Have you ever heard about Poutine?
This last weekend, I enjoyed some time with my fellow Italian and Spanish friends (and a couple of English ones too).
It is an obsession of mine to talk about time and is quite common that my friends and I start talking about how long we have been living in the UK. I am close to almost 6 years. That feels like a lifetime!
But I have not only lived in the UK; I have lived in Spain and also in Canada.
What are the memories I have of the places I have lived? Of course, food is the biggest trigger.
While I was in Canada, it was very common for me to go looking for Poutine after a night out with friends.
French and English influence on Canadian culinary traditions
To explain what is Poutine, I have to let you enjoy a little bit of suspense while I step back and create a bit more of a context.
Canada, a magnificent country with an extreme width of 9,306 km. It is characterised by diversified regions and a mosaic of different cultures, which makes food consumption behaviour very broad and where the culinary influences are many (from indigenous populations to french and English influences).
In 1608 the French established the first colony in Quebec City. At the same time, the indigenous population (First Nations) were already living on the land, and they knew it very well; they had their culture and their own culinary traditions. The relationship between First Nations and the French was pivotal for the survival of the European populations in the new country. The history of Canadian food derives from this cultural mix.
French Haute Cuisine
In that period (the 1600s), haute cuisine emerged in France. Culinary changes pushed the use of specific glassware. Before that period, people thought vegetables were ‘too rustic.’ In the 1600s, people started to consume vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach with their beef stews.
In 1763, the English joined the French (I will not go into the history of colonisation), and this new wave of immigration further contributed to the mixing of culinary traditions. Sea-pies and meat pies gained popularity in Canada, as well as new ingredients. Grilled flour replaced grilled bread as a thickener for sauces. If we were eating in Canada in the 1700s and 1800s, we would be served things like stews, pancakes, and pots of baked beans, most of them originating from the French and the English cohabitation.
French cuisine had a powerful and prevalent influence on Canadian dishes, and most of them survived through the centuries. This is where the idea of Poutine comes from: a simple dish made with French fries and cheddar cheese, sometimes joined by gravy.
Poutine (or is it ‘The’ Poutine?) is a relatively young dish if you want to call it so. This dish belongs to the Quebec area, the place it was consumed for the first time, around the 1950s. Who is the creator of the Poutine? There are two cities that compete for this: Drummondville and Warwick; both of them served Poutine differently.
Warwick served this dish with a traditional paper bag mixed with cheese curds warmed by the hot fries; gravy was served separately at the beginning. Later the gravy was simply poured on the whole dish.
In Drummondville, small restaurants served fries with gravy on the side. They were not using paper bag yet. That cam later on, when customers added cheese as well.
Nowadays we can eat various versions of Poutine. If you go to Canada in February, you can also attend the yearly showcase called: Poutine week . It is a competition between US and Canadian restaurants where poutine-lovers get to vote their favourite version. If you are a traveller, you might have spotted this dish in France, Belgium but also Japan.
If you want to read more about canadian foods, cheeses and maple syrup products, see some reading suggestions below:
Duncan D. (2006). Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship and Folklore: A culinary story of Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn
Rioux, Laurie-Eve, Perreault, Véronique, Turgeon, Sylvie L. Textural characteristics of world’s foods. Chapter 4. Textural Characteristics of Canadian Foods pp. 37-51. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119430902.ch4