Time to put poutine on a bigger map

Poutine a cultural icon?

Poutine—that deliciously indulgent combination of cheese curds, fries and gravy—is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

While many attribute its creation to Jean-Claude Roy in Drummondville, in 1964, it seems the true origins of poutine can be traced back to Fernand Lachance and his wife, Germaine, in Warwick.

It was at their restaurant, L’Idéal (later Le Lutin qui Rit), where the word “poutine” is said to have first appeared on a menu, in 1957.

Interestingly, the original poutine didn’t include gravy, as Mr. Lachance wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t until around 1962 that Mrs. Lachance added her sauce as a side dish, completing the iconic trio of ingredients.

However, it was Roy—a professional saucier—who, in 1964, brought all three main ingredients together—cheese curds, gravy and fries. This historical account is detailed in the book Poutine Nation, released in 2021.

The dish’s popularity grew rapidly, with chip trucks spreading it across rural Quebec.

Ashton Leblond, founder of the Ashton restaurants, further popularized poutine in the Quebec City region in 1972, emphasizing the importance of Quebec’s cheese curds in the dish.

Today, poutine can be found on menus worldwide, from Washington to Shanghai, forever associated with Quebec and Canadian cuisine. Despite its global popularity, poutine has yet to receive formal recognition on the international stage.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has been declaring intangible cultural heritage since 2003, including dishes like Neapolitan pizza, the French baguette and Chinese traditional tea.

Canada, however, hasn’t signed this convention, meaning no Canadian dish is currently on UNESCO’s list. Canada has the opportunity to change this by not only becoming a signatory to the convention but also by nominating poutine as the first Canadian dish to be declared “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

Poutine’s journey from a humble rural Quebec dish to a global culinary icon is a testament to its cultural significance, deserving of recognition on the world stage.

Poutine’s success story is one of resilience and adaptation. It has evolved over the years, with variations that include toppings like pulled pork, foie gras, and even lobster. Despite these modern twists, the core elements of poutine remain unchanged, a testament to its enduring appeal.

Part of what makes poutine so special is its ability to bring people together. Whether you’re enjoying it at a roadside chip truck in rural Quebec or a trendy restaurant in a cosmopolitan city, poutine has a way of creating a sense of shared experience.

It’s a dish that transcends borders and cultures, bringing a little piece of Quebec and Canada wherever it goes. Yes, it may be unhealthy, but it’s indeed iconic.

In addition to its cultural significance, poutine also has economic importance. In Quebec, poutine isn’t just a dish, it’s an industry, supporting cheese curd producers, potato farmers and restaurateurs across the province.

As we celebrate poutine’s 60th anniversary, let’s not just enjoy this delicious dish but also reflect on its cultural and economic impact.

Let’s recognize poutine for what it is, a true success story and a culinary masterpiece that deserves its place among the world’s most beloved dishes.

Sylvain Charlebois is a professor and senior director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University and co-host of the Food Professor podcast.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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