The Best Poutine Comes From a Truck

January 12, 2016

Coffee, in particular black coffee in lidless styrofoam cups, will always remind me of public schools and funeral homes. Stale pastries—which I’ll admit, I kind of love, despite them being a bit gross—make me think of motels. Some foods remind you of places; that’s just that way it is. And poutine, well, that’s country roads off Highway 400, back home in Ontario.

Everyone will tell you where to get the best poutine. Unless they tell you to get it from a side-of-the road chip truck, they’re wrong. What’s more, the best poutine comes from Ontario and not Montreal. Being an Ontario native I must, of course, say this, but nonetheless it is actually true.

Photo by Heather Hands

Poutine is made with just three things: French fries, gravy, and cheese curds. If you don’t know what cheese curds are, don’t worry—they’re delicious. Good poutine comes in a brown cardboard tray. It’s served with a totally useless wooden spork. And, it’s not fancy.

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We used to have this cottage, my family that is. It was a beautiful wooden cabin that my grandparents built, up near the Crow River. Back in the good days it was where we’d go on weekends during the summer and for Thanksgiving.

It took about two hours to drive there from our house in Toronto. Once you were there, it took about an hour to drive anywhere worth going. You learned early on to really like driving. Now I’ll admit, looking at field after field of corn, soy, and tobacco, is majestic. But, it gets dull in a hurry. It was all worth it though, for the chip trucks.

Photo by James Ransom

They’re a thing of roadside, small town loveliness. Metal, or metal-paneled, trailers with a big window, a counter, and a small table out front. The table had all the condiments, which were, and only ever were: salt, pepper, white vinegar, and malt vinegar. Didn’t matter which truck you went to, the vinegars were always in spray bottles, like Windex bottles—hell, they might’ve been Windex bottles.

There wasn’t any menu either. You had three options: medium fries, large fries, and poutine, so no one ever saw any sense in writing it out. And it wasn’t as if the prices really varied. A large fries was somewhere in the ballpark of five or six bucks, medium was cheaper. Poutine was about the same price, maybe fifty cents more.

The potatoes were chipped and fried there, in the truck. Most these trucks had a huge French fry chipper riveted to a wall inside. They’re quite extraordinary, these chippers. If you’ve never seen one, it’s this big metal thing with sharp grate on the end, and a lever. Stick a potato in and pull the lever down, the spud goes through the grate and you got fries.

Photo by James Ransom

As for the potatoes themselves, it wasn't about which potato is the starchiest or which potato was for the best for frying. You got whichever potato the farmer down the road was growing that year. And let's be honest with ourselves, you take a potato—any ol’ potato—and you cut it up, fry it, and add some cheese and gravy (or salt and malt vinegar, whatever you're into), and it’s gonna be delicious.

We don't go to the cottage anymore. Family doesn't get along so well as we did once. I can get decent poutine at a lot of places in Toronto. It’s even pretty fancy now: Hand-Cut Double-Fried Ontario Local Potatoes, With Duck-Fat And Bourbon Gravy, Wild Thyme, Organic Cheese Curds… It’s all just spuds and gravy. Makes a great drunk food. Real satisfying and salty.

It’s nice to have that memory; of those trucks and eating with the family, sitting on the hood of my mum’s old Toyota parked alongside one of those trucks. Some foods will always remind you of a place. It's like music that way, I suppose. Bad coffee, public schools and funeral homes. Stale doughnuts, the classiest of dingy motels. Spicy beef patties and coco bread, being fifteen and loitering at the subway station. Poutine, the old country lane way stations of my childhood.

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Henry Darling is a writer and semi-professional human cliché. He spends his days cooking, eating, drinking, listening to podcasts, and writing. He lives in New York City, because of course he does.


Susan E. January 18, 2018
Wes’ Fries in Arnprior, Ontario and The Chip Pit in Cobden, Fergies Fries in Pembroke.. all great, and it has to be white vinegar, not malt.
Donna H. January 12, 2017
I believe that unless you've had every poutine from every place in the world, you don't have the authority to say "this is the best", which of course, no one has. Poutine is this - fries, cheese curd and gravy. Period. Different cheese, different potatoes, different gravy. Everyone makes it different to a degree, and someone is going to say "that's the best" - seriously, people need to get over this.
Cindy F. January 12, 2017
Nova Scotia has the best.
Christophe January 21, 2016
You can't blame the guy for writing a post about his memories in rural Ontario and enjoying his poutine there but you can blame the guy for saying the best poutine is in Ontario. Best poutine isn't even in Montreal (sorry Banquise lovers but it really isn't that great). Poutine is definitely better in Montreal or almost anywhere else in Quebec than anything you'll find in Ontario . If you're looking for the best of the best: Depanneur Heriot in Drummondville is the absolute best spot for fresh cheese curds made a few blocks down the road, gravy prepared in front of you and potatoes sliced on the spot (because this seems to be important in Ontario...). And I can name multiple spots who use spray bottles for vinegar...
Nath January 16, 2016
Saying that the best poutine comes from Ontario is just as credible as saying that the best hockey team is the Toronto Maple Leafs....Nice try...
Mel January 13, 2016
If you think the best poutine is found in Ontario.... You have not had good poutine. Sorry to break it to you, bro.
tanya January 13, 2016
Poutine = Quebec.
Tuan H. January 13, 2016
How dare you say that the best poutine comes from Toronto. I feel terribly sorry for your tastebuds.
Donna M. January 13, 2016
I have to agree with the food truck poutine being the best!! We have one in our little SW Ontario town & its awesome. So hard to walk past it on a sunny day & not stop for some..... And yes they vinegar is in spray bottles!
LeBec F. January 12, 2016
I've never seen vinegar provided in a spray bottle. How brilliant (queu the people from ______ who will exclaim, "we've been doing that for eons in ___"!) and yet another reason to admire Canadians. Here is a true related story: some forty-odd years ago my New England boyfriend told me about once being in a very rural town in Maine, and stopping in to the local drugstore for lunch. An old local sat down next to him. The counterman asked the local, "same as usual, Jack?" to which the man nodded. Then he turned to my boyfriend and explained that 10 years previously, he had got himself lost in the back back woods, and survived on foraging for quite a few days before emerging. "And while I was out theyaah, all I thought about was french fries, WITH THE VINIGAAH put to 'em, and every day since then, I come in heah for the same thing ." !
Darlene January 12, 2016
I'm also a TO expat living in the US. There's nothing quite like home, or hot fries blanketed in gravy and cheese curds. :)
Alex January 12, 2016
Beautifully written
CanadaDan January 12, 2016
this article is an abomination and an insult to Quebecois, Canadians, fat people and anyone who has ever eaten a REAL poutine from a Quebec casse croute or even La Banquise in Montreal. Please remove this article before you anger any more people who have eaten real poutines from their birthplace in rural Quebec.
Sincerely, angry Montrealer
Evelyne F. January 13, 2016
Aahhh come on. His article is great, more about memories than the food itself! Plus he has a point - the best poutine can be found in those greasy, old and somewhat comforting "shack à patates" found on little towns.
darksideofthespoon January 12, 2016
Best chip truck fries you'll find in Canada are in Kenora, Ontario. Hands down. They don't do poutine though, just fries doused in salt and vinegar.