Because that would explain why I’m writing this post on my tablet using a Bluetooth keyboard instead of on my laptop the way nature clearly intended. (The keyboard also has a tendency to ignore every third time I try to use the spacebar, so if I come off as more illiterate than usual, blame that.)
So, while I’m typing away on this and waiting for my laptop’s operating system to update, I’m sure you’re wondering, “What has Jeff been doing in the eighteen days since he rang the bell?” I can answer that in one word: poutine.
No, that is not some unnatural sex act. (Although I still can’t keep myself from snickering every time I say it.) I’ve been having poutine at least once a week, maybe more, in the past month or so because this is a phenomenon sadly unknown back in St. Louis. When I leave in a month, my ready access to poutine will be cut off.
A moment of silence for that, please.
Right, I know that most of my blog’s visitors are either from Canada or from Missouri, and I’m not telling Canadians anything they don’t already know. But, you folks in the Show-Me state, you do not know what you’re missing.
Poutine is French for “mess.” (Yes, it’s another language, Missourians. I know it’s a struggle for some to keep a firm grasp on their mother tongue and—well, hang on there a sec, using the word “grasp” and the phrase “mother tongue” in the same sentence is just wrong.
Wait, where was I? Right, French for “mess.” What that word doesn’t tell you is that it’s a fantastically amazing mess whose existence might be proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Wait, I think Ben Franklin said the same thing about beer. Anyway. Poutine is made from french fries, a generous helping of cheese curds, all of it smothered in brown gravy. I don’t know if my friend Shark Fu has ever had poutine, but her well-known love of smothered anything would make this a no-brainer. Anyway, you would think that “brown gravy” would instantly equal “not vegetarian,” right?
Oh, how wrong you would be.
While most places make their gravy with drippings or whatever you carnivores use (I would say I can hear your arteries clogging from over here, but I’m the one with high cholesterol and an unnatural love for cheese, so I’m not about to cast stones). However, there is an equally sizable selection of places that make their poutine with miso or mushroom gravy, or at least offer the option. Yay for me!
The keys to good poutine are really crunchy fries (because that gravy is going to make them soggy really fast otherwise), fresh curds (listen for the squeak, at least until they start to melt, and then they’re still good), and of course a good gravy. Not too bland, but not too salty.
Here’s where I’ve gone in the past month or so, with help from my friends Ruth (who keeps yelling “No!” when I mention that I’m leaving in a month) and Nicole (who thinks I might be the only person who eats more poutine than she does).
1. Belgian Fries, 1885 Commercial Drive.
This, I think, was the first place where I had poutine once I got to Vancouver. I don’t remember why or how I was made aware of the dish, but I was walking down Commercial and saw the sign and thought, “Ooh, fries. I’m suddenly hungry.” I was probably thinking I’d get cheese fries or a side of mayo, but then poutine must have caught my eye. And thank heavens for that.
You never forget your first poutine, but it’s been so long since I’ve been back and I’ve gone to so many other places that I’ve forgotten most of the character of that poutine. I think I’ll have to go back and try it again.
2. La Belle Patate, 1215 Davie St.
Okay, the first thing that’s surprising about this place is that it’s smack dab in the middle of the gaybourhood. How can a place that specializes in serving up carbs and fat make a go of it in the hotbed of body dysmorphia? However they do it, I’m glad they do, although I think I was the only member of the clan of Dorothy in there when I went.
This was the first place that I had curds that squeaked (which sounds like a medical condition: “Side effects include headaches, dry mouth, and squeaky curds. Ask your doctor or pharmacist”). Kind of funny, but also darn good. So were the fries’ flavour, which was savoury and well-seasoned. They might have competed a bit too much with the gravy, which was really nice.
3. Smoke’s Poutinerie, 942 Granville St.
Poutine is a big enough thing in Canada that they actually have a chain of places that specializes in nothing but poutine. You can get it with beef, pulled pork, other dead animal parts that I wasn’t on a first-name basis with. You can also get vegetarian options that include nacho poutine, served with jalapenos and gaucamole. I got the regular poutine, but I also got it “Wow”‘d for $3 extra. Think supersize, because good god, that thing was huge. I didn’t think I’d be able to finish it, but I’d also run 17K that day, so I guess I worked up an appetite.
4. Fritz European Fry House, 718 Davie St.
I know what you’re thinking, two poutine places on the same street within five blocks of each other? Does Vancouver have a poutine problem?
Yes, they do have a problem. A tasty, tasty problem.
I think this might have been my favourite so far of all the places I’ve gone. The fries were phenomenally crispy and golden and just tasted freshly made. The gravy was delicious without being overpoweringly salty, and the fries held up well under it. I’m not sure if the curds squeaked, but that was because they were already melting. They were layered in between the fries—layer of fries, layer of curds, gravy, lather, rinse, repeat—which meant that there were curds and fries all the way to the bottom. So good. So very, very good.
The place is open late and is apparently quite popular with the 2am drunk crowd. I can see why.
5. The Burger Bar, Student Union Building, UBC
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but yes, I go to this place way too often. Seeing as I live on campus and the SUB is about a seven-minute walk away, it’s kind of my default “I’m hungry/I need comfort food/it’s raining/it’s Thursday” place. This is the only place I’ve seen where you can get smoked salmon on your poutine, which I’ve not had but my friend Jade has and says it’s not bad. I’ve had their curry poutine, which wasn’t all that spectacular; the curry gravy wasn’t spicy enough for my taste.
What I can recommend unreservedly is the waffle fry poutine. It’s pretty much what you’d expect: curds, gravy (kind of on the salty side, but I like salty), and crunchy, seasoned waffle fries. Those things don’t get soggy for anything, but they do hold heat really efficiently, and I’ve burned my mouth more than once. Caveat eater.
Wait, I just remembered something. An honourable mention goes to the first place I had poutine, a restaurant/bar on Main Street called Habit. Their gravy was fantastic, but they only get an honourable mention because they closed when I wasn’t paying attention, darn it.