Thank you Brandi, for your wonderful guest review:
Almost no one outside of Quebec has ever heard of poutine, and probably not without good reason. It’s the kind of culinary blasphemy that can happen when French immigrants are left unchecked, kind of like the yang to Cajun/creole cuisine’s yin. A google search on the history of poutine turned this up: “The most popular tale (of poutine’s origins) is the one of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that poutine was invented in 1957, when a client ordered fries and cheese curds in a bag. Lachance is said to have exclaimed ‘ça va faire une maudite poutine’ ("it will make a hell of a mess"), hence the name. The sauce was allegedly added later, to keep the fries warm for longer. In fact, linguists have found no occurrence of the word poutine with this meaning earlier than 1978.
Before this fateful night, the image I have of poutine is a scary one: McFries, limp and pale, smothered in gray canned gravy, with lumps of fatty whiteness sprinkled over the top. Since I narrowly avoided poutine on my previous visit to Montreal, and this is my last visit that I expect to be making, I agree to try it. Caleb tells me: ‘You’ve got to have it when you’re drunk. It’s a post-drinking delicacy here.’ Since it was a Monday night and he had to work in the morning, we decided to compromise and just go out for a few drinks beforehand.
After two beers and lots of anticipation, we head to the place for poutine in the plateau- La Banquise. In the window, they proudly advertise the fact that they have over 15 variations of poutine on the menu. Little innovation goes into this claim, whereas each variety consists of the basic ingredients plus (insert animal, vegetable, or mineral here). At midnight on a Monday, we are the only patrons in the place. Dave, our friend and Montreal local, assures me that by 3am, the place will have a line out the door, even on weeknights like tonight. Dave tells me: ‘You have to get the bacon poutine.’ So I do. Caleb and Susan, Dave’s girlfriend, opt for the ‘classique’, the no-frills version. Dave gets the bacon poutine plus a hot dog ‘all-dressed’ on the side that has what looks like coleslaw on top.
What comes before me is not really what I expected. The fries look like, as Dave puts it, they have been fried at least 5 times. I think they closely resemble the color of George Hamilton after a very hot summer. On top is a dark brown, viscous gravy, and the flavor can only be described as meaty salt, not the other way around. Sprinkled on top of this is the cheese curd. It’s a cross between salty queso fresco and chewy part-skim mozzarella. It’s apparently considered a good thing when the cheese curds sqeak against your teeth. The variation I got was with large pieces of bacon adorning the top as well. There was even an Elvis version of this dish, though I don’t remember what could classify it as such. I chomped away at it and got about halfway through before I couldn’t touch anymore. Susan said that as soon as you sop up all of the cheese curd, the remainder of the poutine usually loses its appeal. We ambled out of the restaurant, stomachs full. I can’t help thinking about the irony of the situation – I felt fine after those few drinks, but now the very dish that was supposed to amend the perils of drinking in the first place has seemed to have achieved the polar opposite of its goal – I actually feel naseous and covered internally with a not-so-fine coating of oily residue.
I guess the question is whether it was good or not. Actually it wasn’t bad at the time. I can see how it qualifies as comfort food and probably hits the spot after a night of drinking the way a Grand Slam at Denny’s or anything off Taco Bells late night menu would. The real problem was the morning after. I have never had a food hangover before, but that’s exactly what I woke up with. I felt as if my stomach had been marinated in grease all night long. After two cups of coffee and a muffin, I still felt sluggish and gross. Caleb felt the same way. Dave felt fine, but I think that comes from years of poutine abuse resulting in an abnormally high tolerance. Not until mid-day did I feel better, and that was partly in anticipation of being able to sleep off the excess during the flight. I’m glad I tried it, it’s definitely a meal that defined my visit. Caleb claims that poutine was on par with a bad night of drinking – come morning you swear you’ll never do it again, but by next weekend you’ll find yourself stumbling up to La Banquise in a drunken, foggy stupor, the aroma of mystery meat and greasy fries in the air. You won’t have a clue how you got there, but can’t think of anywhere else you’d rather be.