Toronto Insider: poutine – it’s not British, it’s not American, it could just be our national dish

Coming to the FIPP World Congress in October? As well as being able to sample our national dish at the event itself, there are plenty of other options in the city and beyond in order to try this national delicacy. Here is the second Toronto Insider column to give you an inside look at the host city of Congress 2015.

Poutine ()

You know how it is when you’re away from home, some nights you feel like eating pheasant under glass and some nights you just feel like something, well, a little bit greasy. It’s the craving you get that starts in a little place in your heart and whispers in your ear. This is what you hear: “I want fries.” 

Sure, you can try and quell the cry of the inner child with a nice plate of greens, maybe some quinoa croutons and some fresh, colourful veggies. And wash it all down with a nice cup of chilled dandelion root tea. 

Listen up, grasshopper, I’m here to tell you it won’t work. You’ll be wearing your I-Ate-Healthy-Today t-shirt proudly but this is still what you hear: “I really, really, really want fries.” 

So when the cool kid in your group says, let’s go for fries, don’t even hesitate, just say yes. And since you’re here, in Canada, why not try poutine (pronounced poo-teen).

But what is it? In its purest state, poutine is simply a French-Canadian dish of cheese curds nestled in a bed of fries then covered with a satiny blanket of gravy. No joke, it could be our national dish. 

Who invented it? Well, originally a late-night indulgence, it’s widely believed that poutine originated in 1957, when a customer, Eddy Lainesse, asked a restaurant owner, Frederick LaChance of Warwick, Quebec, to mix a few cheese curds in with his fries. Lachance said it would make “une maudite poutine” — an unholy mess. And well, there it is. Poutine creation theories abound, however. Read more here.

Why you want it

It’s a delicious greater-than-its-sum concoction, well worth the estimated 700-something calories per small serving. 

Where to get it

So, here’s the thing. Poutine has evolved and morphed into unique combos incorporating all kinds of variations. And Toronto has a lot of places to get your poutine on.

Like Poutini’s House of Poutine. Hand-cut potatoes are friend twice, Belgian-style, for crispy x100. Gravy is made from scratch by roasting bones and veggies, then simmering for eight hours.

Bonus: There’s a vegetarian gravy made by roasting fresh veggies.

Squeaky-fresh cheese curds arrive every other day from Maple Dale (that’s key, say poutine connoisseurs, as cheese curds lose their squeakiness after a few days, then they are no fun.) Traditional poutine, vegan poutine, and for meat-eating vegetarians, bacon and pulled pork poutine also available.

Bonus: Biodegradable containers, utensils and napkins.

Celeb chef Marc McEwan is recognised for his creative dishes that pair classic cuisine with contemporary flavours, and he’s brought this city some of its best restaurants, including Bymark. It’s a beautiful restaurant, and nestled amongst menu offerings like baby octopus and smoked fingerlings and steak tartare and roasted bone marrow lies the butter-braised lobster poutine. Succulent, juicy chunks of lobster with béarnaise sauce elevate the poutine to a level that’s really quite stellar, and well worth the CA$28 price tag. In fact, you can make it at home in anticipation – here’s the recipe.

Montreal’s Poutineville has happily set up shop in Toronto. Their motto? La poutine…réinventée – Poutine Reinvented. How? With add-ins like braised beef and wine sauce, Philly steak, onions and nacho cheese, and The Godfather: Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, marinated eggplant, cheese curds, mozzarella and meat sauce au gratin. Mmmmm, you’d have to be stupid to refuse an offer like that. 

Fresco’s Fish and Chips is a great takeout in Kensington Market (they’ll also deliver). And they make a mean poutine. Maybe it’s the non-hydrogenated, trans-fat free canola/corn oil blend they use to French up the fries. Or maybe the amazing potatoes they use. But the homemade chilli poutine with white cheddar cheese curds is really mouthfuls of deliciousness.

Tell me this, do you run with a pack of wild things that likes to eat food late at night? Then head for Smoke’s Poutinerie (open till 4am at weekends). It’s their goal is to bring the authentic Quebec classic to the rest of the world. And here, you’re the boss, applesauce – choose from more than 30 poutine menu items or get creative and make one up yourself. Don’t worry, there’s no such thing as a bad poutine combo, and no one will judge you. 

One more word of advice, if it’s a poutine emergency, head straight for the nearest chip truck — lots of those offer poutine creations, as well. 

Credit: photo courtesy of The McEwan Group

Don’t miss

If you haven’t yet booked your place at the FIPP World Congress, which takes place on 13-15 October 2015 in Toronto, find out how to do so here.

Any questions?

Get in touch with FIPP’s head of events, Claire Jones.

More like this

Toronto: a beginner’s guide

Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x