You may not be familiar with poutine, and until recently neither was I. I first heard of poutine from my wife. She described poutine, a regional dish originating in Quebec, as french fries with cheese curds covered in gravy. I had been to Quebec prior to learning of this dish, but I had completely missed poutine. I have to admit that I was a little irritated that I missed out on trying such a healthy regional delicacy. From that point on poutine was on my list of "must try" foods.
I waited for my travels to take me back to Quebec, but time went by and I began to wonder if I would ever taste poutine. I had all but forgotten about this culinary aspiration when I made my way to Sudbury, Ontario. Since Sudbury is not Quebec I didn't have poutine on the mind. What I didn't know was that while poutine originated in Quebec it has spread to much of Canada. It wasn't until I came across a chip wagon that I learned of this fact.
I spotted my first chip wagon, a food truck specializing in all things deep fried, from across a busy street. It was white with the offerings contained within plastered on the side. These offerings included chips (fries), pogos and poutine. I was excited by the sudden and unexpected availability of poutine, but I was confused by the term pogo.
Sadly this chip wagon was closed when I walked by, but I decided to make some inquiries the following day. Upon discussing the topic with the group with which I was working, they informed me that a pogo was actually a corn dog and that we could surely go out for poutine if I was interested. The only catch was that the weather had to be nice because chip wagons only have outdoor seating. Two days of rain followed.
On the last day of my visit, the sun was shining and I was ready for my poutine. At lunchtime we drove to one of the more reputable chip wagons in town. It turns out that not all poutine is created equal. Since cheese curds are expensive, some chip wagons substitute a mild grated cheddar to reduce costs. If this was going to be my first poutine, my hosts wanted me to have the real thing.
As we approached our destination, the Poutine Xpress chip wagon shone a glistening silver which acted as a beacon to all those looking to clog their arteries. At once I could tell that this was a special place.
While placing my order, I mentioned that I was from the States and that this would be my first poutine. The register worker smiled and the person that I believe to be the owner of Poutine Xpress, Edgar, came over. I told him that I was also a travel blogger and he invited me into the wagon to take pictures of my poutine being made. I instantly accepted the invitation and got the grand tour.
The wagon was tight on space, but it was also clean and efficient. Everything needed to make poutine was was close at hand with fries frying on one side of the wagon while hot gravy was cooking away in a large pot on the other. When the fries were up, Edgar filled a styrofoam container with hot fries and then some gravy followed by cheese curds before being topped with more hot gravy.
The gravy is key here. It needs to be hot enough to melt the curds and it must be the correct kind of gravy. When asked what kind of gravy was used, Edgar gave me a strange look and informed me that it was poutine gravy. Upon inspecting a large bucket of gravy mix, I found that it was indeed labeled "Poutine Gravy". This gravy mix is also available at grocery stores in small packets so that you can make poutine at home.
What exactly poutine gravy should be is widely discussed and depending on who you ask, it can be chicken gravy, beef gravy or a mixture of the two. I don't really like the idea of the gravy coming from a mix, but if it goes well with curds and fries then I'm reluctantly OK with it.
Getting to see my poutine as it was being constructed within the bowels of Poutine Xpress made the experience of my first poutine somehow more complete. Too often are we just consumers in the world; consuming one thing and then the next while we don't take time to appreciate the work that went into creating them. Watching my food being cooked and assembled may have made it taste better as I had seen where it was made and met the person who made it.
Outside on the picnic table I dug my faithful spork into the heart clogging concoction, and as I took my first bite a smile crossed my face. I've often been disappointed with food that I had looked forward to trying for such a long time, but there was no such disappointment with poutine, there was only pleasure.
The crispness of the fries melded perfectly with the creaminess of the curds and the richness of the gravy. Heat coming up from the fries and down from the gravy caused the curds to melt so that I wasn't consuming fries, gravy and curds. I was enjoying a wonderful marriage of all three where I couldn't tell, or didn't care, where one ended and the next began.
For me, having poutine for the first time was one of those wonderful experiences that makes travel worth some of the pain. There are some things that you have to travel to in order to experience them, and that's what makes the world wonderful.
With fries made from scratch and cheese curds that were made just the day before, it is easy to see why Poutine Xpress is a local favorite. I will forgive them for using a gravy mix, but if I ever find poutine with real gravy I'l definitely give it a try.
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