Lifestyle & Belief

‘Give me cheese curds and give me gravy.’ This festival in Canada is devoted to poutine


Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

Two poutine dishes, an original and a 'Reggae' version, are just a fragment of the extensive menu at La Banquise restaurant in Montreal.

What's better than French fries, cheese curds, and gravy? To Canadians, nothing.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

In Montreal, the famous La Banquise restaurant is one of several establishments around the city that feed Canada's appetite for poutine, a hearty dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy.

The restaurant fries up about 2,000 pounds of potatoes every day to make the classic French-Canadian dish.

With over 28 versions of poutine on the menu, La Banquise knows its stuff. 

La Banquise also participated in La Poutine Week — an annual competition to discover the best poutine in the country. Over 100 restaurants across four cities in Canada threw down their best poutine dishes for competition. Restaurant-goers could visit different locations and vote online for their favorites.

Offering up their dish for the competition, La Banquise had a reggae poutine on the menu. And it became a crowd favorite by the end of the competition.

"Reggae poutine is a bit of a 'lost in translation' item, actually," says food writer Steve Dolinsky, who was plowing his way through two plates of poutine at the restaurant. "It’s got guacamole, tomatoes, banana peppers, ground beef, on top of the typical cheese curds and gravy. So really, it’s more of a Mexican ‘ole’ poutine as opposed to a reggae poutine."

Dolinsky expected to see Jamaican staples like Jerk chicken poutine, but he got none of that. "Apparently, one of the cooks likes reggae music and decided to call it reggae poutine," he explains.

The other plate? A standard poutine preparation.

Dolinsky says that there's an art to quality poutine, an art that isn't easily mastered.

"The curds have to be fresh. They’ve got to have a little squeak to them," he says. "They’ve got to have a little bit of a chew."

And that's just the cheese portion. At La Banquise, they use red potatoes and double fry them to be extra crisp. As for the gravy, "It’s got to be both chicken stock and beef stock."

And this is the simple version.

"They’ve got more than two dozen types. It’s unbelievable how crazy you can get with this dish," he says.

And he's right. At La Poutine Week, restaurants across the city threw together some outrageous combinations. A Japanese version features a fish cake as the base. An Indian variation swaps gravy for a rich butter chicken sauce. Other places piled on lobster, pulled pork and even seal sausage.

"Just because you can put stuff on top of fries and cheese curds, doesn’t mean you necessarily should," says Dolinsky. "I’m a purist, I like the simple poutine that’s sitting in front of me."

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    Red potatoes at La Banquise. The restaurant plows through 2000 pounds of the potatoes per day.

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    At the chopping block. The red potatoes are slightly sweeter than usual, for extra flavor.

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    The fries are La Banquise are fried twice, for extra crispiness.

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    The packets of cheese curds are delivered each morning to the restaurant. Dolinsky says that they must have a "little squeak to them."

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    The gravy consists of chicken and beef, with black pepper being a key ingredient.

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    A plate of original poutine at La Banquise.

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    Credit: Courtesy of Steve Dolinsky

    La Banquise's "Reggae" version of poutine. The dish competed with other variations across Canada during La Poutine week.