What is Poutine? Strictly speaking, Poutine is a Canadian dish first created in Québec. It is French fries with cheese curds and gravy. When asked if they know what Poutine is, a citizen will say “Of course! I am Canadian.” There are Poutine shops all throughout the country from cities to small towns.
It first appeared in the 1950’s in rural Québec snack bars. Its name is derived from the English word for pudding (or French pouding) to describe a mixture of typically messy foods. In Québec poutine is slang for mess. 1963 saw Lachance beginning to serve the dish on a plate to contain the mess left on his tables. He doused cheese curds with gravy when they cheese became too cold. Hence, the beginning of Poutine. Now iconic Québécois cuisine and culture, Poutine can be found anywhere from fine dining to fast food venues such as McDonalds and Burger King.
As it spread, variations occurred. Italian Poutine contained spaghetti sauce or sausage instead of gravy. Chicken and green peas became a local phenomenon. Then Montreal style contained smoked meat. Poutine became a fun dish to experiment with. In the 1970’s, New York and New Jersey experimented with shredded mozzarella instead of traditional cheddar cheese curds and the dish became known as “disco fries”. Purists will always use cheese curds. Here in the Southern/South west States, we can experiment with Cajun and hatch green chili curds.
Gravy doused the curds to keep the dish warm. Becoming a popular street food on chip truck menus in Québec and Ontario, various combinations were formed. Vege Poutine made with mushroom sauce and veges and Irish Poutine made with lardons became known.
Later, specialty poutine chains and restaurants showed up in Canadian cities. Then the dish travelled beyond to the US, UK, Korea and potato-loving Russia where it was referred to as Raspoutine! It also became haute cuisine in high-end restaurants. Chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon was the Bymark restaurant along with braised beef poutine at Jamie Kennedy’s restaurant.
In 2003, Toronto mothers, dubbed “the Poutine police”, petitioned the food’s removal from school cafeterias due to its high fat content. They were successful and so declared the dish a luxury not a staple, to be eaten in moderation.
Still, there are annual Poutine celebrations in Montreal, Quebec City, and Drummondville as well as Toronto, Ottawa, New Hampshire, and Chicago. Over the next decade it spread nationally and internationally. Overall it is a dish that should be tried wherever found.