A Word or Two About Poutine


O’Canada Food Month / Installment 4

Originated in Quebec, there’s nothing in the States quite like poutine.  Although the basics of the dish are easy enough to describe — french fries and cheddar cheese curds topped with a healthy dose of brown gravy — given the extreme pro and con feelings among Canadians evoked by this dish I didn’t feel my words alone could do justice to poutine.  So what follows are some curated comments from more refined observers of poutine, which collectively provide a well-rounded sense about this peculiar Canadian food stuff.

“Poutine doesn’t have the immediate fear factor of haggis, but you do have to steel yourself for the first few bites.  Having said this, poutine’s rich content of starch, sugar, oil, fat and salt are ideal for larding it up for a dark Quebec winter.”    Douglas Coupland, in Souvenir of Canada (2002)

“On a recent trip to Montreal, a city that is to poutine what Baltimore is to crab cakes, I asked a young woman I’d met there named Emily Birnbaum why poutine often struck people as funny.  “Because it’s so gross,” she said.  “After you finish a poutine, you say, ‘I can’t believe I just ate that.'”  It almost goes without saying that she was eating poutine as we spoke.  So was I.”  Calvin Trillin, in “Funny Food,” The New Yorker (Nov. 23, 2009)

“Quebec can rightfully claim bragging rights to being the birthplace of poutine. But the gooey French fries, gravy and fresh cheese curd mix has transcended La Belle Province to become Canada’s favourite nosh.  Not officially. The motion “Poutine Should be Declared the National Dish of Canada” was narrowly defeated at the 11th Annual Leacock Debate two years ago. Pity.”    Alexandra Gill, in “Ode to True Putine Bliss at Vancuver Bistro,” The Globe and Mail (Sept. 10, 2012)

“Poutine is Acadian slang for mushy mess and is best described as a heart attack in a bowl. . . .The cheese is the most important part of good poutine. You must use FRESH white, cheddar cheese CURDS. These curds have a taste and texture very different than actual cheddar cheese. The cheese curds will actually squeak in your teeth as you bite them. . . .”   From “A Primer on the Preparation of Poutine” on The Gutsy Gourmet

“Many restaurants now serve novelty poutines made with foie gras, gnocchi, or home fries. Red wine, cream, or pepper are sometimes used to good effect in designer gravy. Interesting ingredients and cooking methods should always be reasonably accommodated, no matter what culture they come from, thereby allowing poutine to flourish and develop. However, it should be remembered that some cultural practices are repugnant to this nation’s culinary values (such as the “poutine” I had in Newfoundland that replaced cheese curds with sliced shards of Kraft singles).”  From the Criteria page on The Poutine Pundit

“Whether Montreal’s embarrassing but adored junk food does take root in New York, it may never attain the status it achieved earlier this year when the CBC revealed the results of a viewer poll on the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. Granted, poutine came in only at No. 10. But it beat, among other things, the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, the paint roller and the caulking gun, lacrosse, plexiglass, radio voice transmission and basketball.”    Kate Sekules, in “A Staple From Quebec, Embarassing But Adored,” New York Times (May 23, 2007)

March is Food Month on O’Canada

Canadian Cuisine

What people eat as a regular part of their diets is a sometimes overlooked area of a country’s culture (in the broadest sense of culture).  Although my musings on Canadian culture have gravitated principally toward arts, music, literature, history and places, I’ve written occasionally about aspects of Canadian consumables (for example, Tim Horton’s, ice wine and Labatt beer) and have observed a number of other things about Canada’s food culture about which I’ve been mulling over sharing some comments.  So, for the month of March I plan to organize comments on O’Canada around the theme of food and see where that leads.  Among the topics being cooked up (very bad pun intended and which I promise to leave behind) will be Tim Horton’s (again), milk bags, poutine, maple syrup, Kraft mac & cheese (a/k/a Kraft dinner) and some of the best Canadian food blogs.  Bon apetit!

(Image credit: Wikimedia)

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