Montrealers have spoken: Poutine, Quebec's gift to the world (right after Celine Dion), has been named their city's most iconic dish.
The humble yet ubiquitous dish of crispy French fries, squeaky cheese curds and delicious brown gravy was voted for by readers in a 2020 survey conducted by Time Out Montreal, securing poutine its sport in Time Out's global guide to the most iconic dishes around the world.
While it might seem like a no-brainer to pick poutine, we're willing to bet that Montrealers will be surprised with the runner-ups that followed this dish. While some (rightfully) gave a shout-out to smoked meat and bagels, some curious outliers thought that donuts, pizza and a single vote for "brunch" were also deserving of the crown.
Side note: If you're the one who voted for brunch and you're reading this, please get in contact with us. We have questions.
The question isn't what is poutine, but why is poutine
Anyone who knows about Québec, and Canada as a whole, knows what poutine is. That means that the question isn't what is poutine, but why is poutine? The history is debatable; as many as five different towns in Québec have gone down in the history books for claiming to have invented it somewhere between 1957 and 1966: There's Le Lutin qui rit in Warwick, Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, somewhere in either the city of Saint-Hyacinthe in Montérégie or town of Nicolet in Centre-du-Québec, or La P’tite Vache in Princeville. this simple yet magical dish of crispy French fries covered in squeaky cheese curds and topped with a warm, brown gravy.
Whoever invented it, poutine is now a juggernaut of a menu item whose appearance, flavour, texture and the pure gustatory pleasure it brings has spurred the creation of infamous restaurants in Montreal and beyond with dozens of varieties, piles of swag and merch, a potato chip flavour, an ice cream flavour that one weird time, and a World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto.
Poutine is popular, but it's also political. Having been previously called "Canada's national dish", that's raised flags for cultural appropriation of the Québécois or Québec's national identity. The Montreal-based academic Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet made headlines back in 2017 after penning an article entitled Poutine Dynamics, in which he wrote about how poutine's original working-class status was originally used to stigmatize Québec society.
"Poutine became the flagship junk food item: When Quebec media spoke about unhealthy diets the story was often accompanied by a photo of poutine, and there was this notion that people who ate it weren't taking care of themselves," Fabien-Ouellet told VICE in a follow-up interview. "Not so long ago, people disassociated themselves from poutine, they didn't want anyone to know they were eating it and felt it was shameful."
He rightfully points out that, over time, fine dining chefs such as Martin Picard's foie gras poutine at Au Pied du Cochon and Chuck Hughes' Iron Chef-winning plate of lobster poutine helped to raise poutine out of its status as slop for the proletariat (our words, not his) to a cultural star of Québec. The keyword here is "Québec": It's a Québecois creation, not a Canadian one, and that falls in line with many other contentious instances in history of appropriating another culture's cuisine without due respect.
That said, while poutine wasn't invented in Montreal, we're willing to bet the farm that some of the best in the world can be found in this city.