Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Damn Mess of Cheddar

What do you get when you mix French fries with fresh Cheddar curds and gravy? For most folks it sounds like a decadent mess to eat when you're drinking heavily or trying to recover from a night of heavy drinking. But for the Québécois and their fellow (as of now) Canadians, it's poutine, a delicious dish that fortifies Canadians during their harsh winters.

Prior to traveling to Ottawa, which I've done at least once a year for the past three years, I didn't know anything about poutine. I had heard, of course, of cheese fries and fries with gravy and even cheese fries with gravy (I was a member of a co-ed fraternity, after all, and never shied away from bars and bar food), but these dishes are something quite different from poutine. Those culinary travesties, made with processed orange cheese and commercial gravy, claim a place only at the bar and cannot, like poutine, secure the exalted status of a national dish. In Ottawa I've seen mothers and daughters solemnly eating poutine, not saying a word to each other and only taking a break from putting fork to mouth to take a sip of black coffee. This is a far cry from a drunken and loud bar meal.

I've become a bit obsessed with poutine and want to eat it every day when I'm in Ottawa. Part of my fascination has to do with my continual quest for local and regional foods, but another part--a greater part, perhaps--has to do with its undeniable deliciousness. When eating a grilled veggie sandwich at the Elgin Street Diner, how could I possibly turn down the chance to transform plain fries into a gloriously rich dish with gravy and milky cheese curds, made at a nearby cheese factory, for only two extra dollars? And I don't even have to worry about fooling myself that the gravy is vegetarian. At the Elgin Street Dinner the deeply flavored gravy is made from mushrooms. This is not the case with the gravy offered at other establishments, but I still might have to try it from a roadside poutine truck. After all, it's the local thing to do.

If you want to try some nonlocal poutine that's served on white plates in a trendy New York City setting, instead of in Styrofoam cups in cold Canada, visit The Inn LW 12, an Anglo-Canadian gastro-pub in the Meatpacking District (7 Ninth Ave., at Little W. 12th St.).

1 comment:

anne said...

Yeah, you're back on the blog! Have some German cheese (and of course quality time with Becca!) for me.