Poutine: Quebec’s Culinary Contribution to the World PLUS Top 5 Poutines in Montreal
If you’ve ever been to Quebec during the winter, you know that temperatures can get downright freezing. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time in this winter wonderland, but things felt a little frigid, even for this Midwesterner. Luckily the Québécois – that is, folks from Quebec – have developed an ingenious way to deal with the cold: poutine. This warm, comforting combination of fries, gravy, and cheese curds is a tasty antidote to the bitterly cold weather. It’s also one of Quebec’s great culinary contributions to the world. Here’s how it all began.
Like many of the beloved regional/national dishes I have covered over the years, poutine’s origins are somewhat disputed. To be sure, we know it comes from Quebec, we just don’t know exactly where in Quebec. A relatively recent contribution to the culinary landscape, poutine first started showing up as a snack at bars around rural Quebec (aside from combating harsh winters, poutine also goes great with an ice-cold Labatt Blue) in the late 1950s.
According to one popular legend, the Cafe Ideal in Warwick, QC started serving gravy fries with a cheese curd topping at the request of a regular customer. When owner Fernand Lechance heard the request, he is reported to have exclaimed “Ça va te faire une maudite poutine!” (“That will make a damned mess!”), giving the dish its name. Even that name is a matter of dispute though, as some scholars contend that “poutine” is simply a corruption of “pudding.” What we do know is that by the 1960s, poutine was popping up at bars and cafes all over rural Quebec.
Like gravy slowly spreading over a plate of French fries, poutine’s influence steadily expanded. By the late 60s, it started showing up on menus in Quebec City (the province’s capital) and by the 80s, it had started showing up in Montreal. Once it hit cosmopolitan Montreal, poutine’s popularity quickly skyrocketed. In the late 1980s, a Quebec Burger King franchise added poutine to its menu, a move that proved so successful that McDonald’s franchises started following suit (where were the poutine Happy Meals when I was a kid? I would have totally ordered those). Word to the wise though: while many consider poutine to be Canada’s national dish: I found that this claim tends to ignite passions in Quebec, where the dish will always be purely Québécois.
Poutine Hits the States
Poutine found its way onto American menus in the 1990s. Like ratatouille, this humble, working-class dish suddenly became tres chic. In my experience, it’s largely been trendy gastropub fare of late, fancified with everything from short ribs to truffles. Not that I’m complaining: the poutine makeover has also led to some really tasty vegan poutines, which have helped me get through some pretty rough New York winters. Still, if you ever find yourself way up north, I highly recommend you get a sloppy, steaming plate of a Quebec classic.
Top 5 Poutines In Montreal
Poutine might be a rural dish, but to say Montreal has embraced it would be an understatement. I saw it just about everywhere I looked in this delicious city. Here are my top 5 recommendations:
Montreal Pool Room
If you were to ask me what spot best captures poutine’s working-class, dive bar origins, I would say without hesitation: “Montreal Pool Room.” This greasy spoon on St. Laurent Boulevard has been serving up hungry customers for over a hundred years. And if you’ve read my poutine history, you’ve probably deduced that they haven’t been serving poutine that whole time. But it sure feels like they have.
To me, this upscale snack bar does poutine exactly right: they stick to the classic, no-frills recipe, but they treat each ingredient with the respect it deserves. The French fries are cut in-house daily, the gravy is made from scratch, and the cheese curds are as fresh as they can be. Poutine doesn’t get much better, or more classic, than this.
Maybe classic poutine doesn’t do it for you: maybe you want to sink your teeth into the least conventional, most decked-out poutine you can find. If that’s the case, you should definitely head to La Banquise. This all-night spot near Plateau Mont-Royal is known for serving up some seriously imaginative poutines. Their menu features dozens of combinations, including *drum roll* a vegan poutine! This was one of the few poutines I could actually try in Montreal, and I’m so glad I did.
Ma Poulee Mouille
For another unconventional take on Quebec’s beloved dish, head to this Portuguese joint just down the street from La Banquise (but try to avoid hitting them up back-to-back: this dish is filling!). The poutine here comes topped with chicken and Portuguese sausage, as well as Sao Jorge cheese. This is a great Portuguese spin on a French-Canadian classic.
Decarie Hot Dog
I thought I would end this list with another traditional preparation. Decarie hot dog has been serving hot dogs and other fast food staples for over a century. More recently, they have become known for their gravy-drenched poutine. This is an extremely popular takeout spot and the poutine here makes a great to-go meal. Just be careful not to spill all that gravy!
It was hard to limit this list to just 5 choices, since there really are so many poutine options in Montreal. I would love to hear some of your favorites in the comments below. Au revoir!
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