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Is poutine Canada’s national food? Two arguments for, two against

With slowing hearts we see thee rise (Image: blue.tofu)

When legendary U.S. journalist and food writer Calvin Trillin finally got around to trying poutine last year, he deemed it “surprisingly inoffensive” in an article for the New Yorker. That would adequately describe last night’s 11th annual Leacock Debate—which was to decide whether poutine should become Canada’s national dish—unless any ardent fans were to take umbrage with the oft-repeated breakdown of poutine’s essentially disgusting-delicious ingredients.

The debate itself, moderated by Trillin, had much in common with the Québécois staple. It was purely for entertainment, had no nourishing substance and was basically gravy to go along with dinner co-prepared by Anthony Walsh of Canoe. Here, a breakdown of the arguments for and against:

PRO: Proponents argued the importance of poutine in Canadian history, with CBC’s Carol Off claiming that General Wolfe’s victory on the Plains of Abraham was inspired by his triumphant, morale-boosting shout after overcoming constipation from a curious new food, “a thick and sticky mass of starch and protein.”

CON: Bob Ramsay invited anyone in the audience who had consumed poutine within the past week to stand up. Nobody in this crowd had recently needed to recover from a night of over-indulgence at Muzik.

PRO: Had we taken poutine more seriously, jested lawyer William McDowell, the whole Jaffergate scandal could have been avoided (a walk to the poutine truck would have cleared Jaffer’s head, while the dense meal would have soaked up the “demon rum”).

CON: Author Andrew Pyper argued that we have no right to claim poutine as our own: “There’s nothing Canadian about french fries.”

While those opposed eked out a slight victory, poutine actually has little competition for the national dish title. Canadian bacon is more of a side dish, maple syrup isn’t really a meal, and Timbits are just doughnut holes. That basically leaves us to choose between poutine and seal heart.

  • Kezzie

    I would argue that tortiere is the likely frontrunner for Canada’s national dish.

  • Dave Thompson

    You don’t get it.

    French fries for the french-speaking people.
    English cheddar for the english-speaking people.
    Gravy for the blood of the indians (I have no idea where I’m going with this :)

  • ducksinthewind

    I think I have it: Timmy’s, syrup and bacon notwithstanding, the French and English are too far apart on the cooking spectrum to get to the middle and make something representative AND wonderful.

    If this is not as good as (southwest U.S.) chili cheese fries, it might be because the curds are kind of an acquired taste, and they insist on using “entrails and stuff” to make gravy.

  • Salanth

    Butter tarts and Nanaimo bars!

  • Dan Cutts

    It is Poutine, mostly because that is what the world makes fun of you for eating.

    Like Americans have hot dogs.

    Japanese have sushi.

    English have Chicken Tika Masala, (Well we make fun of them for Fish & Chips)

    French have Croissants

    Germans have Sauerkraut

    Russians have Borscht

    Koreans have dogs

    The list is endless.


    Poutine is certainly responsible for the growing Canadian population…not in numbers but in size. It not only feeds the masses but grows their asses, boosts the cost of health care and doubles the size of the coffin they bury you in.
    All this creates jobs….it should be served in little casket shaped dishes or put in a blender and eaten introveniously. Hell…fill the pool lets swim in the shit but don’t call it Canadian…call it Pigs swill!

  • John Dorry

    Poutine is for idiots, Canadians, or, non-Canadians alike. Why does Toronto Life editorial bother bringing this topic up so many times? Seems like they are really desperate for content if this is all they can come up with…

  • Anna

    So what if french fries are not Canadian. Pasta is originally from China – no one would call pasta dishes “Chinese food”. I mean American hot dogs include bread – is bread strictly “American”, so why can’t Poutine be Canadian simply because we didn’t invent fries. Flawed logic.

    As for Tim Delvin’s comment, no one is forcing anyone to eat Poutine, people willingly eat it. I am a total “Quebecoise” and I am not overweight despite eating Poutine. I can tell you that all the provinces have fat people and to blame it solely on Poutine is wrong and silly (my fat Ontario family have no idea what Poutine is). When I go to La Belle Province (a fast food chain in Quebec) most people are not eating Poutine but rather hot dogs, fries and burgers. Poutine is popular and everyone here eats it once in a while, but it’s not like it’s the only food that sells in the fast food industry.

    Also for those who make Poutine with Cheddar (Cracker Barrel) or Mozz – all I can saw is ewwwww! It will taste horrible, and is not real poutine.

  • Melyssa Belanger

    Poutine is the best because you can get all of your food groups in there. And I’m also a total “Quebecoise” and I’m not fat. Also poutine should be made with St-Albert chesse and not cheddar or mozz.

  • Sue

    Why in the name of everything sacred, would you promote obesity in Canada??????? This dish is nothing but pure fat!

  • Sue Wilson

    The world’s best poutine is served by Mike in the Trenton on beer store parking lot.He has had people from all over the worldd, my grandson was teethed on them. Everyone who comes to the Trenton Army base, knows our little secret, so please bring down your camera’s and you empty stomach because Mike’s Poutine has been around forever and is stuffed, with the best potatoes,, gravy and curds.That’s Mike’s Chip Truck, Trenton ( by the beer store)

  • Andrew/

    As a new Canadian, I cannot believe people want soggy (french) fries under cheese and gravy as a national dish!

    Sorry… But there /must/ be better choices

  • Gail

    Just what we all need with a growing population of obese children and adults… A HEART ATTACK WAITING TO HAPPEN… Why not go with fish and veggies (salad) or something else equally healthy…. My God,let’s us some common sense.

  • Les Starck

    Although I love fries,gray and cheese, I really don’t think that poutine should be advertised as a great Canadian dish. To me it is an insult to Canadians from East to West. There are so many great homemade dishes that Grandmothers and Mothers make across this great country of ours every day that beat poutine hands down. There are just to many dishes for me to name but I am sure anyone reading this knows that I am right. Of course people seem to forget we are multi-cultural so it’s not just English and French dishes that need to be considered.