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Poutine Pandemonium

Our neighbors to the north have many great claims to fame, but none rival the fatty, filling, and oh-so-decadent poutine. The notorious dish of french fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in a brown gravy is a favorite of late-night partiers and gourmands alike. But what exactly is the origin of this fabled dish?

Poutine has a much disputed history, but the generally accepted story says that it was invented in rural Quebec in 1957. A customer at Fernand LaChance’s Warwick restaurant requested that he have a bag of french fries mixed with cheese curds, which were sold separately at the restaurant. LaChance reportedly commented that the dish would be messy to eat, using the Quebec French slang term for “mess”—poutine. The gravy was not added until 1964, in a Drummondville restaurant owned by Jean-Paul Roy. Roy sold a dish of gravy-slathered fries on the menu, but when he noticed customers ordering a side of cheese curds with it, he combined all three to make the popular dish we all know and love today.

The dish spread through the rest of Quebec and Canada, making its way to the eastern United States by the 1970s. However, it has enjoyed a recent resurgence in the last few years, as trendy eateries present their own takes on the comfort food classic. There are poutine burgers. Poutine pizzas. Trader Joe’s sells a frozen version, and Chicago has its own poutine festival. “Poutine” was even added to Merriam-Webster (but so was “selfie” and “hashtag”, so maybe that last one isn’t as impressive). But with poutine’s newfound glory, one question remains: how much can you change a dish before it becomes something entirely different?

Gawker’s Domesticity blog touched on the same topic, making an example of one Brooklyn restaurant’s “Poutine Week.” French fries are present in all of the “poutines” offered, but the similarities stop there. Some come with American cheese sauce, some come with salsa verde, and perhaps most disturbingly, some come with additions like celery and carrots. As author Michelle Dean laments, “This is an obvious sop to the current orthorexic tastes of the upper-class Brooklyn masses. I expect soon to see kale, quinoa, and chia seeds heaped atop the gravy so that uptight Americans can pretend poutine is some kind of health food. It’s horrifying.” 

Can you add vegetables or cheese sauce to poutine and still call it poutine? Are new additions to classics a natural evolution, or is it possible to go too far? (We argue that yes, you can go too far, since poutine soda exists. WHY?) Tell us what you think on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Photo by Gawker

Alicia Hahn

Alicia Hahn excels at eating and enjoys writing, crosswords, and cooking (preferably with cheese). Originally from San Francisco, she moved to Boston for school and fell in love with the city (despite an annual campaign against winter). Her favorite place to be is the farmers’ market, where she finds weird and exciting ingredients to make or break her next meal.