Fries + Cheese Curds + Gravy = Poutine Fest in Ottawa

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The smell of fries hit me when I turned on Sparks Street. I sniffed the air again and looked around—was I standing by a hot dog cart? Was the wind carrying the smell from the McDonald’s on Bank Street? No, this wasn’t the salty scent of fast food fries but the aroma of homemade, uneven potato wedges and oil.

Unless you are walking in an ethnic neighbourhood like Chinatown or Little India, Canada isn’t a country where noticeable food smells float in the air—except maybe burnt coffee a few metres from Tim Hortons and the like. North American food is too standardized for tantalizing smells and Canada isn’t the best destination for street food. The average Canadian is more likely to eat a cold sandwich in front of the computer than to sample mysterious delicacies from a street cart that has never been approved by the Ottawa Public Health. Long after the food-truck fever swept across the US, Ottawa still had a very restrictive street food vending policy and no new permit was issued, so the city was doomed to munch on hot dogs, sausages and chips. Bylaws were eventually relaxed a few years ago and food trucks popped up all over Ottawa. However, I still can’t call what they offer “street food”—typical fares are too elaborate and expensive.

I continued on Sparks. Once I hit Bank Street, the mystery deepened: the smell of fries was stronger and Sparks Street was packed, which absolutely never happens.

Mystery was solved once I spotted the sign: Poutine Fest. Made sense. Only the promise of an artery-clogging lunchbox can draw people to Sparks Street, the pedestrian street that should be fun and lively but constantly fails to be.

For those who aren’t familiar with poutine, here is the recipe of Quebec’s junk food contribution to Canadian cuisine: French fries topped with cheese curds covered with a light-brown gravy—a messy mix best eaten directly from the carton box with a fork.

It was one of the first days we had “spring” weather in Ottawa and the lunch crowd came en masse. The queue at each food truck was as impressive as the skills displayed to eat poutine standing up without staining ties and skirts.

There were unique poutine combinations, including lobster poutine, shawarma poutine, fajita poutine and even “Thai” poutine with curry and spring rolls. I wasn’t tempted, though. I’ve never tried poutine and I’m perfectly okay with “missing out” on it—I don’t find the texture particularly appealing.

For three blocks, I observed the three steps of Poutine Fest: queuing, ordering and eating. Then I went home and took a shower… because I smelled of fries.

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

Poutine Fest on Sparks Street, April 27-29, 2017, Ottawa

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

12 Comments

  1. I’ve never had poutine either, and like you, I’m not too worried about missing out…
    We have a couple of food trucks here, one of them does crepes, savory crepes made with wheat flour. Sacrilege! I was so disappointed!

    • If not exactly by-the-book, were the crêpes good? I’ve always been disappointed by crêpes (sweet) or galettes (savoury) found outside Brittany :-/

      • Meh, I wouldn’t have them again :'(
        J’ai decouvert les crepes grace a ma meilleure amie dont la maman etait bretonne. C’etait exotique pour moi quand j’allais chez elle, meme si apres il fallait que je fasse semblant d’avoir encore faim en arrivant chez ma mere pour qu’elle ne se doute de rien haha

    • Poutine is really a Quebec specialty. It’s available in Ottawa because we are so close to Quebec but from what I’ve heard, it’s rare in other parts of Canada.

      Lobster is apparently a “common” ingredient in the Maritimes 🙂

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