Every culture has its own distinct foods that you long for if you’ve been away from home for too many days. Some are intricate dishes, perfected over thousands of years. Others are comparatively new on the food scene, but become beloved cultural fixtures in short order. And many meals, regardless of how long they’ve been around for, take a little faith for the first-timer to try. For instance, as I mentioned in this post, Canadians down thousands of Caesars each year. The uninitiated, however, need a little convincing to get past the whole tomato juice mixed with clam juice thing before they can truly appreciate Canada’s beloved hangover cure. As for me, I rarely order a Caesar at home. But travelling for any extended period of time never fails to make me start craving one.
In terms of cravings though, my urge to down a Caesar is nothing compared to the itch I get for a good plate of poutine if I haven’t had any for a few weeks. If you are one of those unfortunate souls who has never sampled this nectar of the gods, I’m sorry to tell you that your life is incomplete.
Here’s what you need to know about poutine: Invented in the eastern Canadian province of Quebec, poutine has been around since sometime in the late 1950s. The deceptively simple dish is traditionally composed of french fries and the freshest cheese curds you can find, all smothered with a generous helping of gravy. Although poutine only has three ingredients, the result is absolute perfection when executed properly. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
But as with any simple dish, things can go very wrong if you mess with the main ingredients. Here’s a few poutine-related issues to look out for:
- The gravy needs to soak into the fries a bit to achieve the correct texture. In order for this to happen, the fries need to be thick enough to stand up to the gravy but not so thin that they become soggy on contact.
- Poutine absolutely has to be made with the freshest cheese curds. You can tell the difference between mediocre poutine and amazing poutine by the noise it makes in your mouth. If the cheese curds squeak when you chew them, you know the plate in front of you is poutine perfection. No squeak = old curds. Yuck.
- It is absolutely unacceptable to make poutine with shredded cheese (of any variety) in place of curds. If this happens, you are morally obligated to unceremoniously throw the plate of non-poutine at the person who prepared such an abomination. Although it is a well-documented generalization that Canadians are always polite, all bets are off when it comes to messing with poutine.
Poutine is a very versatile dish because pretty much anything savory goes well with fries and cheese curds. As such, poutine lends itself very well to any number of crazy additions. For example, I’ve recently had butter chicken poutine (not so great), pulled pork poutine (really good), and Montreal smoked meat poutine (yum!). Although I haven’t been brave/crazy enough to try it, I’ve also heard rumors of a place that has corn dog poutine on the menu. Sounds strange, but it’s probably amazing.
While some fast food restaurants have had the item on their menu for years, it has been relatively difficult to find decent poutine outside of eastern Canada until very recently. Luckily for all us Westerners, the poutine craze has finally made its way to the prairies and beyond! In addition to appearing on many restaurant menus, outlets that solely serve poutine (called poutineries) are popping up in major cities across the Great White North. Hurray!!
So now that you’ve been informed about one of Canada’s greatest culinary accomplishments, do yourself a favour and go fill your face with some poutine. But be careful, its addictive properties are well documented…