Poutine is a dish originating from the Canadian province of Quebec consisting of French fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. The dish emerged in the late 1950s in the Centre-du-Québec area and has long been associated with the cuisine of Quebec. For many years it was negatively perceived and mocked, and even used as a means of stigmatization against Quebec society. However, since the mid-2000s poutine has been celebrated as a symbol of Québécois cultural pride, and its rise in prominence led to popularity outside the province, especially in central Canada and the northeast United States. Annual poutine celebrations occur in Montreal, Quebec City, and Drummondville, as well as Toronto, Ottawa, Chicago, and Manchester, New Hampshire. Today it is often identified as quintessential Canadian food and has been called "Canada's national dish", though some have commented that this labelling represents misappropriation of Québécois culture. Many variations on the original recipe are popular, leading some to suggest that poutine has emerged as a new dish classification in its own right, just like sandwiches, dumplings, soups, and flatbreads.
The dish originated in the Centre-du-Québec area in the late 1950s. Several restaurants from the area claim to be the inventor of the dish but no consensus exists. Poutine was originally consumed in small "greasy spoon" type diners (commonly known as cantines or casse-croûtes in Quebec) and pubs, as well as by roadside chip wagons (commonly known as cabanes à patates, literally "potato shacks") and in hockey arenas. Today, poutine is found in all types of restaurants.
The Dictionnaire historique du français québécois lists 15 different meanings of poutine in Quebec and Acadian French, most of which are for kinds of food; the word poutine in the meaning "fries with cheese and gravy" is dated to 1982. Other senses of the word have been in use since at least 1810.
While the exact provenance of the word "poutine" is uncertain, some attribute it to the English word pudding. Among its various culinary senses, that of "a dessert made from flour or bread crumbs" most clearly shows this influence; the word pouding, borrowed from the English pudding, is in fact a synonym in this sense. The pejorative meaning "fat person" of poutine is believed to derive from the English pudding "a person or thing resembling a pudding" or "stout, thick-set person".
The Dictionnaire historique mentions the possibility that the form poutine is simply a gallicization of the word pudding. However, it considers it more likely that it was inherited from regional languages spoken in France, and that some of its meanings resulted from the later influence of the similar-sounding English word pudding. It 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. The meaning "fries with cheese and gravy" of poutine is among those held as probably unrelated to pudding provided the latter view is correct.
According to Merriam-Webster, a popular etymology is that poutine is from a Québécois slang word meaning "mess".
In the basic recipe for poutine, French fries are covered with fresh cheese curds, and topped with brown gravy. In a traditional Quebec poutine:
- French fries: Usually of medium thickness, and fried such that the inside stays soft, while the outside is crispy.
- Cheese curds: Fresh cheese curds are used to give the desired texture. The curd size varies as does the amount used.
- Brown gravy: Traditionally a light and thin chicken, veal, or turkey gravy, somewhat salty and mildly spiced with a hint of pepper, or a sauce brune which is a combination of beef and chicken stock, a variant originating in Quebec. The gravy should be substantial, but still thin enough to easily filter down into the mass of fries and cheese curds. These sauces typically also contain vinegar or a sour flavouring to balance the richness of the cheese and fries.Traditional poutine sauces (mélange à sauce poutine) are sold in Quebec, Ontario, and Maritime grocery stores in jars or cans and in powdered mix packets; some grocery chains like Sobeys even offer their own house brand versions. Many places also offer vegetarian gravy as an option to cater to vegetarians.
Heavy beef- or pork-based brown gravies are rarely used. To maintain the texture of the fries, the cheese curd and gravy are added immediately prior to serving the dish. The hot gravy is usually poured over the room-temperature cheese curds, so that the cheese is warmed without completely melting. It is important to control the temperature, timing and the order in which the ingredients are added, so as to obtain the right food textures which is an essential part of the experience of eating poutine.
A cultural marker, poutine has long been Quebec's adored junk food before spreading out across the rest of Canada and the USA. It is said to be "the perfect thing after a night of drinking".
Poutine served as a comfort food for the local community after the Lac-Megantic derailment. Three varieties are offered at the Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot Center's Canada pavilion.
In May 2014, the word "poutine" was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary of the English language.
In 2007, the CBC declared the outcome of an online survey on the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. Poutine arrived at No. 10, beating, among other items, the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, and the paint roller.
Poutine has been a highlight of the London, UK, "Canada Day" celebrations in Trafalgar Square for several years.
However, poutine has since made inroads into proper culinary circles, challenging its junk food status. Thus in 2011, well-known chef Chuck Hughes won on Iron Chef America (episode 2 of season 9) by beating out his heavyweight competitor Bobby Flay with a plate of lobster poutine.
In 2013, Jones Soda Co., originally a Canadian company but now based in the USA, created a poutine-flavored limited-edition soft drink, which got international pop culture attention.
In 2014, bacon-poutine was one of four flavours selected as a finalist in the Lay's Canada 'Do Us A Flavour' potato chip contest, although it did not win that competition. However, Lay's has since added a bacon-poutine variety in its 'Canada' entry for the 'World Flavourites', and Loblaws' President's Choice and Ruffles brands offer poutine-flavored potato chips in Canada.
Smoke's Poutinerie sponsors a world poutine eating championship, and also a cross-Canada poutine eating tour.
Montreal hosts a competitive "La Poutine Week" every year in February. Members of the public can download an app in order to rate the poutines they have tried. Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, Calgary, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and others similarly hold their own weeks. Some United States cities such as Manchester, NH (NH PoutineFest), Chicago, IL, and Knoxville, TN, have festivals also.