By Corey-Clayton Lobo
In Warwick, Que. in the 1950s, a customer had asked a restaurant owner if he could add cheese curds to his french fries. In that moment an iconic Canadian food was born. Fresh-cut crispy fries, squeaky cheese curds and steaming hot gravy. This is all a perfect recipe for one of Canada’s most well-known dishes: poutine.The Food Network listed poutine as one of the top 30 “most iconic Canadian food items.” However, as you can imagine, many things have changed in the poutine world since the 1950s.
The dish itself has been diversified. The “Great Canadian Cookbook” is an online cookbook owned by the Food Network, which also includes a recipe for a Middle Eastern poutine and has signature poutine gravy partnered with shawarma chicken, eggplant and other ingredients.
Other places around Canada have joined in as well. Paramount Fine Foods, which specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine has entered into the poutine market as well. It now offers a shawarma poutine, with its own signature beef, chicken or pork. Other places have also taken the dish and recreated it in their own way.
New York Fries sells its own poutine, and has added a cultural twist. Since 2011, a butter chicken poutine has headlined the poutine menu at NYF. Alyssa Berenstein, director of marketing for the NYF brand, says Canada has a strong lead on traditional, classic poutine.
Berenstein says that poutine now accounts for 70 per cent of all transactions in the NYF corporation.
In an international and culturally diverse city like Toronto, you can experience Korean, Jamaican, Mexican or Indian food culture through the classic Canadian dish of poutine.
This French brewery offers a traditional poutine and one called a flammekueche. A flammekueche is a variation of a pizza, so essentially, it’s a poutine pizza. It’s just as cheesy as a traditional poutine while replacing the pizza’s tomato sauce with gravy. And if that’s not enough 3 Brewers piles a little poutine right in the middle of the pizza.
Custom poutine restaurants aren’t limited to Ontario. Montreal, the birthplace of poutine, is a prime place in the world for this dish. There are many different locations that offer quality poutine, but many people would argue the best in the world may just be La Banquise, located in the heart of Montreal. La Banquise features a Mexican poutine on its menu. “It’s super popular during the evening service. It’s really fresh,” says Yohan Quintal, the manager of La Banquise. Quintal believes there are no boundaries to poutine when you have a big crowd and when you’re open to any idea.
Smoke’s Poutinerie was founded in 2008 and has been on the rise ever since. Smoke’s offers Korean, butter chicken, and jerk chicken poutine, to name a few. The Canadian poutine franchise has well over 10 different poutines you can choose from and many different cultural poutines including jerk chicken poutine and pierogi poutine. Jennifer Salazar has been a general manager for Smoke’s Poutinerie for nearly seven years. “It did start as a promotion idea. We kind of wanted to say Smoke went around the world and visited all these countries and came back inspired with these poutines. We also had a Canadian one that had bacon and maple syrup on it. We originally didn’t plan on keeping them on the menu, it was going to be a limited time offer kind of thing, but they did so well we had to keep them on the menu,” Salazar says.
Ramen Raijin is a Japanese noodle bar that has also added a Japanese poutine to its menu. The poutine is called the Raijin Poutine and includes the regular fries with cheese curds, but with a Japanese twist. Gravy out, a tangy teriyaki mayo sauce in. And if that wasn’t too much of a twist, the poutine is also topped with green onions and nori seaweed. “Our sous chef wanted to make her own poutine, but with like a Japanese collaboration,” says supervisor Ayumi Hara. The poutine has become a pretty dependable dish on this classic Japanese menu, “Some people don’t even order the ramen, they order the poutine,” Hara says.