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The Culture and Tradition of Canadian Poutine

Updated on March 15, 2016
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Poutine - a delicious mess made from French fries, cheese curds and gravy
Poutine - a delicious mess made from French fries, cheese curds and gravy | Source

Poutine is a tasty meal made of French fries covered with fresh cheese curds and a thick, brown gravy. It originated in the province of Quebec but has become a popular food throughout Canada.

For some people poutine is the ultimate comfort food. A serving of poutine looks like a big mess, but it tastes delicious. It's traditionally associated with diners, fast food restaurants, pubs, sports stadiums and food vendor trucks. It's not generally thought of as a component of fine dining. There have been some efforts to change this image, though.

Poutine first appeared in Quebec in the 1950s. The identity of the person who created it and the derivation of its name are both controversial. Although many people outside of Quebec pronounce poutine as "poo-teen", the correct pronunciation - at least in Quebec - is "poo-tin".

Poutine's popularity is growing. McDonald's Canada is now selling it across the country instead of just in Quebec. Other restaurants outside of Quebec are also adding poutine to their menu. The meal is a very enjoyable part of a special event or a meeting with friends.

Poutine that I bought in Vancouver at the PNE, or Pacific National Exhibition
Poutine that I bought in Vancouver at the PNE, or Pacific National Exhibition | Source

Making Poutine

Making authentic poutine is not simply a matter of getting some French fries (or chips), adding some cheese and then pouring gravy on top. There are certain requirements for each of the three components in the meal.

  • The French fries should be moderately thick. They should also be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
  • The cheese must be in the form of curds and should be fresh. The curds must soften when covered by hot gravy without completely melting.
  • The gravy must be brown, rich and flavourful. It must also have the right consistency. It mustn't be watery, but it must be thin enough to travel through the gaps between the French fries.
  • The cheese curds and hot gravy must be added just before the poutine is served.

In some places, canned or dehydrated poutine gravy or sauce can be bought in stores. Since I've never tried these I don't know how good they are, but some people say they like them. They could be useful for someone making poutine at home.

Poutine Recipe With Baked Fries

What are Cheese Curds?

Cheese curds are lumps of coagulated milk protein that form when an acid or rennet is added to milk. The liquid left when the curds have separated is called whey. Curd formation is the first stage in making cheese. Unlike the final product, however, curds aren't aged and have a mild taste.

Fresh cheese curds have a rubbery or springy texture. Very fresh curds produce a squeaking sound every time they're bitten. Cheese curds are sometimes given the alternate name of squeaky cheese due to this interesting effect. The elasticity of the protein fibres in the curd is thought to be responsible for the squeak.

Cheese curds are sold in both an uncoloured and a coloured form. Uncoloured curds are popular in Quebec. This popularity probably contributed to the creation of poutine in that province.

If it's impossible to get cheese curds for making poutine at home, chunks of mozzarella cheese can be used as a substitute. The recipe will no longer be authentic, though. Adding a cheese that melts and forms a stringy mass is also not authentic, although it may be delicious!

Poutine with lots of cheese curds
Poutine with lots of cheese curds | Source

Canada - A Poutine Nation

Recipe Variations

Poutine has spread to parts of the United States and Britain. Variations in the recipe have appeared, although the name "poutine" has been retained. This is very annoying for some food purists. To them, a dish isn't poutine unless it contains the traditional ingredients.

A version of poutine known as New Jersey Poutine or Disco Fries is sold in New Jersey and New York City. The dish is made with steak fries covered with melted mozzarella cheese and gravy. Some of the other variations that have appeared are shown below. A creative cook can probably come up with many more.

  • Unpeeled potatoes are used to make the French fries.
  • Sweet potato fries are used instead of potato fries.
  • Different types of cheese are placed on top of the fries.
  • Bolognese sauce or another sauce is used instead of gravy.
  • Meats such as bacon, sausage, chicken, turkey, hamburger or lobster are added as a topping.
  • Chopped onion is mixed with the meats.
  • Peas or other vegetables are added.
  • Bacon and maple syrup are used as a topping.
  • A variety of herbs are sprinkled on the poutine.

