Poutine: Canadian Comfort Food
Should we call it post-modern comfort food or an unofficial Canadian national dish? Poutine is well-known worldwide, even though there are only a few places in the world that serves it properly. The one and only thing I had a daily, mad craving for while being overseas was a good ol’ classic Montreal poutine—thick-cut, crispy fries, smothered in hot, gooey gravy and squeaky, stretchy, melted cheese curds. This is a dish that has to be served and eaten hot, and it literally warms you up from the insides to the tips of your fingers on cold Canadian days. And something about the deep, smoky, buttery smell of gravy bubbling on top of fresh cheese curds and hot fries turns any blustering day into something easier to conquer.
The name poutine is French in origin and just means fries with cheese and gravy. But since poutine has been introduced around the world, the dish means so much more than just those three simple ingredients. At Smoke’s Poutinerie in Toronto for example, their poutine varieties range from Curry chicken to Pulled pork. I tried the bacon poutine which nearly changed my life. Even drenched in all that signature gravy, the fries at Smoke’s Poutinerie manage to stay crispy as opposed to collapsing under the gravy. And even with supposedly suicidal sodium content in every single ingredient, Smoke’s bacon poutine didn’t taste overly salty at all, and I was barely thirsty afterward. I am also in love with the little brown cardboard boxes that the poutines are served in, the little boxes also close up like Chinese take-out containers, just in case you want to save a little bit of your poutine for later. Another cool Toronto joint for poutine is Poutini’s House of Poutine on Queen St. West. They offer vegan options as well as a regular menu for gluten and dairy lovers such as myself. I went all out at Poutini’s and ordered ‘The Works,’ but asked for the bacon and chives on the side. The poutine is served in styroform cups with the Poutini’s name and address stamped on the side which I thought was an economical and hip way to advertise. The shape and texture of the fries at Poutini’s is remarkable, the fries are hand-cut and maintain their shape under a tonne of toppings such as the sour cream, bacon, gravy, cheese and chives featured in ‘The Works’ poutine that I ordered.
A couple of excellent poutine joints in Vancouver include Belgian Fries, their menu also offers a wide variety of different poutines from Italian to Chicken Steak to Tunisian poutine. In addition, Belgian Fries makes an amazing selection of mayonnaise for dipping, my favourite is the classic garlic mayo, but other varieties include teriyaki and smoked eggplant. The fries here are also double fried which increases their crispiness and also surprisingly decreases their greasiness. So you actually use less napkins while eating fries at Belgian Fries.
Chill Winston’s in Vancouver’s Gastown also serves a mean poutine with Jack cheese and Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. The result is an incredibly smoky and well-flavoured poutine. The Jack cheese gives the poutine an extra kick, and takes the rather low-brow dish to another level, diversifying flavour profiles and giving the poutine the bad-ass edge that it (and all things Canadian) deserves.