Well we finally got a snow day here in Joisey. Which makes for a great time to study some French.
If you asked someone in Montreal to translate the word “pudding” they might offer a word that sounds like “pouding.” They would be describing a kind of food, as well as a person who unfortunately walks like one (as a result of eating too much of the pudding in question). They would also be describing the act of making something out of unappetizing leftovers. Or even a complicated business deal or political situation, much in the same way in English we might refer to “making a hash out of things.” There are many similar words used regionally in France, including “poutingo” which is a bad stew in Provence, “poutringo” which is a mish-mash in Languedoc, and “poutite” which is a hodge-podge anywhere in France.
But when it comes to the culinary pride of Quebec, there’s only one word for it, and that is “poutine.” And there’s only one way to make it. Start with rough-cut potato frites, medium thickness, deep fried (preferably twice). Onto that goes a generous helping of cold home-made cheese curds, large enough to provide some texture but small enough to stick to the fries. And finish it with a thin chicken/beef gravy, spiked with pepper and vinegar, which is poured, piping hot, over the top. And what you get is as good as its name, an awesome sloppy hot fat mess which is equal parts pudding, hash, mish-mash and hodge-podge. And mon frère, it’s délicieux.
Poutine is standard comfort food throughout Quebec, particularly in the winter. It can be found in greasy spoons, fast food joints and ski resorts. It’s been voted among the top 10 Canadian inventions of all time, beating such things as a paint roller and a Blackberry. It’s also a popular reference in politics, due to its secondary meaning of making a mess (or getting through one). In 2000, a Canadian comedian asked numerous American political leaders what they thought of Prime Minister Jean Poutine, and none of the Americans got the joke. When President Bush later made his first official visit to Canada, he thanked his hosts and showed his gratitude for the endorsement of Prime Minister Poutin, to uproarious applause.
Poutine’s popularity has spread throughout the northern United States. There are lots of regional variations featuring different kinds of cheese, meat and gravy. You can get it with truffles in Seattle, with pulled pork in the Midwest, and with lobster in New England.
But for our money, you should stick to the original. And please don’t order it if the menu says “french fries with cheese and gravy.” Quelle horreur!
So, happy snow day. Get out there and start shoveling. No snowblowers allowed, dig yourself out the old fashioned way. That way you don’t become a big fat poutine.
– Mike Keeler