The tale of the origin of the word ‘poutine’ – that classic Québécoise Canadian dish of crisp French fries, creamy cheese curds and a light, fragrant gravy to bring it all together – is full of amusing anecdotes.
While several versions attribute the moniker to being a version of the word ‘pudding’ (in both English and varied French dialects), another, simpler idea just points to the name having originated from an unidentified customer telling an unnamed chef to “put in” the cheese and gravy in the taters at a meal a long, long time ago. Yet another story indicates a classic Québécoise slang word for ‘mess’, which is pretty much what this slurpsome snack (with so much potential to be a meal in itself) is. What it also is, today, is a widely popular global treat with super-creative variants found across countries and kitchens. And it is to be noted that, ideally, the poutine’s potatoes must be crisp, the cheese curds ‘squeaky’, and the gravy thin and imbued with the subtle flavours of a good stock.
Though it has not quite caught on in Pune, a few establishments proudly offer both classic and innovative takes on the poutine here, leaving much – pleasurable – scope for it to be further explored.
Over at The Ship – which presents a rather zany menu overall – this creation comes in four whole mouth-watering flavours. These include: thick potato slices drowned in a classic combo of cheeses with the light touch of béchamel; another that adds tender, spiced chicken to this mix; a third, mouth-watering choice with shreds of perfectly-cooked carabeef tenderloin; and a fourth that spices things up with pulled pork drowned in a hot, piquant barbecue sauce.
Interestingly, Aufside @ Hotfut is another location that offers more than one version of the poutine, with a top-notch cheese-jalapeño option (the aromas of the cooked cheese and fiery pepper blending take things to another level), as well as a generous Mexican-spiced chilli lamb topping with a sauce reminiscent of salsa. Third, but not the least, there is also an absolutely delicious one that combines good old healthy broccoli with the umami of mushrooms atop the potato delight.
11 East Street Café, on the other hand, keeps things fairly conventional when it comes to the mildness of the pour-over (a mix of creamy allemande sauce and velvety shashlik gravy), but adds a lovely hit of green chillies to the mix for a zesty infusion of desi aromas. This is offered in both veggie-laden and spiced chicken options.
The all-vegetarian Tales and Spirits adds another layer of depth of flavour to the proceedings, blending a bunch of creamy cheeses with garlicky, basil-packed fresh pesto in this dish, which leaves the classic snacker with shades of pretty green. Protip: it pairs rather well with the establishment’s refreshing Sea of Love mocktail with apple juice and kiwi crush.
Meanwhile, Cuba Libre presents a poutine with a fiery ‘Cuban’ salsa, perfectly offsetting the rich mildness of the crisp fries and gratinated cheese, not to mention adding in generous doses of sour cream packed with chopped chives.
And, if you are looking for an even lighter gravy that will let you divert all your attention to the heavenly wonders of the cheese and potato amalgam, Holy Smokes does a poutine topped with a truly large heap of cheese and a very mild sauce to go with it.
So, with such few locations when it comes to this ridiculously awesome snack, it appears enthusiasts may have to take up its cause with new vigour if they wish to further popularise the trend with local restaurateurs. Or, alternatively, revel in –and get messy with – the already beautiful choices available at the moment.
Shweta has been writing about food for a few years now and has dabbled in TV, print and online journalism for over almost a decade. She has written on and edited for topics ranging from the environment, culture and lifestyle to politics, business and, of course, food. She has written for publications under the Times Group, Fox Life India and NDTV. When she's not devouring a good book or spending vast swathes of time on the Interweb, she loves to set off on all manner of culinary explorations.