According to Canadian Noah Bernamoff, we’ll never know the true origin of poutine. And it doesn’t really matter. But as anyone who grew up in the Canadian province of its birth is aware, the dish—French fries drenched in gravy and covered in cheese curds—has a time and a place.
“You eat it late at night,” he says. “You eat it in a hockey rink in Bumblefuck, Quebec.”
Nonetheless, Bernamoff, a native Montrealer, serves plenty of it to Americans from all walks of life, and at all times of day, at New York’s Mile End, the delicatessen he owns. To foreigners, it serves as an emblem of all things Canadian. And while poutine is far from a great point of contention among natives of that country, they resent seeing their culinary culture reduced to one greasy dish.
Despite its simplicity, though, that dish is not without its nuances. On the most basic level, solid iterations of all three ingredients should guarantee a good poutine. But, as Bernamoff explains, companies in Quebec have developed poutine powder—"almost a sauce thickener"—by which some people swear, even if it sounds like a lackluster way to make gravy. Meanwhile, stateside, diners have begun to serve bastardized forms of poutine, peddling versions like disco fries, a plate that trades the requisite cheddar curd for a queso-like cheese sauce.
Few things unite Quebecers, a group divided by the enormously complicated politics of language, but poutine might be one of them. Still, there are holdouts. Here, two writers raised in Montreal, Lucas Wisenthal and Erik Leijon, debate one of the province’s least pressing issues: whether or not the seven-decade-old dish is trash.