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Poutine: Food Fad or New Staple in International Cuisine?
Research indicates French fry-gravy-cheese curd dish isn’t just for Canadians anymore
The revelation that poutine is Canada’s favorite food, according to a July 2017 Maclean’s survey, isn’t exactly surprising news, but it is interesting to note that the passion cuts across the country’s geographic and generational divides.
Sure, the magazine points out, the survey’s “No. 1 item on the list – poutine – clinches the top spot with only tepid (21 per cent) national support.” But a closer look at the results show numbers skewed by regional favorites (which include raw ingredients such as lobster, maple syrup and Alberta beef), as well as dishes that are not distinctly Canadian in origin.
Clearly, “Canada is a nation divided by its favourite foods,” Maclean’s concludes. However, “poutine bridges the gap, and its popularity is rising.”
To be precise, its appeal doubles every generation. Only nine per cent of Boomers give it the nod, but that rises to 20 per cent with Gen Xers, and a staggering 43 per cent of Millennials. If the trend continues, the children of the latter group will eat little else.
This growing popularity isn’t limited to Canada. A restaurant specializing in comfort food recently opened here in Ann Arbor, where ProQuest’s headquarters are located. But we’re an only hour away from the Canadian border, which made us wonder about the rest of the U.S. Has poutine also made its way to states like Florida or Utah? Has it won the approval of America’s “good things” maven, Martha Stewart?
We decided to find out.
But first, a poutine primer
In 2008, Ingrid Peritz of The Globe and Mail wrote “Mixing fries and gravy together under a heap of cheese curds in Quebec is known as the recipe for poutine. It also turns out to be the recipe for a good old-fashioned dispute.”
Two neighboring Quebec cities claim to have been home to the masterminds behind the dish.
In the town of Drummondsville, the origin of poutine went like this: sometime in the 1960s, a customer at the Le Roy Jucep asked for cheese curds atop an order of French fries smothered in gravy. The restaurant’s proprietor, Jean-Paul Roy, satisfied the guest’s unusual request, and the rest is history.
Not so, they say in Warwick, where legend has it in 1957 a customer asked restauranteur Ferdinand LaChance for cheese curds served on his French fries. Lachance tossed the ingredients into a wax paper bag with some salt and vinegar and said, “Maudite poutine!” – or, “Damn mess!”
“It’s an old rivalry, like the one between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens,” Charles-Alexandre Théorét, author of the book Maudite Poutine! told the newspaper.
“Just a lot messier,” Peritz added.
Poutine in the U.S. and beyond
Théorét mentioned hockey, which for a long time has arguably been one of American’s favorite Canadian imports. But in the last few decades, it’s gotten some serious competition from the likes of country-pop sweetheart Shania Twain and, of course, poutine.
Just before her appearance at the Country Music Awards in November 2005, Twain stopped by the set of Martha Stewart’s lifestyle show to introduce the host and American audiences to the joy of poutine. Ontario’s Sudbury Star reported that Stewart referred to the dish as “junk food.” Twain replied. “Oh, that’s heartbreaking,” and insisted poutine is “Canadian comfort food.”
Twain’s version was concocted with her own white wine and mushroom gravy recipe, which might be snubbed by poutine purists. However, it seems part of why poutine has been so quick to catch on in the U.S. – the dish is very adaptable. And for some aficionados, trying different variations is part of the fun.
The summer of 2015, Polly Campbell, writing for the Cincinnati Enquirer, set out to discover the city’s best poutine. Several of the versions she tried were meaty, made with pork belly, braised short rib or chopped up brisket, and one featured lamb braised in root beer and dried cherries.
Many places also included a poached egg on top “for a little more richness.”
Poutine served with a meaty tomato sauce is available in Dania Beach, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and in Utah, the Salt Lake City Weekly reported you can get Philly poutine and poutine sliders, plus the All-American: tater tots coated in sausage gravy and topped with a fried egg.
The passion for poutine isn’t exclusive to North America, either. Last spring, the Toronto Star featured a story about a German tourist in Canada who was so enamored of the dish that when he returned home, he opened the Poutine Kitchen in Berlin.
Suggested resources on Canadian cooking and food history
Iacovetta, F., Korinek, V. J., & Epp, M. (2012). Edible histories, cultural politics : towards a canadian food history. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Cooke, N. (2009). What's to eat? : entrées in canadian food history. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Cooke, N., & Lucas, F. (Eds.). (2017). Catharine parr traill’s the female emigrant’s guide : cooking with a canadian classic. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Elliott, C. (Ed.). (2016). How canadians communicate vi : food promotion, consumption, and controversy. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Macdonald, K., & Montgomery, L. (2017). The anne of green gables cookbook : charming recipes from anne and her friends in avonlea. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Alexander Street Food Studies Online
This first-of-its-kind database brings together rare and hard-to-find archival content with visual ephemera, text, and video. Food studies is a relatively new field of study, and its importance is felt in many major disciplines. It has social, historical, economic, cultural, religious, and political implications that reach far beyond what is consumed at the dinner table.
Campbell, P. (2015, Sep 25). The poutine variations. Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1716299487
David, J. (2014, Mar 06). That's gravy. Salt Lake City Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1561140722
Shania twain introduces martha stewart to poutine. (2005, Nov 19). Sudbury Star. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/349160808
Tanasychuk, J. (2015, Apr 03). Try your curds a whole new way french-canadian favorite poutine can be enjoyed in a number of south florida spots. South Florida Sun - Sentinel. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1669589956
Chua, J. (2017, Mar 01). On a quest to bring real poutine to berlin. Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1872763687
Richler, Jacob. "What a Delicious Mess." Maclean's, Jul 03, 2017, Business Premium Collection; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Central Essentials; ProQuest Central K-12; Research Library Prep, https://www.proquest.com/docview/1917398315
White, M. (2007, Nov 12). Poutine's turning 50 - time for some respect, please; book traces our love-hate affair with dish. The Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/docview/434569547