Poutine – Quebec’s ugly-delicious culinary gift to the world

fork Poutine – Quebec’s culinary gift to the world Kim Wright battleface.com
image: @spudsbros
Approx read: 4 mins

Cheese curds, French fries, gravy and politics.

How a simple dish from rural Quebec became as Canadian as maple syrup.

To the surprise of ambassadors, dignitaries and guests, an unpretentious Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds and rich brown gravy made its way onto plates at a state dinner hosted by US president Barack Obama for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in 2016.

This signalled a radical change of setting for poutine. Created by chance rather than design sometime in the mid-1950s, it was typically found in casse-croûtes (diners), roadside cafés and skating rink canteens across rural Quebec. Fast forward to its White House appearance, the social mobility of poutine from junk food to national treasure was complete after spending most of its existence as a meme that stigmatized Quebec culture.

A national symbol

Poutine has travelled a similar route to other national dishes that transformed from being mere food items to identifiers of identity and culture; think pizza and Italy or kimchi and Korea for example. Whereas regional preferences or social status once marginalised these dishes, they evolved to be representative of a whole nation, culture and society. So too, poutine.

how Poutine – Quebec’s culinary gift to the world Kim Wright battleface.com

Originally looked down on as working-class junk food, the Canadian experience with poutine now finds it on the menus of McDonald’s and Burger King and gracing expensive bistros dressed with foie gras, crispy seaweed, coated with a Penang curry sauce and other accompaniments that accessorise the three central elements of poutine.

Cultural metaphor

While the origins of its name – meaning ‘mess’ in English – could have contributed to the negative stereotype it previously had, poutine has evolved alongside Canadian culture as a dish that punches above its weight despite its unassuming character.

Perhaps this metaphor of an ‘unassuming character’ also represents the nation of Canada. Besides a love of hockey, Canada is known for equality, politeness, safety and peace; all positive traits that cement Canada’s reputation as a reliable and respectful partner. Poutine was born in Quebec, makes no attempt to imitate any other cuisine and is unpretentious in both ingredients and presentation. Oh, and hockey fans love poutine. Though uniquely Quebecois in origin, it’s still Canadian through and through.

Fries above politics

Poutine’s elevation to national dish was not without tension, however. The debate on Quebec’s sovereignty, rights to self-determination and protections for linguistic and cultural traditions have been political issues ever since it became a province of Canada in 1867. The derision and dismissal of poutine throughout the later part of the 20th century by Anglo-speaking Canada was typical of the relationship between provinces. British-influenced Canada clashed with Francophone Canada and nationalism in Quebec is a political point that is still in debate today. Yet, poutine – intrinsically Quebecois – has battled its way into Canadian psyche despite all the barriers in its way.

International appeal

My own introduction to poutine came from a street-food truck that my friend operates in Yorkshire, UK. Such is the appeal of Quebec’s export that it’s widely available across North America, Europe and Asia in a variety of settings from restaurants and food halls to mobile operators and pop-up outlets. As I discovered from my initial greedy bite, poutine’s appeal comes not from its aesthetics (which to be fair, can be quite uninspiring and true to its moniker of messy) but from a taste combination of three simple ingredients which come together like alchemy to present something unlike anything you may have had before.


From each mouthful of a classic poutine dish – I was told in no uncertain terms that I must carefully get the right proportion of potato, curd and gravy on my fork – the crispiness of fries along with the salty, squeaky cheese are melded by the hot gravy that merges and evolves flavours which made my poutine experience unusually memorable. Yes, it really is that good!

Just like the best world cuisines, poutine is perfect as a meal to share in company, which no doubt contributed to why it is so popular. From fork-wielding teenagers attacking poutine plates in casse- croûtes to more gentle swapping of portions in Toronto’s bistros, the poutine dish is egalitarian. Sharing contributes to the experience.

multi Poutine – Quebec’s culinary gift to the world Kim Wright battleface.com

Poutine’s journey from a simple comfort food to an emblem of national identity mirrors the evolving narrative of Canada – a nation that embraces its multicultural fabric while celebrating its distinct regional flavours.

As this dish continues to be reimagined in kitchens around the world, poutine remains a testament to the power of food in transcending cultural boundaries and uniting people under the universal language of taste. Whether enjoyed in a bustling city eatery or a cozy roadside diner, poutine, much like Canada, is a delightful blend of tradition and innovation, simplicity and sophistication, history and modernity.

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