Poutine (pronounced poo-teen) is a dish consisting of French fries topped with cheese curds and hot gravy. It is native to Canada and little known in the rest of the world, though some restaurants in other countries have poutine on the menu. Poutine is similar to American cheese fries or “disco fries.”
Poutine originated in Quebec, Canada in the late 1950s, and is now popular in all of Eastern Canada. Several communities within the province claim to have created poutine, such as Drummondville and Victoriaville. The most popular story is that poutine was created at a small eastern Quebec restaurant owned by Fernand Lachance. Lachance had a specialty takeout item on the menu consisting of French fries and cheese curds mixed together in a plastic bag. In 1957, a truck driver ordered the bag of fries with a side dish of gravy, dumped the gravy into the bag, and ate them together.
The origin of the word poutine is a source of some debate. Some believe it to be an adaptation of the English word pudding, as it occurs in Oscar Dunn’s Canadian French dictionary from the end of the 19th century with this definition. Some Quebec natives believe poutine evolved from the Provencal word poutingo, translated as “bad stew”. The word poutine began as Acadian slang for a gooey mess and was first used to name an Acadian dish, poutine rapees - a blend of mashed potatoes, pork, and spicy sauce.
Poutine only has three ingredients, but connoisseurs argue there are many subtleties involved in preparing the dish correctly. The French fries should be made from potatoes that are hand-cut and fresh, and should be fried in pure lard as opposed to vegetable or other oils. The gravy, also known in Canada as barbecue chicken gravy, is darker and thicker than gravy in America or other countries, and must be served very hot.
The cheese used in poutine is fresh white cheddar cheese curds, which have a different flavor and texture than actual cheese. These must be completely thawed but fresh, and are then served over the fries before adding the gravy, whose temperature helps the cheese melt. Poutine should be served in a bowl, which helps reduce mess and keeps the mixture hot.
Poutine is popular enough in Canada to be on the menu of some of the country’s finest restaurants in addition to pubs and diners, as well as many multi-national franchises such as McDonald’s. Poutine is available in just a few restaurants in the northern United States, and in a handful of hotels and pubs in Europe and Asia.