If you ask any Canadian what is a poutine, the vast majority will reply to you the same: fresh cheese curds with a "squeaky’’ texture, hot gravy, and crispy French fries; with many variations & added toppings depending on where you come from in Canada.
But exactly how and where did this dish first appear?
Poutine originated in the province of Quebec in the late 1950s. Its exact origin is often debated and much local legend, but it's widely believed to have been created in rural Quebec.
The proximity to fromageries in rural Quebec producing the fresh cheese curds was one key factor. Within the area, several towns and families lay claim to poutine’s creation. In Warwick (near Victoriaville), Fernand Lachance of Café Ideal said that he first added curds to fries to one customer in 1957. Customer would have said: “ça va te faire une maudite poutine!” (“that will make a damned mess!”) as it was served in a paper bag. In 1963, they began to serve the dish on a plate to contain the mess. When customers complained that the fries grew cold too quickly on the plate, they added hot gravy on the fries and curds to keep them warm.
Another popular story attributes its creation in 1964 to a drive-in restaurant called Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, Quebec. According to this story, they had been serving fries in a special sauce since 1958, in a dish he called ‘’patate-sauce’’ (fries & sauce). Customers were adding cheese curds sold from the snack counter to their fries and then this new ‘’fromage-patate-sauce’’ (cheese-potato-sauce) was added on their regular menu.
After the dish gained popularity in the small towns of south-eastern Quebec, it was then commercialized in Quebec City in 1969 (Chez Ashton) and in Montreal in 1970 (La Banquise). Thereafter, poutine became a common offering on food truck menus and diners in Quebec and Ontario. Beyond the 1990s, it was widely popularized across Canada with fast-food chains and establishments started offering a whole variety of poutine types and toppings from Italian poutine, veggie poutine, Montreal-style poutine to Irish poutine. Specialty poutine restaurants later popped up in Canadian cities and in the 2000s celebrity Chefs started creating high-end twists such as poutine with duck liver, braised beef, pulled pork or even lobster!
In 2017, our national dish quickly gained attention and appreciation in France with the first poutinerie in Paris, La Maison de la Poutine. Even if poutine is clearly not the healthiest option, it is part of our comfort food roots and a symbol of Canadian & Québécois culture.