Montreal Poutine Week

Poutine was created in the Canadian province of Quebec.
Poutine was created in the Canadian province of Quebec. | Source

History of Poutine

Although it's generally agreed that poutine originated in Quebec in the late 1950s, the details are up for debate. Even the origin of the name is uncertain.

The most popular story about the origin of poutine relates to a man named Ferdinand Lachance, who ran a restaurant. Eddy Lanaisse was a regular visitor to the restaurant. One day in about 1957 Lanaisse asked Lachance to put cheese curds on his order of French fries. Lachance reportedly said "Ça va faire une maudite poutine", which means "That's going to make a damn mess".

Another story relates to a restaurant called Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, Quebec, which still exists today. The restaurant's website advertises its establishment as "l'inventeur de la poutine". The story says that in about 1964 Jean-Paul Roy saw some of his customers putting cheese curds on their French fries and gravy. This gave him the idea of creating the mixture himself and offering it for sale.

Poutine - Ethnic Food Challenge

A Major League Eating Contest

Yes, there is such a thing as a major league eating contest! The idea is to eat as much of a particular food as possible within the shortest amount of time. The contests can be stomach churning to watch and are often regarded as a public display of gluttony. They are popular, though.

The fifth annual World Poutine Eating Championship was held in Toronto on October 4th, 2014. To our national shame, an American won the contest. Matt Stonie from San Jose won by devouring 14.75 pounds of poutine in ten minutes. He doesn't hold the poutine-eating world record, however. Joey Chestnut, also an American, claimed the record in 2013 by eating an amazing 24 pounds of poutine in ten minutes.

The sight of people trying to eat lots of gooey poutine as fast as possible doesn't sound very attractive to me. Neither does its effects on the eaters. Still, the contest had at least one important benefit. Proceeds from the event and charitable donations were given to Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless youth.

They came, they gorged, they regurgitated....all for a good cause.

Toronto Star

French fries or chips - a basic ingredient of poutine
French fries or chips - a basic ingredient of poutine | Source

The Jean Poutine Prank

A New York Times article about Rick Mercer's Jean Poutine prank

Jean Poutine

Jean Chrétien was prime minister of Canada from 1993 to 2003. Rick Mercer is a Canadian comedian and political satirist. In 2000 Mercer was the star of a TV series called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". The series contained regular segments in which Mercer interviewed Americans to see how much they knew - or more often didn't know - about Canadian politics.

In one of his shows Mercer posed as a reporter and approached some American politicians. He asked a question in which he referred to Prime Minister Jean Poutine. One of the politicians was a presidential candidate who soon became the president. He responded pleasantly to Mercer but didn't realize that there was an error in the prime minister's name. The incident made news headlines in both Canada and the United States.

Poutine!
Poutine! | Source

Healthy Poutine?

If someone was really determined, they could make a healthy dish that vaguely resembled poutine (fries baked with no oil, non-fat cheese, a gravy or sauce containing no salt). This might be good for a regular meal. Authentic poutine has a lot of taste and enjoyment to offer, however, especially for a social or special event. The interesting and traditional "mess" is great fun to eat!

© 2014 Linda Crampton

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

      Poutine is one of my all time favorite foods. I didn't know the history though until I read your article. Love it. You really outdid yourself on this article.

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 2 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      Being Canadian myself, I love my poutine!!

    • W1totalk profile image

      W1totalk 2 years ago

      Poutine is something I have always wanted to try. There was a rumor some could be found at KFC and A and W restaurants. I am in Pennsylvania and truly don't know where to get the delicious food, and description of it, is fantastic.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the kind comment, Lady Lorelei! I love poutine, too.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      It's great to hear from another Canadian who enjoys poutine, klidstone1970!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I wish I could help you find it, W1totalk. Thank you very much for the comment.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Definitely not my cup of tea, nor my gallbladder's either.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 2 years ago from Texas USA

