Poutine – Canadian Comfort Food

I think I may have recovered from this trip just enough to share this journey with you.  The setting is relevant so bare with me a moment…

I was returning from the most fun family reunion ever at Mont Tremblant, about an hour north of Montreal, Canada.  As per usual, I seriously kicked up my heels during our stay and may have scarred a few nieces &  nephews as a result – hey ho.  So on this, our day to return to Boston to board a flight back to Scotland (via Ireland) we were facing a 7 hour car ride…with two small children,  a 20-something year old nephew who strongly advocates a survivalist lifestyle, and three very tired adults – at least one (me) with a whopping hangover.

As we prepared to leave the hotel just after 11:30 am, after lots of packing & tearful goodbyes, we jumped into the car, only to be cut off by a rogue driver on our way out of the underground garage.  At which point we promptly smashed into the wall of the garage…in a rental car. (I wasn’t driving if you were wondering).  Well, we like to think of ourselves as being made of tough stuff, so we assessed the damage, took a deep breath and even though rattled were on our way.

As you do when you are a tired parent facing a long ride in a freshly dented car, we bribed our children with lunch at McDonald’s if they could just behave until we had driven past Montreal in about an hour’s time.  And it was just about there that we stopped cold…for well over an hour…with every sign in French, looking like this.

And we were stuck behind this guy… freaking fabulous.

As it was closer to 2.45 pm when we finally started to move again (remember we still have at least 6 more hours in the car from this locale), we found ourselves slightly lost in the suddenly very rural Quebec.  No McDonald’s was presenting itself to our now very, very hungry and increasingly agitated small children.

In desperation we took the first exit that we were able and began randomly seeking out any place that we could quickly and easily eat and get back on our way.  And that it when things began to greatly improve.

Even though we drove past it at first, the group was drawn to the intriguing outdoor décor and all thoughts of McDonalds happily vanished. And so we entered La Belle Province – Retro d’Iberville and our visit quickly became a Quebecois version of Diners, Drive Ins & Dives.

It was as snazzy on the inside as it was on the out and it was clear that quite a lot of effort had been made to create a fun, retro space replete with lots of shiny chrome details.

But the magic of this adventure lay with these guys.  As our rag-tag fleet approached the counter they were ridiculously warm & welcoming.  Listening to my very Scottish sounding kids and husband try to order Fish & Chips from French Canadian speakers was very entertaining to all involved.  While I neglected to get the proper names of  the lovely woman and the tall guy, I can tell you the middle guy was named Campbell…but he didn’t speak any English so the cultural connection was a bit lost.  And while my group happily ordered the standard fried fish & burgers, I had my prize in sight.  I was finally going to sample the mythic and up until now elusive – POUTINE!

Poutine is the Canadian version of  what folks in Britain might call “Chips, Cheese, Gravy”, but it is very different in texture and flavour. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity as I was about to cross over the border and leave the first of  four countries I had to venture through in the next 48 hours.  Now my only choice was Reguliere or Italienne – presumable with Bolognese-type sauce atop.  I opted to keep my first experience a classic, plus the Italian looked a bit too much like what would be Chili – Cheese Fries in the States of which I have had dubious experiences.

And here is how my trophy appeared upon its arrival!  Hot, crispy fries piled high with fresh cheese curds and a rich beef gravy with strong accents of pepper and lemon.  The signature element is the mild, fresh cheese curds (cheddar I was told) that make an unexpected but not unpleasant squeaking noise upon your teeth when eating.

OK, I realise the term “hot mess” does indeed come to mind, but this was just what my sore head and rattled nerves required.  Additionally, I actually went to university about an hour or so  south-west of this location and could well appreciate how welcome this hot, satisfying, savoury extravaganza could be to combat the shocking cold of the northern New York/ Canadian winter.  As a final bonus, it kept me full for the next  7 1/2 hours which was the actual remainder of the rest of the trip to Boston – but that’s another story.

Whilst you can get poutine just about anywhere, I just have to give a shout out to these guys who were so fun and so bemused to have a random woman come to rave about their food and take their picture.  So if you find yourself anywhere in the area, I can recommend the food, the service & the atmosphere of:

La Belle Province –  Retro D’Iberville 494, boul d’Iberville, Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC J2X 3Y7  450-741-7313.

In term of recipes, even a good search of the internet turns up “oil for frying potatoes and a can/tin of beef gravy” and it all seems more of an assembly job than something requiring a home-made recipe.  I would note that of course you can substitute fresh mozzarella or regular cheddar cheese for the curds, but I would opt for some halloumi, cubed fresh from the pack to replicate the rubbery & squeaky characteristics of the dish.
As an homage to my treat of hot assembled comfort food, I have devise a Poutine Escosse – a hot mound of oven fries, topped with haggis and a whisky, cream gravy…mmmmmmmmm.  
So as all of you bordering the North Atlantic are preparing to stay warm and dry as Hurricane Sandy approaches, you might want to stock up on a hot & hardy treat.
Stay Safe!
Quick update: My friend-in-law who resides in Montreal has now gently informed me that not only does La Belle Province  refer to the nickname that Quebecois refer to their region – the place where we stopped is actually a chain – so you can sample my meal just about anywhere in Quebec.  Funny how none of the employees mentioned it in my interview – oh well, just shows you what I know!

Comments (5)

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  1. jess says:

    whoa, la poutine écossaise – LOVE it!! (though don’t know i’d maintain that level of enthusiasm after actually eating it.)
    great post, great trip, we loved having you Scots in Quebec…

  2. Gigi Murphy says:

    YEOW!! SO glad to know what it is so I can comment appropriately the next time I am offered poutine!! (you worldly thing)

    Nice to see your post! A good reminder to get myself over to Ecosse to come see you and all that my beloved country offers…. 🙂

    Love Geeg

  3. Margy says:

    Well, we actually ordered Poutine with the Washington Halls for our last meal. Fussy me and the group were clearly not up to the gravy part on the fries. I will try again next time but…….as my kids say, “not a fan.” but I loved your blog. XOXO MARGY

  4. Susan in Portugal says:

    heck !!! I missed this post of yours !! POUTINE eh ?? Love the stuff !!! Visited Montréal in 2008 – had to tear myself away … Thanks for this recipe .. I will be trying it ASAP !!!!

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