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Poutine What is it and where did it come from?

In Canada, French fries are the main component of a dish called 'poutine' french for "a mess": a mixture of French fries with fresh cheese curds (sometimes rasped cheese), covered with a hot gravy. This dish is invented in Pointe Gatineau, Quebec and its popularity has spread throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada. Not only now found at road-side chip stands but it is carried in national chains and select purveyors of fine fries.

Poutine is a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy and sometimes other additional ingredients. [1] The freshness of the curds is important as it makes them soft in the warm fries, without completely melting. It is a quintessential Canadian comfort food, especially but not exclusively among Québécois. Poutine is a fast food staple in Canada; it is sold by many fast food chains (such as New York Fries and Harvey's) in the provinces, in small diners and pubs, as well as by roadside "poutine trucks" and "fries stands," commonly known as "cantines" or "casse-croûtes" in Quebec. International chains also sell mass-produced poutine across Canada, especially in Quebec. Popular Quebec restaurants that serve poutine include Chez Ashton (Quebec City), La Banquise (Montreal), Lafleur Restaurants, La Belle Province, Le Petit Québec and Dic Ann's Hamburgers. Along with fries and pizza, poutine is a very common dish sold and eaten in high school cafeterias in various parts of Canada.


The dish originated in rural Quebec, Canada in the late 1950s and is now popular in many parts of the country. Several Québécois communities claim to be the birthplace of poutine, including Drummondville (by Jean-Paul Roy in 1964),[5] Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville.[citation needed] One often-cited tale is that of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that poutine was invented in 1957,[6] when a customer ordered fries while waiting for his cheese curds from the Kingsey cheese factory in Kingsey Falls (now in Warwick and owned by Saputo Incorporated). Lachance is said to have exclaimed ça va faire une maudite poutine ("it will make a damn mess"), hence the name. The sauce was allegedly added later, to keep the fries warm longer.


The word poutine has a bewildering variety of meanings in French, and is of uncertain provenance. The online version of the Dictionnaire historique du français québécois lists 15 different meanings of poutine in Quebec and Acadian French, including, among various culinary senses, "a dessert made from flour or bread crumbs," like pudding in English. The word pouding, borrowed from the English pudding, is in fact a synonym in this sense. The pejorative meaning "fat person (especially a woman)" of poutine is believed to derive from the English pudding "a person or thing resembling a pudding" or "stout thick-set person".

In many uses of poutine, a relation to the English word pudding is uncertain. One of these additional meanings is "unappetizing mixture of various foods, usually leftovers," the meaning from which the name of the dish with fries is derived. (This sense may also have given rise to the meaning "complicated business, complex organization; group of operations whose management is difficult or problematic.")

While the Dictionnaire historique (under sense 1 of poutine) mentions the possibility that poutine is simply a francization of the word pudding, it suggests (under sense 9) that the form poutine was more likely inherited from dialects spoken in France, but 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 poutitè "hodgepodge" or "crushed fruit or foods"; poutringo "mixture of various things" in Languedocien; and poutringue, potringa "bad stew" in Franche-Comté.

The Dictionnaire historique dates the word poutine in the meaning "fries with cheese and gravy" to 1978.

Poutine in politics

In a segment on the television series This Hour Has 22 Minutes during the 2000 American election, Rick Mercer convinced then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush that Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was named Jean Poutine and that he was supporting Bush's candidacy. A few years later when Bush made his first official visit to Canada, he joked during a speech, "There's a prominent citizen who endorsed me in the 2000 election, and I wanted a chance to finally thank him for that endorsement. I was hoping to meet Jean Poutine." The remark was met with laughter and applause.[11]

Related dishes

While at first glance the dish may seem similar to American 'disco fries', poutine with merely melted, shredded or sliced cheese is not regarded as "genuine" poutine, which is served with curd cheese.

In New Brunswick, there is an earlier traditional Acadian dish known as poutine râpée, which is completely different from the "poutine québécoise". The Acadian poutine is a ball of grated and mashed potato, salted, filled with chicken or pork in the centre, and boiled. The result is a moist greyish dumpling about the size of a baseball. It is commonly eaten with salt and pepper or brown sugar. It is believed to have originated from the German Klöße, prepared by early German settlers who lived among the Acadians. Many other dishes, similar or not, are known by the same name.

Acadians of western Nova Scotia feast on a similar dish which is called râpure, or rappie pie in English. Râpure is baked in a pan in a hot oven, and is often served with molasses.

Chips and Gravy is a staple of the cheaper bistro style menus, in such places as Royal Canadian Legion and Workers Clubs, where the food offered would not be considered "fast food" but is still cheap and filling, especially for children. (The word "chips," commonly referring in the United States to flat, crunchy slices of potato, is a synonym for 'french fries' elsewhere in the English-speaking world).

In the United Kingdom and on the Isle of Man, it is common to find "chips, cheese & gravy" for sale in a chip shop or "chippy". This usually consists of brown gravy and grated mild Cheddar cheese.

In Newfoundland and Labrador most non-national chain restaurants serve a traditional dish called CDG or chips, dressing and gravy. Dressing is a mixture of mainly white bread crumbs and savoury and is often referred to as stuffing outside of Newfoundland and Labrador. Chips, dressing and gravy is served much like poutine, except for the dressing substituting for the cheese. While loved by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the dish is not widely known of outside the province.

Disco fries, served in New Jersey diners, are made with brown gravy, mozzarella, and heavier steak fries. Elsewhere in the greater New York City area and Long Island, diners serve "cheese fries", using either American (processed) cheese or mozzarella