Poutine – Québec’s favorite snack food
Québec’s most well-known specialty, besides maple syrup, is probably poutine. It’s extraordinarily important to people here, as snack foods often are, and the discussion of where to find the best poutine will inevitably spark a lively debate. Everyone’s got their favorite. Of course there are endless ways to customize your poutine, but the classic trio of fries, gravy and cheese curds is pretty hard to beat, in my opinion. I think it looks horribly unappetizing and my first taste left me with a very bad impression. So bad that it took a good 8 months to work up the courage to try again. When I did finally give it another shot, I liked it so much that I now find myself, dare I say, craving it from time to time. (Now that I’ve said it out loud, I’m expecting to hear all my Canadian friends shouting, I told you so!) Despite this major breakthrough, I am not yet completely integrated into the Québecois lifestyle. Mathieu and I usually are the only ones to be seen ordering a small poutine, to split, with everyone else around us somehow consuming larges as a side item. Maybe we’d be better prepared for the winter if we ate more poutine!
In my now extensive research of this regional specialty, I’ve determined that the best place to go for a good poutine is a casse-croûte, which is basically a snack bar. They’re often found out in the middle of nowhere along a highway, but every town and village seems to have at least one. Sometimes it’s right next to, or part of, the bar laitier. They serve a wide variety of food, and the quality really varies a lot since they’re all independent, family businesses. Some casse-croûtes have a house specialty, like pea soup, which is usually freshly made and a wise choice. You’re guaranteed to find hot dogs, hamburgers, club sandwiches and subs on the menu, as well as most snack foods. With all of the road trips and camping we did this summer, there were many opportunities to explore quite a few of Québec’s casse-croûtes and naturally, their version of poutine. We rarely had a bad experience, though there are a few requirements which distinguish a good poutine from a great poutine. This is entirely a matter of personal opinion, of course. For myself, a truly outstanding poutine will have super crispy fries, gravy that tastes like real ingredients (not powdered) and fresh curds that squeak when I bite into them. If you want to ruin the first two ingredients, go right ahead and put shredded or cubed cheese on top, but don’t call it a poutine!
For an extensive list of Québec’s poutine-serving establishments, check out the blog Poutine Pundit. He obviously has not tried every single poutine in the province, but he sure is making a gallant effort.
What are the regional snack foods where you live? Have you had a poutine before and what did you think? If you are Canadian or just someone who is passionate about poutine, what are your requirements for a top-notch poutine experience? I’d love to hear!