The Canadian province of Quebec is known for a lot of things—snow, hockey, Céline Dion, snow again, oh, and poutine. While this French fry, gravy, cheese curd snack has been a Canadian favorite for decades, it has only become a mainstay here in the States recently with dedicated poutine palaces opening in Chicago, Boston, New York (though in the 1970s, New York City's “disco fries” were likely just a poutine ripoff), San Francisco and soon in the nation’s capital. Here’s the origin story and history behind this culinary, calorie-filled Quebecian delicacy.
While it is agreed that poutine came from Quebec in the last half of the twentieth century, the particulars of where and when have been a source of great debate with at least two towns claiming to be the legitimate birthplace. Drummondville and Warwick are 56 kilometers (35 miles) from each other, but each has its own poutine origin story.
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The story in Drummondville (where the city’s tourism board really wants everyone to know that it’s the home of poutine), is that 23-year-old Jean-Pierre Roy owner of the restaurant Le Roy Jucep, saw three customers pouring cheese curds on a plate of fries and gravy. At the time, nearly all the restaurants in town sold fresh cheese curds over the counter by the bag. Roy asked them about their concoction and was soon persuaded to add it to the menu. According to a Munchies’ interview with the restaurant's current owner, Roy named the dish “poutine” for two reasons - the word is sometimes used in Quebecian slang (known as joual) for “mess” and the cook at the restaurant was named “Ti-Pout.”
Warwick’s claim however, is generally more accepted. In 1957, so says the legend, a hungry trucker named Eddy Lanaisse walked into Fernand LaChance’s now-closed restaurant Lutin Qui Rit (English translation: “The Laughing Leprechaun”). He ordered French fries and cheese curds in a bag when he had a epiphany - Lanaisse wanted them mixed together. In a 1991 CBC interview, LaChance explained that his response to Lanaisse's odd request was completely reactionary when he said to the trucker, “That’s going to make a damn mess.” When asked if he was proud of the creation he made for a customer, LaChance said, “It makes you happy knowing that you’ve done something in life.”
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Today, poutine is such a staple in Quebec that even McDonald’s sells it at locations across the region. Despite being calorie-rich and once considered too lowbrow for food elitists, poutine is now a source of national pride. Vive la poutine!