Walk down a street after a night out in Montréal, and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone tucking into a plate of poutine, a classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.
What is poutine?
The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked.
Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a “mess.”
Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Québec, named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.
Where to Find Poutine
Eventually, poutine spread across Québec and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. The dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.
Traditional poutine is also readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers, for example, can get their hands on some at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) In New Jersey, diners can feast on an altered poutine recipe known as “Disco Fries,” which substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.
But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”
A version of this story originally ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2021.