03/20/2012 11:40 EDT | Updated 05/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Poutine: The Ultimate Guilty Pleasure Food


We all have guilty pleasure foods! You know, the ones you eat when nobody's looking (and maybe even when a few people are); the foods that give us immediate comfort and ones we secretly crave. Although after eating them, guilt pangs weigh on our consciences and we start suffering from eater's remorse.

There are a plethora of guilty pleasure foods that come to mind, whether they're sweet and full of sugar, or savoury and loaded with carbs. These are the foods that we should have given up after our childhood or after university, but these tastes stick with you.

So here is my not-so-secret guilty pleasure food, which is so bad for you that I get embarrassed telling people how frequently I indulge in it. It is Canada's quintessential comfort food and Quebec's celebrated pride and joy. My guilty pleasure food is none other than poutine. It is pronounced "put- teing" in the correct Quebec dialect. To me, the ingredients of a good poutine consist of salty fries, a brown gravy that is not too thick and, the piece de resistance, cheese curds on top and blended into the dish.

Far and away the most important element of making the dish authentic is the cheese curds. They are small chunks of fresh, young cheddar cheese that fall off during the cheese-making process. The curds have a rubbery texture similar to silly putty and a fresh curd actually makes a squeaking sound.

I have had a few funny but shameful moments with poutine that I will share with you for your reading pleasure. One time, when I was living in Montreal, I came home late at night and found some poutine on my kitchen table. The gravy seemed a little congealed and the fries were soggy, but I decided to indulge in it anyway and it was very satisfying! The next morning, my roommate peaked into my bedroom to see how I was faring. She explained that she had found the poutine under our couch while cleaning our apartment and it was a couple days old! I obviously didn't even notice and was perfectly content.

Another memorable moment was when I was invited to witness the world's largest poutine competition. The contenders were heavy-hitters from the Major League Eating Federation and came from far and wide to compete in this first-ever competition against some local amateurs who qualified. At the end of it all, Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, who is ranked number four in the world in the MLE, reigned supreme and took the title of the most poutine eaten in 10 minutes with a whooping 13 pounds of the stuff! He added this win to his impressive record of over 20 eating titles, which include eating 275 Pickled Jalapeno Peppers in 10 minutes, and 47 slices in the World Pizza Eating Championship in 10 minutes. He is also the pie eating champion! Interestingly enough, "Deep Dish" only had tried poutine in Windsor a few weeks before the competition. This was one of the only moments in my life when I could not stomach poutine afterwards.

Another memory was at one of my milestone birthdays; my very best friends organized my own poutine-eating contest. I went head-to-head against a few of my friends who volunteered to participate. We were given one big tub of poutine and we needed to duke it out to see who would finish their tub first. I went against friends who threw their utensils out and started using their fingers. One of my friends just inhaled the poutine like soup. I maintained my composure and just forked in big mouthfuls and did my best. We were all class acts! At the end, I came in second to one of my guy friends. Not bad for a lady! Finally, for my most recent birthday my friends made me a poutine birthday cake from Toronto's Poutini's!

Over the years, there have been many variations of poutine that have become popular. There are poutines topped with various meats, like pulled pork, bacon, roast beef or chicken. There are sauces used as toppings, such as tomato sauce or peppercorn sauce, and a variety of different cheeses from feta, to asiago and goat cheese. There are even different fries, like sweet potato or shoestring fries. There are even high-end poutines at some fancier restaurants where it's topped with the richness of foie gras or the decadence of truffle oil. However, I am very much a traditionalist and I stick to the plain old traditional poutine. Call me boring, but don't mess with perfection!

Perhaps the reason why so many of our neighbours to the south never "get" why we love poutine so much is that when they try it they usually are sober and eating poutine for the novelty of it instead of eating it to soak up all the alcohol in the body. After explaining to my American friends that poutine was cheese fries with gravy, they would look at me in disgust as they visualized a heart attack on a plate. Although I am now happy to report that poutine has even hit across the border in the U.S. Now there are actual poutine places popping up all over the U.S. I've seen them in New York, L.A., Dallas and Florida!

So my secret is out! Poutine is the food that I cannot resist. It will forever be my comfort food and guilty pleasure. Everyone has one (or many!) What's yours?