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In Pursuit of Poutine

There are a few odd things that happen when you marry a Canadian.

The first is that you start pronouncing ‘out’ as ‘oat’ and adding ‘eh?’ to the end of statements to turn them into questions. Eg: It’s cold oat [out], eh?

You also realise that you don’t need to indicate that a sport is ‘ice hockey’. Hockey is automatically ice hockey, despite my South African sensibilities that indicate otherwise.

And then there’s the cuisine. Being a foodie, I was quite excited about this part. Canadian staples seemed to be dessert-focused, which is something I can truly get behind. There are Timbits, utterly delectable doughnut holes that you batch-buy at any Tim Horton’s coffee shop. A “Timmies” in Canada is as ubiquitous as a Starbucks in the States or a Wimpy in South Africa. They come in a variety of flavours (my favourite is birthday cake but Chris will fight me on that, favouring the sour cream glaze instead). Then there are Beavertails, which are really just flattened doughnuts.

Okay, we get it. The Canadians like doughnuts. But then he told me about poutine.

What is Poutine?

“Poo-what?” I repeated, my nose wrinkling with distaste.

“Poutine. Fries, gravy and curds,” he said, a manic glint in his eye.

I understand chips (fries) with tomato sauce, even if I won’t touch the stuff. I adore chips with mayo, like they do in Belgium or better yet, a tasty aioli. But GRAVY? Won’t it make them soggy? (The answer was yes, and that’s a good thing). The next query I had pertained to curds.

Curd Discovery

Because the only time I have ever heard of anything ‘curd’ is in the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme. If you don’t recall, she sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Whatever those were. Turns out ‘curds’ means ‘cheese curds’ and they’re pellet-sized lumps of cheese-but-not-cheese. It’s not pieces of grated mozzarella. Curds are not the same as cheese. They’re curds. Apparently they’re sort of tasteless, a bit like haloumi in texture and squeak as you bite them. The key is for the chips and gravy to be piping hot in order for the curds to melt upon impact and then immediately consumed. And the gravy, if you’re wondering, has to be beef and extremely salty.

I was repulsed. And when he pulled up a photo, I nearly hurled…

Trying Poutine for the First Time

Until I visited Canada and tried them in person. My friends, there is no going back. Classic poutine is the way to go, but it’s a gateway drug. I’ve had poutine with pulled pork. Poutine with perogies. I have even tried to replicate poutine in South Africa but it’s really hard to do because I can’t get hold of bags of cheese curds no matter where I look. In Canada, you can get them just about anywhere but in South Africa, they are nowhere to be seen. I even asked a specialty cheese shop and they just looked at me.

As I type this, I’m in withdrawals. We were meant to visit Canada this past December but of course, with COVID, plans changed. And so goes another year without shoveling pulled pork poutine down my throat.

Have you tried poutine? Would you try it?

Photo: Creative Commons/Yuri Long

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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