mini-tourtière from a bakery in the indoor Jean-Talon market (a fun place to visit if you’re ever in town). It was made with duck, and the crust had a cute little duck cut-out on top. It was tasty—the crust was deliciously flaky—though I found the filling a little lacking in zing. I had read that some people eat them with ketchup or other condiments, so I decided to try some steak sauce. I don’t know if this would be considered an acceptable accompaniment by traditionalists, but it worked for me.

If you don’t live in the vicinity of a French-Canadian bakery and want to taste tourtière yourself, try one of the recipes from the Ottawa Citizen article above. A recipe from Serious Eats includes mashed potatoes in the filling, plus plenty of spices. You can even make a vegetarian version with TVP (textured vegetable protein), as in this recipe from Canadian Living magazine.

What’s your favorite holiday food?

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