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Where does Quebec’s Pâté Chinois come from?

The simple and delicious concoction of ground beef, corn and mashed potatoes has been a Quebec family menu staple.
The simple and delicious concoction of ground beef, corn and mashed potatoes has been a Quebec family menu staple. HO, Foodland Ontario/The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Known as Shepherd’s Pie in Scotland, hachis parmentier in France and Pâté Chinois in French Canada, the simple and delicious concoction of ground beef, corn and mashed potatoes has been a family menu staple all over the world.

But the origin of the name remains one of Quebec’s greatest mysteries.

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A widespread rumour is that Pâté Chinois (Chinese pie) was adapted from Shepherd’s Pie by Chinese cooks during the building of the Canadian railway in the late 19th century.

Instructed by their British bosses, the story goes that the cooks created a lighter version of the popular cottage pie, replacing the gravy with creamed corn.

Université du Québec à Montréal sociology professor Jean-Pierre Lemasson, an expert in gastronomy and society, has dedicated countless hours of research to learning more about the Quebecois gastronomic favourite.

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But even Lemasson, who wrote a book about it, Le Mystère insondable du pâté chinois (The Inscrutable Mystery of Pâté Chinois), has not found a definitive answer and continues to wonder about the birth of the dish.

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