Story by Ilona Biro
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — The world has come around to that gluttonous French Canadian fast-food specialty known as poutine (loosely translated as “hot mess”). I got a taste of it recently in Ottawa, where the fall edition of Poutinefest took place on Sparks Street, a pedestrian mall where 20 food trucks were offering multiple versions of the dish that is often eaten late at night after hours of partying.
In its most basic form, poutine is made of French fries, topped with cheese curds and gravy, making for a divinely delicious snack. But the beauty of the dish is its versatility. You can throw almost anything in the fridge on top to create another version of the treat.
Revellers at Ottawa’s Poutinefest could try Thai and Greek takes on the dish, or opt for some of the gourmet toppings, like lobster and filet mignon. One of the truck owners, Corey Sauve of Flapjacks Pancake House, served a dessert poutine, substituting pancake strips for French fries and topping it with Nutella and marshmallows. Yummm!
If you haven’t experienced poutine yet, odds are you will soon.
The dish has already had its official roasting, when American comic Jim Gaffigan called it “irresponsible,” adding, “It’s why you [Canadians] have national health insurance.” In truth our national nosh is not the healthiest dish on the menu, but its formidable calorie count hasn’t lessened its appeal or slowed down its steady spread around the world.
If one were to come up with a moment in history when the artery-clogging dish hit the big time, it would have to be 2009, with the opening of the Mile End Deli in New York City. For the first time poutine was on the menu in the Big Apple, which gave it the culinary credibility it lacked when it could only be found at greasy spoons and truck stops in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Like Celine Dion and countless other Canadian exports, poutine only became famous when it crossed the border, and now that it’s made it in New York, poutine can make it anywhere. Not only has it spread across all five boroughs, it has found its way to Chicago and California. It recently made its gravy-soaked debut on the American Thanksgiving table, an achievement unmatched by any other Canadian side dish, probably forever.
Despite its elevation onto sophisticated restaurant menus around the world, we still think the best way to enjoy a poutine is after a night of partying in Montreal. But if that’s not in the cards you can always head to Manhattan, where every February the Mile End Deli’s Poutine Week celebrates the homey dish in style.
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