Poutine (Quebec French pronunciation ) is a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy and sometimes additional ingredients. 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, yet not exclusively among Québécois and Maritime Acadian Canadians.
Poutine is a fast food staple in Canada; it is sold by many fast food chains (such as New York Fries, Harvey's, Ed's Subs, and Deluxe French Fries ) in most 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 like McDonald's, A&W, KFC and Burger King also sell mass-produced poutine across Canada, especially in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Popular Quebec restaurants that serve poutine include Chez Ashton (Quebec City), La Banquise (Montreal), Lafleur Restaurants, Franx Supreme ,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. It is to be noted that many poutines can be very high in cholesterol and trans-fat, especially in restaurants that use frying oils over and over again.
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), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville. One often-cited tale is that of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that poutine was invented in 1957, 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.
There are many variations of poutine. A common variation, Italian poutine, substitutes the gravy with spaghetti sauce (a thick tomato and ground beef sauce, roughly analogous to Bolognese sauce), while another variation includes sausage slices. Greek poutine consists of shoestring fries topped with a warm Mediterranean vinaigrette, gravy and feta cheese. Newfoundland poutine consists of fries, dressing (similar to stuffing, but not moist) and gravy. The "Elgin Street Diner", located in Ottawa, Canada, lists several different types of poutine including ingredients such as steak and onions, bacon and mushrooms, and offers onion rings in place of fries.
Some restaurants in Montreal offer poutine with such additions as bacon, or Montreal-style smoked meat, although these are not as common. Poutine Dulton, which is offered in a few places, is made with ground beef, onions, and sausages. Some such restaurants even boast a dozen or more variations of poutine. For instance, more upscale poutine with three-pepper sauce, Merguez sausage, foie gras or even caviar and truffle can be found.
Some named variations may not necessarily be prepared with the same ingredients in different establishments. For example, a variation called "poutine Galvaude" adds shredded turkey (or chicken) and green peas, similar to the typical Québécois "hot chicken" sandwich.
Some variations even eliminate the cheese altogether, but most French-speaking Québécois would call such a dish a "frites sauce" ("french fries with sauce") instead of poutine. In some regions like Shawinigan you can find Patate-sauce-choux where the cheese is replaced by shredded raw cabbage.
When ordering a fast food combination meal in Canada, you can very often pay extra to get your french fries "poutinized" by adding cheese curds (or shredded cheese) and gravy.
In addition to Canada, poutine can also be found in many border regions of the United States, for example in northern New England. It is a popular item among small, privately-owned restaurants. In the state of Maine and in Canada's northwestern part of the province of New Brunswick, poutine is frequently referred to as "mixed fries", "mix fry", or simply "mix", although the term "poutine" has been gaining in popularity in recent years, especially in Aroostook County. Residents sometimes pronounce the word "poo-tine", but most pronounce it "poot-tsien".
These regions offer further variations of the basic dish. Cheeses other than fresh curds are commonly used (most commonly mozzarella cheese), along with beef, brown or turkey gravy. In the county culture especially, a mixed fry can also come with cooked ground beef on top and is referred to as a hamburger mix, though this is less popular than a regular mix.
"Chips, cheese and gravy", a variation, is often served as a hang-over food or drunken snack in various places around Australia.
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.
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 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 and select New York City diners, are made with brown gravy, mozzarella, and heavier steak fries. The term Disco Fries was the brainchild of a waiter at a small cafe in Rockville Centre, NY. Elsewhere in the greater New York City area and Long Island, diners serve "cheese fries", using either American (processed) cheese or mozzarella.