Poutine: How The Classic Canadian Dish Came Into Being

It is commonly believed that ‘poutine’ originated from the English word pudding (or pouding in French). The word was used to refer to a messy mixture of various foods, and is slang for mess in Québec.

People were unaware of poutine until the mid-20th century. It was only in the late 1950s that French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy appeared on menus at snack bars in rural Quebec. The true origins of poutine are debated as it was developed in stages.

Centre-du-Québec’s proximity to fromageries (cheese factories) producing cheese curds had a role to play in the inception of poutine. Several families and towns in the area claim to have invented the dish. When a regular customer, Eddy Lainesse, requested that his fries be topped with curds, Fernand Lachance of Café Ideal did so in Warwick, in 1957. Lachance exclaimed that it would create a mess and served his customer the requested mixture in a paper bag. The combination grew in popularity, and diners began to make it their own by adding ketchup and vinegar. In 1963, Lachance started serving the dish on a plate to manage the mess left on tables. His patrons complained that the fries were quickly becoming cold, and so he covered them in curds and gravy to keep them warm.

Another Canadian restaurateur claims to have invented poutine. Jean-Paul Roy has said that he created poutine at his drive-in restaurant Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, in 1964. Roy had been serving French fries in a special sauce since 1958. He called the dish ‘patate-sauce’. When he saw customers topping their fries with cheese curds, he added the combination to his menu under the name ‘fromage-patate-sauce’. Roy travelled to Toronto to find containers that were sturdy enough to hold the messy dish.

After it became popular in towns in Quebec, poutine reached Quebec City in 1969 and Montreal in 1983. It became available as street food at most snack bars and food trucks. Poutine crossed borders and reached the US, the UK, Russia and Korea by the 1970s.

Today, chefs add different toppings like bacon and minced beef to poutine. Some chefs have even given the dish gourmet status. In 2002, chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal created foie gras poutine, which has gone on to be imitated by others. Chefs have also raised objections about poutine being called ‘Canadian’; they believe it’s Québécois. 

Poutine has also been the subject of public health debates, when a group of mothers from Toronto petitioned for it to be removed from menus at school cafeterias since it’s high in fat. The petition was successful and healthier food items replaced poutine in schools. Despite the many debates that surround it, the dish remains a firm favourite, especially with those who love their fries with toppings.