By Jett Thomason

“So what’s the food like in Canada?” I ask. Chris, environmental engineer and admitted Canadian, is telling me about his country at a Washington, DC winter happy hour.

“Well, basically it’s pretty much the same as the States.” I knew it. “But there, we’ve got a great bar food that originated in Quebec. It’s called ‘poutine’.”

Canadian friends

Not quite the melodic French flow of words like hors d’oeuvres or entrée that I was expecting of a dish from Quebec.

“Oh man, it’s great!” Chris is enthusiastic. “French fries and cheese curds. It’s so good!”

Cheese curds were introduced to me by an ex-girlfriend from Wisconsin, so there’s a soft spot in my heart for a squeaky curd. But I’m not really feeling the pairing with French fries.

“And then,” Chris continues, “You add gravy on top!”

“What, like brown, regular gravy?” I ask.

“Yes. Man! It’s so good.”

I take a long swig of my beer. “Chris, you Canadians are alright, but I’m never eating that poutine stuff.”

Six months later I’m cowered over an Ottawa diner with Chris, his lovely wife Christine, and a large group of their friends. My fork is poised with a prime load of fries, cheese curds, and slightly congealed brown gravy. I take a bite. Man, it’s so good.

Ottawans know that poutine is good. They love poutine and God love Ottawans, they’re not afraid to buck tradition and take some chances with the dish, too. In my ten days in Ottawa (great city and you should visit) I started seeing poutine in its classic incarnation and other interpretations everywhere. I knew that for this experience, these tales to have any real credibility, I’d have to capture photographic proof. Thus was born, “Portraits of Poutine”.

classic poutine canada

This is it. The classic, the renowned, the poutine. Legend has it that the gravy is to help keep the French fries and cheese curds warm in a cold Quebecois bar. Doesn’t it look wonderful here? Yours, for the idiosyncratic price of $5.48. Canadian.

poutine everywhere canada

I’m not kidding when I said the poutine is available everywhere. Everywhere.

Urban Poutine canada

I don’t know what’s more pretentious. Claiming their take on basic poutine is ‘famous’ or somehow belittling what I’m sure is lovely ‘rural’ poutine. Let them know what you think at www.urbanwell.ca

poutine multiculturalism canada

Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism. And here we have it, cuisine from the heartland and cuisine from the islands living side by side in peace. United in their poutine.

island jerk poutine canada

How can you not spring for the $2 addition of curds, gravy and a lil’ island jerk flava?

smokes poutine canada

I was a big fan of Smoke’s. It is the kind of poutine joint not afraid of asking The Eternal Question. “How do you like your poutine?”

newspapers poutine

Newspaper clippings celebrating poutine. Note the stark and shameful absence of American newspapers on this wall.

poutinerie canada

This is a photo of the counter of a ‘poutinerie’.

Note the wide variety of poutines. From Italian to Mexican to American South and back, Smoke’s has it all.

Note the young man at center. He is a ‘poutinier’. Learn these words and you are ready for Canada.

Note the great Smoke’s Poutinerie tee-shirt on the poutinier. I cry a little every time I see this picture and remember I decided to pass on purchasing a Poutine tee-shirt.

pulled pork poutine before canada

Smoke’s pulled pork poutine. Before.

pulled pork poutine after canada

Smoke’s pulled pork poutine. After.

large poutine canada

Mmmmmm….I recommend making some Canadian friends and sharing the large.

poutine hood ottawa

This is a shot of the closest thing to a ‘hood in Ottawa. Here, it’s just drive-by Delicious Poutine.

zacks poutine canada

Like a high-school yearbook, this brings back memories…

First dish of poutine. Saturday, 2:04 am. Happy face indeed.