The French have long been famed for their exceptional cuisine, and having invented around 400 distinct types of cheeses, it’s fair to say they’ve done their bit for the dairy aisle too.

So it’s no surprise that Quebec’s gastronomic contribution to the world also involves cheese. What is surprising is the way French Canada likes to dish it up.

I had the pleasure of visiting Montreal recently, and of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a sampling of the local specialty: Poutine.

Now, Poutine is one of those things that Canadians seem to either love, or roll their eyes at the mention of, and you can see where the skepticism might come from given that Poutine is essentially Quebecois slang for “mess.”

That’s a pretty apt description for what’s basically a pile of deep-fried potatoes, interspersed with curly, white, shriveled-up cheese curds that have been slathered with opaque, brown, sludge-like gravy.

And yes, it looks about as appetizing as it sounds.

But having previously eaten snails, pate and other such French delicacies, I certainly wasn’t going to let some innocuous potatoes and cheese get the better of me – especially after waiting in line to get into the restaurant for so long.

Apparently, La Banquise is the place to eat Poutine in Montreal, and it is no secret because the queue curls out the door. So by the time I was seated and my Poutine was staring me down, I couldn’t tell if my stomach was growling because it was starving or because it was warning me to get up and run.

I didn’t run. Instead, I stuck my fork into it like a good sport and I ate.

And it was good.

Especially when I shut my eyes. Cutting of the disturbing visual sensory experience allowed me to actually appreciate the crunch of the potatoes, the sharp, slightly salty tang of the gravy and the chewy texture of the cheese.

Nevertheless, there can be too much of a good thing, and I admit that I did end up leaving about two fistfuls of lumpy curds sitting on my plate swirling around sadly in the congealing gravy.

It was good (and it would probably have been even better paired with a hangover) but it makes me think of my favorite line from this great satirical song about Poutine:

“The cheese curds melt as they come out of the pot, but once in your stomach they congeal into a knot – if the food does that, Poutine is what you got.”


La Banquise is at 994 Rue Rachel Est, Montreal. Subway: Station Mont Royal.

What do you think? Have you tried Poutine? Love it or loathe it?