J'aime Poutine

by Matt Salisbury on 28 October 2014, 10:10AM

As a student in the North of England, it’s a safe bet to say that my culinary experiences while away at university weren’t exactly of the Michelin Star variety. Instead, Fray Bentos pies that could be eaten from the tin, beans on toast and Pot Noodles were amongst the delights rustled up in my student kitchen in Preston, while - for a special occasion - chips, cheese and gravy from the local chippie always went down well with a beer following a day sitting in lectures.

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Chips, cheese and gravy might as well be the North’s attempt at a bit of ‘culinary fusion’, as even today, a request for chips and gravy (never mind the cheese) when journeying down south is enough to get the kind of looks that leave you wondering if you’ve suddenly grown a second head. So you would hardly expect to head to foreign climes and discover that it’s one of the most popular dishes around – just with a slightly more exotic name. The Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard is a big fan for a start, with one of the first things she likes to do when returning home being to ‘go get a poutine’ with her mum in Montréal.

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The idea is simple. Take your fries, top them with cheese curds (particularly important because of the texture and a far cry from the regular cheese back home) and then add gravy. Originating in rural areas, poutine has now spread to become one of the most popular dishes in Canada; with a myriad of variations available from those who want to push the boundaries. Want to go Italian? Add some Bolognese. Prefer Mexican? Crack out the hot peppers and add a little spice. Fancy fine dining? Throw in a little Foie Gras.

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From such relatively simple beginnings, the opportunities really are endless and no trip to Canada should be complete without sampling poutine at least once, be that in one of the more famous establishments like Montréal’s La Banquise, or at any of the myriad of more ‘greasy spoon’ like cafes that feature it on the menu. However, to focus simply on poutine would be to do Canada and Québec in particular, a huge disservice as the province is almost a dream location for food lovers. And it’s not all just about Maple Syrup either. As someone who has always liked his grub, I can speak from experience...

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Québec is a region where identity is hugely significant, and as such, local produce is king. Nowhere is this better shown than in the Charlevoix region in the north of Québec, which is home to its own Flavour Trail to showcase everything that is offered. A relatively simple idea, a group of producers, growers and restaurateurs have come together to create a culinary journey for those travelling through the region, with more than 40 different locations on which to stop off as you head from Baie Saint-Paul towards La Malbaie.

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Everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to cheeses, and from meats to freshly baked bread, can be found along the trail which is one of the premier gastronomical treats that can be experienced while in the region. My own experience of the Flavour Trail was limited to three stops, which included a stop at la Laiterie Charlevoix just outside Baie Saint-Paul on Route 138. Here, there was the chance to fully see what makes the Flavour Trail what it is, with cheese produced in house – and in full view of customers – on a daily basis being sold alongside a selection of products from elsewhere along the route.Those products were then showcased in impressive fashion in a meal at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu.

If there is one thing that I personally took away from the Flavour Trail however, it wasn’t the food. As tasty as beautifully cooked veal with freshly grown vegetable was and as refreshing as it was to sample home grown fruits, it was Canada’s Ice Cider that really hit the spot. A world away from the ciders to be enjoyed back home, Ice Cider is created by using the juice from frozen fruit to create a high quality drink that is the perfect after dinner treat. Let’s just say that the bottle that travelled back in my case didn’t last for long...

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While locality is important, that’s not to say there isn’t any international influence on Canadian cuisine, most notably in Montreal. Here, as you wander along St. Lawrence Boulevard, there is the chance to explore the rich gastronomy of immigrants from around the world who chose to settle in the city. A food tour is the perfect way to explore everything offered and with Portuguese, Italian, French, Chinese, Spanish and Latin American communities amongst those who live side-by-side along the street, there is the opportunity to embark on a culinary trip around the globe.

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That’s not to say there isn’t Canadian fare along the way, with a Wilensky’s Special from the famous old cafe bar of the same name – which has been largely unchanged since opening in the 1930s – being amongst the highlights that simply have to be sampled. The special grilled beef salami and beef bologna sandwich with mustard on a kaiser roll, pressed flat from the grill even has its own poem to make sure you eat it the right way.

When ordering a Special,
you should know a thing or two.
It is always served with mustard;
it is never cut in two.
Don’t ask us why; just understand
that this is nothing new.
This is the way that it’s been done
since 1932.

The only word of warning for food lovers heading for Canada is to be aware of the fact that you will return home weighing more than when you left.

Either that or my jeans have shrunk in the wash!

To find out more about holidays to Québec, click here

For more information about travelling to visit Tourism Québec


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