      I'm game. This looks like a delicious diversion for the palate. I'm partial to brown gravy so that should be easy. Would feta do for the cheese? I'm not a fan of cottage cheese. Great hub.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Perspycacious. I can understand why poutine isn't right for everyone. It certainly can't be classified as a health food! I like it for special occasions, though. Thank you for the visit.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Arachnea. Yes, I've read that some people like using feta cheese in poutine. I've never tried it, but it sounds like it should be good. Thanks for the comment!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Sounds delicious to me Alicia. I love French fries and gravy, so the addition 0f the cheese curd should just be an interesting extra. Never heard of poutine before however. Thanks for informing me of this Canadian delicacy.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Jodah. Thanks for the visit and the comment. If you like French fries and gravy, you'd probably like poutine!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Amazing! I live 100 miles from Canada and I've never heard of this. What a small world most of us live in. Thanks for the recipe. This is something I would eat.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. Thanks for the visit. It's interesting how poutine has spread. It seems to me that not long ago it wasn't very common where I live, and now it is!

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      It looks very delicious and appealing to my senses. It resembles one of our preparations- wheat flour or maida fries prepared in thick jaggery or sugar jam. They look same like those in the above first image.

      Thanks for sharing your variety.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The meal that you have described sounds very interesting, Venkatachari M. It reminds me of the mixture of maple syrup and poutine - sweet and savoury flavours combined. Thanks for sharing the information.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A great presentation from you and all that looks so delicious.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Devika.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I'm a firm believer that most any dish can be made healthier. (Except maybe fried Snickers bars. LOL Your dish looks good!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I agree - just about any dish can be made healthier, including poutine. Your fried Snickers bar is definitely an exception to this rule, though! Thanks for the comment, Rebecca.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      I never heard of poutine before, but it looks and sounds yummy! I don't think it will be found on any menus where I live, but I'm going to keep my eyes open for it when we travel north!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I hope you are able to find poutine and that you enjoy it, Stephanie! Thanks for the comment.

    • caseymel profile image

      caseymel 2 years ago from Indiana

      My husband is from Ottawa and he told me about it, but I have never tried it. It looks tasty!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, caseymel. I think poutine is tasty, and many people agree! I hope you get to try it one day.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

      Great hub Alicia. while I've been away from HubPages I have been experimenting with cooking a few different dishes so this is definitely one for me now.

      Voting up and sharing .

      Eddy.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Eddy! It's great to hear from you again. Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Poutine is an interesting twist on French fries. I can easily see how this could be the ultimate comfort food. I agree with you in that this “traditional "mess" is great fun to eat!” It looks delicious!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Genna. Thank you for the comment. Yes, many people think that poutine is delicious. It's an interesting mixture!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      This is much too tempting a recipe for me but I know it is one I would enjoy. A friend of mine would bring my cheese curds from Wisconsin and they were so good. This would be great on game night!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dianna. A social event like game night would be a great time to eat poutine! I love the thought of Wisconsin cheese curds. Thank you for the comment.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      I never knew that such a dish existed, this must be really delicious. I think I would love the original Poutine and not the healthy one. Great hub.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Vellur. I think that I would prefer the original poutine, too!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 2 years ago from Georgia

      Hmmmm. Or should I say "Yummmm?" What great dish you shared. I'm anxious to try it. Teaches12345 mentioned poutine as a great idea for football and I agree. I can practically taste it. Great as a conversation starter, too.

      Really good and informative article about a dish we Americans don't seem to know. Your hub may spread the word. Voted up and sharing on social media.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share, Cyndi10! I appreciate them all. I hope you get to try poutine some time.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I have never heard of this! I've moved around within the US a lot, and it's funny how every region or locality seems to have their specialty which others would look upon in bizarre puzzlement, disdain, or disinterest. I am fascinated with some of the regional specialties I've tasted and seen as well as the different names for the same items. I thoroughly enjoyed this hub! You can't always go for "healthy" when it comes to local eating. Sometimes "happy" is as good as it gets!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Flourish. I think that trying local cuisine is interesting. It's often fun, too. I love your last sentence - it's so true! Thanks for commenting.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Yum! I've never heard of this dish but it holds all the right ingredients to make it taste great. Gravy is among my favorite in the brown food group and French Fries? Good with anything. Sounds like a wonderful comfort dish that I could turn into a meal. I wish Micky Dee's would serve it here in the US.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Peg. Yes, poutine is a lovely comfort food. I agree with you - French fries are good with everything! Thank you very much for commenting.

