I’ve been trying to hold off on writing about poutine lately. It’s a daily struggle. There is so much more to our history, language, and culture than the amazing (some say the most amazing) food in the world – poutine.
Then the BBC, yes the BRITISH Broadcasting Company, comes out and flips the script. How can I not comment on that?
What do they come out and say? Poutine is clearly a Canadian food of course, right? Nope, not even remotely close! They clearly stated that only Québec can claim poutine! The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) be like, “Shots fired”
In what universe does the leader of the Commonwealth come out so strongly in FAVOUR of Québec.
Apparently, the one we live in. Of course, those of us behind this blog agree 100% with our tea-chugging friends. Facts appear to mean a lot to the British, and we respect that.
On what I have dubbed “PoutineGate,” it’s super important to give credit where credit is due and of course, credit is due to Québec. Poutine is still a really new food (it’s less than 70 years old). The time to ensure it's described properly to a broader audience is now.
A lot of my American friends have asked why it matters so much if we say Québec or Canada when describing poutine's origins. I have to take a step back hearing this, as I know they don’t know exactly what they are saying.
Here is some backup for Québec’s rightful claim:
Poutine comes from the Centre-du-Québec region of the province
People tend to think of western Canada when they think of farmlands, but truth be told the “Centre-du-Québec” region is quite an impressive breadbasket of its own. It’s strategically placed in the middle of the most densely populated parts of the province. Montreal and Québec City are both about an hour and a half away.
There are various stories about how poutine came to be. The long and the short of it is that it was developed by folks experimenting with the ingredients they had on hand in a cabane a patate (potato shack) in Québec. These are little roadside dinners basically.
In the 1950s and most of the 1960s, poutine was only prepared and consumed in this specific area. At the time it was hard to keep the curds fresh and squeaky. By the 1970’s it hit the “restos” of Montreal – namely La Banquise.
The early history of poutine is as Québec-centric as you can get. Poutine went from the farmlands of Québec to the big cities in the province…not Toronto.
There is no influence from English Canada here, this is purely an invention of the French-Canadians who became know as Québécois during this time period.
The word is French for mess
One thing I have noticed is that there a lot of different things called “poutine” in the francophone world of North America. For purposes of the poutine we are describing, it translates to “mess.”
A couple of easy points here. Anything called poutine is French, the term doesn’t exist outside of the francophone world.
The word has been anglicized to pooteen by English Canada, but anyone who even has a wee bit of French can say it pretty close to right. After all, there is no magic e in French (thank you first grade English).
It was looked down upon by the rest of Canada until the 1990s
I’ve heard first-hand accounts from Québécois of a “certain age” who traveled around Canada and were made fun of for eating poutine in the 1980s. That’s really not that long ago. It’s like Québec had a losing team and they all of the sudden win the Stanley Cup, now everyone’s a fan!
Even to this day you can sense a little bit of trauma around the food. They will sometimes make jokes about heart attacks, it being junk food, or cheap. People usually do this sort of thing subconsciously to beat you to the punch. Sort of like, “I’ll make fun of myself before they do.”
While Canada has fully embraced the food it’s clear some scars remain.
Regional dishes can be named after their region
This goes without saying, you can name a food after the region it comes from. Here’s are quick and easy examples.
Is all clam chowder called American or British chowder? Of course not! Here in the US, we have New England and Manhattan clam chowder. These are two very different REGIONAL dishes. They were developed in their region but enjoyed all over the US
There are a lot of different types of BBQs. If you say I want some barbeque you could be getting anything. There are four distinct types that are each very enjoyable. There are four main regions for BBQ – Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, and Carolina.
Each regional BBQ has different flavorings, meats used, meat prep, and serving style. They are essentially four different foods.
Real pizza is of course from Italy but in the 1950s and 1960s and American style of pizza began to emerge, thank you Pizza Hut and Dominoes.
There’s Chicago-style pizza, Detroit Style, New York-style, and Greek pizza (and many more). Each of these foods is unique and specific to its region and/or “heritage.” Trust me there is a huge difference between a Chicago (sauce on top) and NY Pizza. Both fantastic though.
Can Québec get a win? Poutine has a clear history, it’s a French word, and there are plenty of examples of food named for regions, but is it enough?
Certain folks in Canada are obsessed with keeping the maple leaf on poutine.
Their usual answer is, “well what country is Québec in.” That may be so, but it is known as a distinct society inside Canada. How about another compromise? Maybe this line - poutine is a Québécois food enjoyed throughout Canada. We’ll have to ask the BBC what they think so we can get a final answer.