Beyond the squeak - Poutine 101

Jason Lee

When traveling to a big international city like Montréal, there are certain things that you need to include on your list of things to do and see. This includes visiting historical landmarks like the Notre-Dame Basilica or Place Jacques-Cartier in the Old Port, taking in the tam-tams (drum jam) or getting a bird’s eye view of the city at the Belvedere lookout on Mount Royal. But most importantly, if you’re coming to Montréal, come hungry!

Wise visitors will immerse themselves in the local food scene and sample some of the unique dishes that Québec calls its own—like poutine! The national favourite originates from La Belle Province. But what exactly is poutine? It’s a dish made of French fries topped with fresh squeaky cheese curds and covered in brown gravy. But it’s also so much more than that.

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History

There’s no consensus on the history of poutine. However, three different accounts all point to the same region of Québec as the birthplace of our much-loved dish.

 

1) The first claim comes from Warwick, a small town northeast of Montréal, where the first-ever plate of poutine was supposedly served at Le Lutin Qui Rit in 1957. It would seem that a regular customer by the name of Eddy Lainesse ordered a bag of French Fries and asked for cheese curds to be thrown into the mix. Owner Fernand Lachance dutifully filled the order but exclaimed: “Ça va faire une maudite poutine!” (Translation: “It will make a damn mess!”) Lachance eventually added Eddy’s unusual request to the menu and enhanced it with gravy. A 1957 menu from Le Lutin Qui Rit lists poutine at a squeaky 35 cents.

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2) The second claim to fame as the origin of poutine comes from Drummondville, a city 45 minutes west of Warwick. Here, a restaurant called Le Roy Jucep began selling a dish called patate sauce (fries with sauce) in 1950. Patrons started adding their own cheese curds to it. As it became increasingly popular to cheesify the dish, the restaurant added the combination to the menu. Roy is recognized and certified by The Canadian Intellectual Property Council as the official inventor of poutine.

3) The third account is short on details, but the story goes that poutine originated at La P’tite Vache, a restaurant in Princeville, Québec. Cheese curds were sold on the counter—a practice that’s still commonplace today across the province—and local customers were known to mix them in with their fries. As a result, the restaurant eventually added the combination to their menu, topped it with gravy and called it the mixte.

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Now that you know where poutine comes from, you’ve got to try it. But where? From fine dining establishments to casual food counters, poutine finds itself on menus across the city.

A dish of golden French fries, cheese curds and gravy may seem unassuming, but leave it up to the city’s top culinary talent to elevate this unpretentious dish to a gastronomic delight. For instance, there’s celebrity chef Chuck Hughes of Le Garde-Manger. His lobster poutine is not only a coveted menu item at his hip and trendy Old Montréal eatery, but it was instrumental in defeating chef Bobby Flay when he competed on Iron Chef America.

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Meanwhile, chef Martin Picard’s over-the-top version features decadent foie gras. Freshly cut fries are fried in rendered duck fat and then combined with squeaky cheese curds, a generous portion of foie gras and luscious duck liver gravy. This creation is an incredibly popular choice at his restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon.

Building off the traditional recipe, places like La Banquise (open 24 hours) offer variations with toppings that go far beyond just cheese curds. Meanwhile, Poutineville has a “create your own” menu where you can devise your own signature poutine by selecting toppings from a list.

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Poutine isn’t something most people would consider eating first thing in the morning. And yet, consider Fabergé’s breakfast poutine with caramelized onions, bell peppers and bacon dressed with hollandaise sauce and topped with an over-easy egg. Or Burger Bar Crescent’s “hangover poutine” featuring wild mushrooms and truffle oil. These mouth-watering options may have you changing your mind on your way to brunch.

Regardless of where creativity may take the humble poutine, there’s no getting away from the classic. Here are some of the city’s best, from traditional, to outlandish, to vegan and vegetarian!

Chez Claudette – 351 Laurier Avenue East

Chez Tousignant – 6956 Drolet Street

Chez Ma Tante – 3180 Fleury Street East

Decarie Hot Dog – 953 Décarie Boulevard

Deville Dinerbar – 1425 Stanley Street

Dunn’s Famous Delicatessen – Multiple locations

Frite Alors – Multiple locations

La Belle Province – Multiple locations

La Belle et La Boeuf – Multiple locations

Lola Rosa Parc – 4581 Parc avenue

Maamm Bolduc – 4351 Lormier Street

Mâche – 1655 Saint Denis Street

Ma Poule Mouillée – 969 Rachel Street East

Mister Steer Restaurant – 1198 Saint Catherine Street West.

Montreal Pool Room – 1217 Saint-Laurent Boulevard

Montreal Poutine – 181 Saint Paul Street East

Orange Julep – 7700 Décarie Boulevard

Paulo et Suzanne – 5501 Gouin boulevard west.

Paul Patates – 760 Charlevoix Street

Patati Patata – 4177 Saint Laurent boulevard

Restaurant Greenspot – 3041 Notre-Dame Street West

Jason Lee

Jason Lee, blogger

Jason is a food eater and picture taker. As the blogger behind Shut Up and Eat, he covers everything food, from recipes to reviews. Jason has vowed that he will not stop until he has officially eaten his way across Montréal. It’s a big claim, and it’s one he’s making.

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