I can’t tell you just how excited I was when I volunteered to write this week’s Omnivore: 100 feature and stumbled across the traditional French-Canadian dish, Poutine, as an option. As a native of Canada, I’ve been missing poutine ever since I moved to this great land and I wish Americans didn’t find the concept of fries covered in cheese and gravy so revolting. For 12 years, I’ve been talking up the glorious amalgamation of fat, grease, and sodium that is a plate of poutine to friends who can muster no other response than snide remarks like “sounds like poontang.” I swear to God that sometimes I feel like I’m living the life of a South Park character (I’m not the only person who’s made this observation, and you can probably guess which one I’d be…cough, Cartman, cough)
So let me impart some Canadian wisdom (Liam, isn’t that an oxymoron? Har har, very funny…) upon you all about one of the greatest dishes ever. Yes. I said it. It’s one of the greatest dishes ever. There is NOTHING like sitting down to a plate of fries covered in gravy and cheese curd (especially after a night of boozin’ on Montreal’s Rue Ste. Catherine – MTL’s equivalent to 18th St. in Adams Morgan). Yes, it probably takes a few days off your life, but c’mon, by the time it actually hits you, your meals will all consist of apple sauce anyway.
Poutine is a dish that reared it’s delicious head in rural Quebec around the 1950s. What better way to feed your belly after a 6-hour game of pond hockey than stuffing your it with 2 pounds of poutine? Wikipedia points out that classic poutine has: “French fries that are of medium thickness, and fried so that the insides are still soft, with an outer crust. The gravy is a light chicken, veal or turkey gravy, mildly spiced with a hint of pepper. Heavy beef or pork-based brown gravies are typically not used. Fresh cheese curd (not more than a day old) is used. To prepare, first place the hot fries into a bowl or large plate, then spread the cheese curd on top. The cheese curd should be at room temperature. Then pour piping hot gravy over the cheese curds and fries.” You’d never think so much thought went into such a dish, eh?
As with most originals, some people decide to add their own twist, resulting in variations of a dish that, in my opinion, stands alone just fine the way it is. “Italian Poutine” replaces gravy with tomato sauce or sometimes bolognese; “Greek Poutine” switches things up by adding warm Mediterranean vinaigrette, gravy, and feta cheese; and “Mexican Poutine,” also known as “Carne Asada Fries,” consists of fries, carne asada, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and pico de gallo. It is best served with hot sauce. I’ve never even heard of these variations of poutine, but they all sound damn good, come to think of it. In Quebec, you’ll also find a few variations on the classic that include the addition of bacon, which we all know makes just about anything 10x better, Montreal smoked meat, or even more upscale versions that include Merguez sausage, foie gras and even caviar and truffle. “Poutine Galvaude,” pictured below, adds shredded turkey or chicken and green peas, you know, to make it healthy…
Writing this was a bad idea. There is no way I’m not eating a huge pile of french fries today. I just wish I could find poutine! Next question: where the hell do you get this stuff around here? Well, I went on over to Yelp! and searched for “poutine” in DC, which yielded a whopping grand total of 3 results, one of which was a review that mentions how a dish someone had at some Latin joint “reminded” them of Canadian poutine. Epic fail. There’s a good little conversation going on over at Chowhound about where to find this greasy dish ’round these parts, but from what I can gather, the options are pretty limited (lightbulb just went off in my head, how does the “Poutine Palace” sound to you…?) I’ve personally indulged (if you could call it that) in the poutine at Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon, which gets points for having it on the menu, but not for using crappy cheese and bland gravy; and you can apparently find it at Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, MD. Someone mentioned that The Brickskellar has a side order of cheese fries with gravy, but the menu doesn’t list gravy, and one other joint that might as well be in Canada, Boomers Family Restaurant in Berlin, MD. Stay tuned for the opening of “Darmody’s Poutine Palace,” because with options as limited as these, I think I might just have to pushin’ poutine on y’all.
Although a few northern states in New York and New England seem to accept/appreciate poutine, it seems the further south you go, the less and less people know of it or find the concept appealing. This doesn’t make sense, people. The further south you go in this country, the more gravy is used in EVERYTHING. Fried chicken and gravy, biscuits and gravy, grits and gravy, gravy and gravy, pancakes and gravy – but gravy on fries? No way…that’s weird. Southern ignorance about poutine was personified when This World in 22 Minutes, a Canadian spin on The Daily Show, convinced then- Texas Governor George W. Bush in 2000 that then-Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien’s name was actually “Jean Poutine” (that’s not Chretien pictured above, that’s Harper, the current Prime Minister, but this picture was too irresistable to pass up). Years later, upon his first visit to Canada as President, Dubya joked “there’s a prominent citizen who endorsed me in the 2000 election, and I wanted a chance to finally thank him for that endorsement. I was hoping to meet Jean Poutine.”
So there you have it, friends, there’s everything you need to know about one of my favorite dishes, even if it does get me one step closer to coronary disease every time I eat it. When I visit my family in Canada, I generally always try to make it to a place that has this delectable dish, and one needn’t go far for that in Canada, as Burger King sells it at the drive thru (of course, it’s not GOOD poutine, but it’s better than my options here!) If you’re ever in Montreal, make sure you add “eat a Montreal smoked meat sammich” and “try poutine” to your itinerary. You won’t regret it, I promise!