Canada. By rights this country should have the best cuisine imaginable. It has the longest coastline in the world at 243,000km on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, so has access to an incredible variety of fish, there is the unending Prairie producing enough grain to feed most of the planet, plains with herds of roaming buffalo, huge ranches for cattle and forests for fruit, nuts, and fungi. A large proportion of the population is of French origin so there are the culinary skills so why, oh why, is the national dish chips and gravy?
They call it poutine which sounds better but basically it is fries and chunks of cheese curd bathed in gravy. The dish seems to have been invented in the 1950s in Quebec which is the most fiercely French province in the country and at first it was a bit of a laughing stock – pardon the pun – but it soon caught on and now is ubiquitous throughout the country. It doesn’t have much competition for Canada’s national dish as in a recent poll the second place went to Canadian bacon followed by pizza and a couple of cakes, with no mention of maple syrup.
Not wishing to write off something without trying it I ventured once more to Trinity Kitchen and a street food stall called The Gravy Train which specialises in variations on poutine. I opted for The Pioneer which is ‘classic poutine topped with maple bacon (so that’s number 2 as well), beer-poached BBQ chicken, soured cream and smoked paprika’. £7.50. This was comfort food overdose and as filling as it sounds. The component parts were all good, the cheese curd being chewy with a texture of paneer, (which is not surprising as it is produced in the same way) the fries were of the chip shop soft variety rather than being crisp. I loved the BBQ chicken which was hot but whilst the bacon had the tang of maple smoke it was added from a tray at the front of the counter where the cold toppings were stored. The soured cream was of good quality and the garnish of paprika and chopped chives finished the ensemble off well.
I don’t think that I could have managed a basic poutine as I feel that it would have quickly become monotonous but the addition of the toppings on the Pioneer meant that there were enough combinations to keep it interesting. One minor gripe was that when I ordered a beer I was given Red Stripe, £3.00, whereas I should have thought that Labatt would have been more appropriate, although it is now part of Anheuser-Busch Inbev anyway.
It is great to see a street food stall in Trinity which specialises in a cuisine from a country other than the usual suspects but I think that the Canadians could have exercised a bit more imagination to help them out a bit, although, come to think of it, had I been eating it at an ice hockey game it would have been just the thing.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.