“Steak, Blé d’Inde, Patates”: Eating National Identity in Late Twentieth-Century Québec

Authors

  • Sandra Roy

Keywords:

pâté chinois, food, Québec, national identity, La Petite Vie (TV series), French language

Abstract

This paper explores the connections between pâté chinois and Québec national identity during the second half of the twentieth century. The respective French, British, and Native roots of the ingredients are highlighted and discussed, with a particular emphasis on socioeconomic and cultural terms that also extends to the analysis of the historical preparation of the layered meal, more akin to “daily survival” than to gastronomy. Special attention is also given to the significance of the dish’s origin myths, as well as to cultural references on a popular television series. Those origin myths are separated along the French/English divide, thus evoking the often-tempestuous relationship between these two languages and their speakers in Québec. The progression of the discourse surrounding pâté chinois, from a leftover dish prior to the rise of nationalism in the ’70s, to a media darling in the decade following the 1995 referendum, corresponds with efforts to define and then to redefine Québécois identity. The history of the dish tells the tumultuous history of the people of Québec, their quest for a unique identity, and the ambiguous relationship they have with language. Pâté chinois became a symbol, reminding French Canadians of Québec daily of their Québécois identity.

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