We figured that Quebec’s food scene would be strongly rooted in the fine culinary traditions of France. And to a point, it is. You can certainly find French-style bistros and boulangeries in Montreal, as well as market stalls offering a selection of pates and cheeses. But the dish for which Quebec is most known definitely does not hail from France. No, this is a New World invention, through-and-through. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet poutine.
In case you aren’t familiar with Quebec’s contribution to world cuisine, allow us to describe the classic poutine: a pile of French fries, topped with cheese curds, and covered in thick gravy. This is the basic version, although there are countless variations on the theme, including Italian (with bolognesa sauce), Chinese (with black bean sauce and tofu), and Pizza Poutine (with mozzarella). We’ve had Japanese-style poutine, smoked meat poutine, and sweet potato poutine. “Potatoes, sauce and cheese” is a base which lends itself well to improvisation.
I suppose there’s an argument to be made that poutine is at least partially derived from French cooking. I mean, it uses French fries. And thick gravy is a common feature of French cuisine. And many of Montreal’s poutines use a red-wine based gravy… ooh-la-la! And, yes, the topping might be cheese curds, but still: cheese. Cheese equals French.
Jürgen and I have eaten in roughly 0.04% of the restaurants which serve poutine in Montreal, totally qualifying us to judge which is the best. The top poutine we had was at a restaurant called Poutineville, on Rue Ontario close to the Parc La Fontaine. That name sounds like a joke, but this really was excellent poutine, with the richest gravy, and crispiest chunks of potato. I ordered a Greek Poutine, with feta cheese and gyro meat, and it was incredible.
But we’re not exactly experts; we ordered poutine maybe half-a-dozen times. This simply isn’t a plate you’ll want to consume daily, unless you’re a serious slob. There’s nothing healthy about poutine, and usually, after finishing a serving, I feel bloated and gross for the rest of the day. But once in awhile, a big, slopping plate of gravy-drenched, cheese-topped potatoes sounds too good to pass up.