Here's How Poutine Was First Invented

Poutine, the beloved national dish of Canada (via National Foods of the World), is popular all over that nation with Anglophones and Francophones alike. In fact, it may be one of the few things those two groups do agree on. It is still, however, a dish that mystifies many of their neighbors to the south. While poutine is beginning to catch on in the U.S., it's still not the first dish that comes to mind when we think of ways to cook potatoes.

So who came up with the idea of combining cheese curds with french fries in the first place, anyway? And then smothering the whole tasty mess with gravy... genius, but again, kind of unexpected. Is this just the kind of wacky, yet brilliant, idea you dream up during those long Canadian winters? Or was there some kind of secret agenda behind it? According to La Banquise, a Montreal restaurant that offers a mind-blowing 31 varieties of poutine, the dish's origins are shrouded in mystery, with several different restaurants and dairies claiming to have invented it. Everyone does seem to agree, however, that poutine originated in rural Quebec, and that it's actually a fairly recent dish that dates back no farther than the 1950s.

These restaurants claim to have invented poutine

The most widespread poutine origin story involves a now-closed restaurant in the town of Warwick called Le Lutin Qui Rit (The Laughing Elf). It seems that a patron once asked the proprietor — a man named Fernand Lachance — to mix in some cheese curds with his fries. The New York Times further elaborates on the story to include an explanation of how the dish got its name: it seems that Monsieur Lachance, seeing the gooey cheese melted all over the fries he'd just cooked, was perhaps not best pleased by its appearance, as the word he chose to describe it was "poutine" — a local French slang term for "mess."

Another restaurant, Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, has actually registered a trademark that puts forth its claim to have invented poutine. One of its former owners, a man named Jean-Paul Roy, may have been the first person to serve the curd and potato combo topped with the now de rigueur gravy. If this is true, he may not have invented the dish, but he did improve it significantly.

Poutine might also have originated at a dairy

There is also the possibility that poutine was originally created by one of the numerous curd-producing dairies in Quebec's Nicolet or Saint-Hyacinthe regions, or perhaps by a dairy in Princeville. This dairy, which went by the name of Princesse, produced curds in abundance but lacked its own storefront in which to market them. Instead, the dairy partnered with a nearby restaurant called La P'tite Vache (The Little Cow) to sell its curds at their counter. One regular customer, whose name has been lost to history, used to order fries and then mix them with the curds he'd just bought. According to this version of the story, the dish was originally known as 50-50 since it consisted of 50 percent fries and 50 percent cheese. Once somebody got the idea of adding gravy, this new concoction was called "mixte."

Whoever you may be, Mr. (or Ms.) Poutine Inventor, you're a real Canadian hero, all right, right up there alongside Wayne Gretzky and Tim Horton.