    • profile image

      cocktailsexaminer 2 years ago

      Awesome, I love poutine! Glad it crossed the border into MN!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment, cocktailsexaminer. It's interesting to hear that poutine has reached Minnesota!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hi AliciaC, I feel a little abashed that I do all these "health food" hubs and then sneak into the poutine writer's hub and say how much I have enjoyed poutine in the past. It truly is the epitome of comfort food, especially on a cool winter's night with friends. Thanks, and you have done a real hubber's hub of this, as well! Good work! ~Cynthia

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Don't worry, Cynthia - I like to write about health, too, but treats like poutine are nice to eat occasionally! Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 2 years ago

      I never heard of poutine, but what could be bad tasting about potatoes, cheese, and gravy. In New York we eat chili cheese fries, all the ingredients are listed in the name of the food. Your hub was fascinating and informative. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, I enjoyed reading this very much.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, toknowinfo. I appreciate your comment. I agree with you - I like any combination of potatoes, cheese and gravy! Chile cheese fries sounds like a delicious meal.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This sounds fabulous. All I ever got from southern Maine in the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach area was French fries and gravy. I want my money back AND some poutine.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the amusing comment, Deb! I hope you get to try poutine some day.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

      I had Canadian roommates who talked about poutine, but I´ve never tried it. It sounds very filling, with all those full-fat ingredients! But if you´re going to eat it once in a while, I think it would be best to go with the authentic version with rich gravy and cheese curds. The history of poutine was also interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, vespawoolf. I agree. I try to eat healthy foods most of the time, but when I eat a treat I want the authentic version! Thanks for the comment.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I've heard of poutine, in a novel, I think, people were eating it. And it does look disgusting but I can easily imagine that it is awesome, especially on a cold winter day. After shoveling snow, you'd need those extra calories. I am a big fan of diner food so am sharing this one.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dolores. Yes, poutine does look unattractive, but it's very tasty! You're right - after clearing snow, poutine would be a wonderful treat. Thank you very much for the comment and the share.

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 2 years ago from United States

      I've never eaten a poutine yet but can make one. It really looks like a comfort food -- it may be ok to eat it by itself but I can also have a fried chicken along with it. Hehehe. Nice and interesting hub.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That sounds like an interesting combination, oldiesmusic! Thanks for the visit and the comment,

    • newbizmau profile image

      Guided Abundance 23 months ago from Mobile, AL

      That was very interesting. Sounds like something I would try. Never heard of it before today.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think that poutine is worth trying, newbizmau. It's definitely tasty!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 14 months ago from the short journey

      Though I couldn't quite bring myself to eat it at the time, you've made me smile over memories of being in Quebec with my family and meeting really wonderful people there from Montreal to Sept-Iles. If I ever go back I've promised myself to taste poutine, and I've promised myself to not let that promise keep me from going if I get the chance again. ;) I would only try the authentic version, but 24 pounds in 10 minutes? Sounds dangerous!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, RTalloni. Authentic poutine is the best kind to try (in moderate quantities)! If you do sample it one day, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

    • stayingalivemoma profile image

      Valerie Washington 8 months ago from Tempe, Arizona

      OMG... I am a meat an potatoes girl all my life...I am considering moving to Canada now so I can enjoy this "delish" dish till the end of days! Great hub, awesome information and history! Five stars!! You can never go wrong with potatoes and gravy......

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, stayingalivemoma. I think that potatoes and gravy are a great combination, too! The addition of cheese makes the mixture even tastier.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 months ago from North America

      Wonderful article! I found one restaurant in Central Ohio that serves poutine and am going there very soon to get some.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Patty. I hope the restaurant that you visit serves good poutine!

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