Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why Make Poutine What It's Not?

Son Ian and daughter-in-law Katie sampling some authentic poutine

This is a follow-up to my earlier posting - “Une Maudite Poutine” - on June 21, 2009:

A good friend of mine just gave me a clipping from the May 3-4 “Adventure & Travel” section of The Wall Street Journal; an article by Adam Leith Gollner entitled “Quebec’s Baddest Poutine.”  Gollner, a native Quebecker, visited a poutine festival at which several chefs had gathered to demonstrate new ways to “enhance the dish’s fundamental triumvirate.”

Anyone who has ever had honest-to-God authentic poutine, or who is someone who reveres it like I do, knows that poutine is just about as simple as it gets.  French fried potatoes, thick beef gravy [sauce brune] . . . the thicker the better . . . and melted cheese curds; no mozzarella or pepper jack or whatever cheese you prefer . . . it has to be fresh cheese curds.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  It doesn’t get any simpler, or better, or tastier than that.  You put other crap in it and it ain’t poutine!  Why would anyone in their right mind want to “enhance” it?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that you no longer have to go to Québec or its nearby borderlands to find decent poutine.  It has spread throughout Canada and now it is quickly making inroads in the USA.  I know of a few places here in Washington, DC - all well-respected establishments, including one situated on Pennsylvania Avenue two blocks from the White House - that serve a decent, authentic poutine as does a local Wonky Truck found around town.  I recently learned that a new poutinerie has opened in my old stomping grounds in Tucson, Arizona.  Still, the wider its reach, the greater the propensity to make poutine something it is not, to make it “better” by adding more ingredients and coming up with more mind-numbing ways to serve it.  Again I ask you why?  Potatoes, beef gravy and squeaky cheese curds that “sound like a rusty door hinge swinging open between your teeth.”  That is all you need.  Finis!  

So when I read in Gollner’s article about a poutine festival dedicated to new and improved ways to make and serve poutine, I naturally figured it took place in some far-flung locale like Las Vegas, or Miami Beach, or New Orleans . . . or even Shanghai.  But no.  It took place in Montréal of all places!  Within a few miles from the original’s humble and somewhat debatable birthplace!   And the winner?   “Poutine a la General Tso” courtesy of an establishment called Poutineville with three locations in the Montréal area.  They offer an assortment of “poutines haut de gamme” [specialty poutine] which involve tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and various meats prepared in various ways.  And all topped off with a special poutine sauce.  Le blasphème de l'ordre le plus élevé!  I don’t even want to think about it.  To quote Gollner: “The problem with aiming to make poutine fancy is that the dish is meant to be trashy.”  Amen to that! 

And while I am on the subject of poutine, I note with interest that earlier this week the word “poutine” has entered into the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary along with 148 others, including such food offerings as “pho,” “turducken,” and “pepita.”  I should note here, too, that the dictionary defines poutine as "a dish of French fries covered with brown gravy and cheese curds.”   How much more definitive does one have to be?  The editors also state that they could not find the word being used prior to 1982.  Obviously the editors were not hanging out in Québec back in the 1950s.

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