It’s been the subject of memes, political point-scoring and culture wars over which topping – if any – is best, but one thing is certain: poutine is a beloved (and delish) part of Canada’s national identity.
But where did the humble, messy and calorie-heavy dish get its start? And where is it going? CAA Magazine wanted to know – so here are some tasty facts about poutine to satisfy your cravings.
It all began in 1957 rural Quebec. Or did it? Although poutine definitely originated in la belle province, many have claimed to have invented it. One account has a Victoriaville, QC, café owner mixing hot fries with cheese curds, to which a customer reputedly remarked, “Ça va te faire une maudite poutine!” (“That will make a damned mess!”) A year later, a drive-in restaurant owner in Drummondville embraced the dish after noticing customers buying his fries and special gravy then adding the cheese curds he also sold at his snack counter.
The word poutine means hot mess. Sort of. Poutine is believed to derive from the word pudding (or pouding) and is used in French to describe any kind of messy mix of foods. Practice saying it the authentic way, by slurring in an ‘s’ before the ‘t’, to become pou-stine.
The Americans tried to make it their own. In 1970s New York, a version of poutine called Disco Fries appeared on the scene, but it was made with shredded mozzarella and gravy. But, as any Canadian could tell you, poutine isn’t poutine without the squeaky cheese.
Poutine was first widely offered at Burger King. Although it had been around for a few decades at chip trucks and poutineries, it wasn’t until a Quebec Burger King franchisee convinced the chain to sell poutine that thing really went national. Other fast-food chains soon followed. These days, CAA Rewards partner New York Fries offers poutine (and a 10% discount) to Members.
Purist poutine versus nouveau poutine? For many, poutine can only be hot chicken gravy smothering fresh cheese curds on hand cut fries. For others, it’s more of an opportunity to throw in some tasty additions like smoked meat, roasted chicken, ketchup and even vinegar. Once famous chefs got hold of it, the range of options really went international. Renowned Montreal chef (and friend of the late Anthony Bourdain) Martin Picard created foie gras poutine at his Au Pied du Cochon resto; Jamie Kennedy has braised beef poutine on his menu and lobster poutine has appeared in eateries right across the county.
Poutine as a political hot potato. Remember Canadian Prime Minister Jean Poutine? Then-Governor George W. Bush mistakenly did when comedian Rick Mercer asked the American politico to endorse the fictional character, highlighting a gap in our southern neighbour’s knowledge of Canada. Then there was the time former Reform Party leader Preston Manning was controversially photographed eating poutine to prove his ties to Quebec. Even former Quebec Premier Jean Charest felt compelled to declare his love of poutine during a media interview.
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