Here’s to Canadian foods

As a Canadian, there are few foods that I am proud to call “ours,” but maple syrup and poutine are two very red and white guilty pleasures of mine.

Real maple syrup is one reason not to cross the border for breakfast, unless in a strictly savoury mood. Pancakes, and French toast are simply not “right” unless the syrup is runny and golden and has in no way been combined with any corn product. Thick table syrup is not maple syrup even if it is maple-flavoured.

On the flip-side, Canadian restaurants should never charge extra for real maple syrup. It’s an insult to the flag to provide corn syrup-based toppings for free and charge for a piece of our heritage. If there is to be a price difference, restaurateurs should provide a discount if someone wants table syrup.

Maple syrup definitely isn’t just for breakfast in my house either. It makes frequent appearances in sauces, marinades, dressings, and desserts. Maple Dijon salmon and asparagus salad with a soya sauce maple dressing are two of my favourites. To shake things up, when a friend brought me some butternut squash pasta, I topped it with a creamy maple-nut sauce.

Red maple beer was also one of my favourite things when I moved to the Sault, and with its demise, I’ve transitioned to the occasional maple whiskey.

Yes, everything is better with real maple syrup, maybe even poutine.

I’m sure there is (or should be) an uber-Canadian poutine recipe with maple syrup. Now I’m getting excited at the idea of a breakfast poutine with a poached egg, and pieces of back bacon, all topped with hollandaise sauce made with maple syrup.

While I haven’t mentioned the cheese in the above poutine recipes, that is a critical part of the recipe, in fact, it defines the very concept of poutine. Poutine has cheese curds. Period. It cannot be called poutine if it is made with grated cheese.

Why you ask?

I’m from Ottawa and the Outaouais region is known for poutine. Squeaky cheese curds are part of the recipe. In the same way that you cannot bottle sparkling wine and call it champagne unless it is from that particular region in France, poutine needs Quebec’s cheese curds to be called “poutine.”

A favourite day of mine back in Ottawa was going for a hike up at Luskville falls, and then stopping at the Four Aces chip stand on the way back. It was a choice between traditional poutine with gravy or Italian poutine with a meaty spaghetti sauce. You didn’t have to ask if it came with shredded cheese or cheese curds, in fact, if you did ask such an insulting question, you would probably be turned away as a customer.

Since coming to the Sault, I learned the lesson the hard way that the sparkling wine of poutine is passed off as champagne. I have been served something called poutine which was a hot mess of fries drowning in gravy topped with shredded mozzarella, on more than one occasion. For shame.

I won’t have to ask again, however. I was delighted to see that Smoke’s Poutine has come to 648 Queen Street East. While I was not familiar with the franchise, I was drawn in by the smell, and stayed for the curds. I was mildly blown away by the number of choices of gravies, meats, and veggies that could be added to the hand-cut fries and cheese curds, however.

The portion size was excessive… wait…I can’t believe I just said that about poutine… can there ever be too much? Yet the prices were reasonable.

Then the refrigerated units behind the cash started to glow a heavenly light (at least in my mind’s eye) as I noticed that they served Pop Shoppe beverages. I was taken back to stubby, returnable bottles, bold colours and sweet flavours.

Home sweet home.

I’ll be better prepared the next time I go, having looked up the menu online. I’d recommend you do so as well, so that if I am behind you in the queue that you don’t hold up the line. The website also says they are receptive to sauce and flavour ideas.

Me, I’d like to see a butter chicken poutine or a lobster poutine with a hollandaise or béchamel sauce. Of course, as stated earlier, anything is better with maple syrup, so I recommend an all day breakfast poutine with eggs, meat and maple syrup, or the Canadian eggs Benedict-type recipe that got me drooling above.

It’s good to be Canadian.

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