How the Quebecois came to love poutine
A messy history
But poutine was not born topped with a slab of foie gras. Its origins lie 150km northeast of Montreal in the town of Warwick. History points to restaurateur Fernand LaChance who, in 1957, added cheese curds to a takeaway bag of chips at the request of customer Eddy Lanaisse. Legend has it LaChance replied to Lanaisse’s request saying, “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (that's going to make a damn mess). It is argued that the etymology for poutine lies here with LaChance. Others point to an adaption of the English word “pudding”, while some Quebecois claim poutine is the evolution of the local slang, poutingo, or “bad stew”.
Nevertheless LaChance indulged Lanaisse, and soon word of his chips-meets-curds creation spread. However, gravy did not enter the equation until seven years later. It was in Drummondville, a small town 50km southwest of Warwick, that sauce married chips and cheese. At a local restaurant, Roy le Jucep, owner Jean-Paul Roy was slathering gravy on his chips when he noticed diners throw cheese curds, displayed for sale on the countertops, into their takeaway bags. He put the mash up on his menu, thereby effectively creating poutine as we now know it. Roy le Jucep still stands in the same spot today.
Word-of-mouth steadily carried poutine from local villages and cheese-making towns around the province into Montreal, and by the 1980s, poutine was so engrained in Quebecois culinary culture that Burger King and McDonald’s had it on their menus. In 2007, Canadian news agency CBC conducted a survey that rated poutine 10th on a list of Canada’s best inventions.
In Montreal today, you can find everything from classic to avant-garde poutine. La Banquise in Plateau Mont-Royal is one celebrated eatery where you can do both – even at 3 am.
A family-run local favourite, La Banquise opened in 1968 as an ice cream shop before growing into a snack bar specialising in hot dogs and chips. Poutine first hit their menu in the 1980s, but when Annie Barsalou took over the restaurant from her father, Pierre, they started to experiment with the dish and never looked back.
Today, La Banquise is a 24-hour dedicated poutine joint with more than 28 varieties on offer, such as poutine with merguez sausages, hot peppers and Tabasco. Lunchtime is saturated with a loyal crowd of nearby workers, while at night the students roll in. This is the kind of rowdy spot you seek out after an evening of boisterous drinking – it is informal, packed and noisy. And their poutines are exactly what you crave after midnight, with fat chips that retain their texture against smooth, well-seasoned gravy.
Along with late-night greasy spoons, the Quebecois also have a shared love for poutine from cabanes à patates. These roadside food trucks dot the province serving up classic poutines that make purists swoon. Lucky’s Truck is a contemporary take on the traditional, serving up haute street food out of a repurposed Fedex truck that traverses Montreal’s cobblestoned streets. Theirs comes with duck confit, caramelised balsamic onions and a foie gras and red wine sauce. The confit is melt-in-your-mouth, the gravy is full-bodied and indulgent and the onions are beautifully sweet with a touch of balsamic tartness that cuts through the richness of the sauce.
And then, there is Poutine Week, an entire week dedicated solely to poutine. Founded by blogger Na'eem Adam, the first ever celebration took place in February 2013 and more than 30 restaurants featured the Quebecois icon on their menus as the city embarked on a culinary food tour to uncover the best. Diners hopped from spot to spot, taste testing poutines and voting for their favourite on the festival’s website – which got more than 100,000 hits in the week.