Poutine (no jokes about Russian presidents, please)

Let‚??s leave Prague for a while today. I want to get a little Canadian on you. Make that French Canadian, as in Quebecois (minus the language complex).

Every now and again I get an overwhelming urge to get back to my roots any way I can here. Blasting out my eardrums with the Tragically Hip doesn‚??t really count as I find myself doing that pretty much every time I listen to my mp3 player, in spite of the fact that I‚??ve got tons more music to choose from. The CBC archives are good for nostalgia and then some. Strange Brew still makes me smile, but it hasn‚??t really aged all that well. Thanks to YouTube I can get fixes of classic Kids in the Hall, catch up on Canuck politics through This Hour has 22 Minutes sketches, satisfy the brute in me with hockey brawls, and get re-acquainted with the hottest of Pepsi chanteuses, Mitsou, over and over and over again, oh yeah.

And the list goes on. But this is all multimedia, stuff for the ears and the eyes. Sometimes I‚??ve got to satisfy the other senses with some Canadiana as well. And poutine is exactly what the doctor ordered ‚?? at least for my nose and my taste buds.

( Homeresque voice ) Mmmm‚?? poutine‚?? droolslobbersmackgulpdrool…

Poutine is simple on paper, but difficult to get right – like pretty much any meal. I still have yet to top the poutine that my high school canteen used to serve (oddly enough I went to a preppy school where I was one of the very few lower-middle class Pepsis), though I came pretty damn close tonight.

For those of you who think I‚??m talking about a meal named after (or made of) Russia‚??s current president, let me break it down for you. French fries, topped with cheese curds (ideally St. Albert‚??s) or grated cheese (eidam, cheddar, gouda, mozzarella the more fat the better ‚?? don‚??t bother with that lousy 20% eidam, use the 45% stuff, and forget about those pungent or aromatic cheeses, unless you want to get really experimental; I‚??m talking about classic Quebecois poutine here), smothered in gravy (I also like to have a bit of ketchup on the side, which is acceptable; mayo and tartar sauce, on the other hand, border on sacrelige).

Easy-peasy right? Well, yes, like most cooking it is, but get the wrong kind of cheese or gravy and you’re in for a world of disappointment. Too much gravy makes for a lousy soup. If the gravy’s too cold, then the cheese won’t melt, but if the gravy’s too hot and the cheese isn’t cool enough to compensate, you lose the cheese and end up with a cheese-flavoured quagmire – you might as well go dip your fries in cheese soup. See what I’m getting at here? If you’ve ever had poutine, I’m sure you do.

( leaning back, looking up wistfully, stroking chin ) Ah-yup, I remember my first poutine. I was fourteen years old, on a SEVEC cultural exchange. It was my first night with my host family in Rimouski, Quebec. While it seemed like everyone else had cool partners, I knew right from the start that I wasn‚??t going to get on with mine. Tall, gangly, a little thuggish, a little sullen, very white trash. And hoo-boy, did I call that one properly.

He lived with his mother, her boyfriend and his sisters in an unfinished bungalow in one of the town‚??s poorer areas, one of those hoods where no house is finished and every yard is a junkyard. I don‚??t even know if this guy‚??s place had a yard. I do remember that the roof was missing a lot of shingles, and that siding had not been put on one side of the house (or perhaps it had come off).

This was starting to get long-winded, so I should cut it short now and skip the bits about the host‚??s cute younger sister, how an eleven or twelve year-old boy taught me how to smoke cigarettes, getting drunk on Laurentide beer and dancing my ass off with the cute younger sister, being eaten alive by Rimouski blackflies‚?? yeah, that trip sucked mainly because of the people (except for that cute younger sister), but it had its moments.

See what poutine does to me? Now, where was I‚?? oh, yes, my first poutine.

In that ramshackle hut somewhere in Rimouski‚??s bunghole, I was greeted with a pie tin full of French fries, cheese curds and Bolognese sauce. My initial reaction was one of surprise mixed with curiosity. It smelled good, it looked good and it made sense, it didn‚??t seem like that crazy a combination. And it tasted fantastic.

To my recollection poutine didn‚??t really hit Ottawa until about a year after that. Or maybe I had never noticed it before (though I doubt that ‚?? McDonald‚??s didn‚??t start offering their lame-ass version until something like five years later, and ketchup, salt and white vinegar were the only toppings of choice at your average chip truck). In any case, it was kind of fun to be a little bit ahead of the craze when my friends got into it.

Well, that was fun‚?? I was going to get into beavertails as well, about how when I first moved here I was kind of shocked to find out that they are not Canadian but in fact of Hungarian origin and called ‚?úLangosh‚?Ě (beavertails is hands-down a cooler name), but, as they say on the riverbank, that‚??s another story‚??

May 24, 20:23 (Filed under: Personal, Other )

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