Tuesday, January 19, 2016

“Poutine is one of Canada’s Blessings!”

Ayman with his poutine treasure, UofT
That’s what Ayman, a PhD grad student in metallurgy at the University of Toronto (UofT) shared with me as we huddled in the chilling cold at one of the many roadside food wagons along St. George Street. Clutching his prize—a large container of steaming poutine—Ayman confided that he had first discovered poutine about 6 years ago when he came to Canada from his homeland of Egypt to study engineering at UofT.

I was on campus, located in downtown Toronto, visiting my writing friend Nina Munteanu, who also teaches at UofT. “Come visit me and we’ll have lunch!” she’d blithely said to me and then proceeded to get caught up in meetings with students as I scampered around campus in the chilling minus 20 degree cold. That’s when I spotted one of the many food wagons that line St. George Street with steaming aromatic foods of exotic nature—from BBC pork and vegetable on rice to Halal to hot dogs and … well … poutine…

Poutine—made with French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy—originated in Quebec. It’s sold across Canada in small “greasy spoon” type diners (casse-croûtes in Quebec), pubs, and roadside chip wagons (cabanes à patates) and is popular in hockey arenas. The dish supposedly originated in the rural Eastern townships of Quebec in the 1950s—where and when I was born. Which may explain my affinity for it.
Poutine classique of la Banquise, Montreal

The most widespread story is that poutine originates from a restaurant formerly called Le Lutin qui rit in Warwick, in the Arthabaska region. In 1957, a trucker named Eddy Lainesse asked the owner Fernand Lachance to mix some cheese curds in with his fries. A Drummondville restaurant called Le Roy Jucep registered a trademark stating that it is the inventor of poutine. Jean-Paul Roy, owner of this restaurant in 1964, is the first one to have served poutine as we know it today, i.e. "French fries, cheese and gravy." Poutine could also come from the region of Nicolet, in Centre-du-Québec or from Saint-Hyacinthe in Montérégie. The high number of cheese dairies producing cheddar cheese curds in these two regions could explain the phenomenon.

Poutine Parisienne
Outside of Canada, poutine is still considered exotic, where it has appeared on menus in Europe and Asia. In Paris, where I’m originally from, poutine is served in two Canadian pubs, the “Moose Head” and “The Great Canadian”. In New York and New Jersey it’s served as a late-night side dish at clubs and called disco fries. 

The Dictionnaire historique cites the Provençal forms poutingo "bad stew" and poutité "hodgepodge" or "crushed fruit or foods"; poutringo "mixture of various things" in Languedocien; and poutringue, potringa "bad stew" in Franche-Comté as possibly related to poutine. According to Merriam-Webster, a popular etymology is that poutine is from a Quebecois slang word meaning "mess”.

Poutine contains a lot of calories and cholesterol. So, it's not exactly healthy. For instance, an average male would have to jog 2.5 hours to burn off the 1,500 calories in the country-style poutine (bacon, chicken, gravy, fries, onions and mushrooms) available at Smoke's Poutinerie. It's salty. It has fat. It's "junk" food. Having said that, it is made up of potatoes and fresh cheese.

Ultimately, it comes down to moderation.

When you’re briskly scampering from one end of campus to the other on a winter day as the wind chill blows the temperature to 30 below zero and chafes your little furry cheeks bright red, a steaming dish of poutine looks and tastes like ambrosia! And, as Ayman said, a blessing!

En vous souhaitant le meilleur cette saison! Je suis Toulouse, le COOL Chat voyage!