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Global Connections

Canada's national dish: 740 calories -- and worth every bite?

By Grace Wong for CNN
  • Poutine, a Quebec specialty, is a dish that Canadians across the country claim as their own
  • The high-calorie dish consists of cheese curds and gravy over fries
  • Although a simple food, poutine can make for a fantastic culinary experience, fan says
  • What's your take on poutine? Tell us in the comments
  • Canada
  • Food and Cooking
  • Montreal
  • Cheese
  • Foods

Global Connections, a segment on CNN's Connect the World, takes very different countries and asks you to find the connections. Read more about Canada and other featured countries on the Global Connections site.

(CNN) -- Bob Rutledge is on a quest to spread the word about poutine.

The high-calorie concoction -- a messy combination of fries, gravy and cheddar cheese curds -- is not for the faint of heart, or for that matter, those seeking to protect their heart.

But Rutledge says this carb-heavy, high-fat combination holds a very special appeal.

"This dish is so overwhelmingly delicious it is so difficult to not be a fan," the founder of the website Montreal Poutine enthused recently.

Not everyone might agree, especially those watching their waistlines. (A side order of poutine at Burger King in Canada contains a whopping 740 calories and 41 grams of fat.)

It's important to be overwhelmed by one's poutine experience, says Rutledge. "It's not a small, delicate dish for sampling," he told CNN.

Rutledge began his love affair with poutine, a Quebec specialty, six years ago when he moved to Montreal from Los Angeles.

It's not a small, delicate dish for sampling.
--Bob Rutledge
  • Canada
  • Foods
  • Cheese
  • Food and Cooking
  • Montreal

The first poutine he tried from a fast-food chain was "okay," but he was blown away the second time he ate it.

"It was unbelievable," he revealed. "It tipped me off to the fact that there is a huge range of quality of poutine -- some simple, some thrilling, some more fantastic and delicious."

The experience inspired him to start Montreal Poutine, a chronicle of his poutine sampling around the city that also includes recipes and information about the food's history.

Check out CNN's food blog, Eatocracy

Once a somewhat embarrassing rural food, poutine has been enjoying a renaissance that has elevated it from a regional staple to a source of national pride.

Traditionally a late-night indulgence consumed in diners or at stands, the dish has its roots in Quebec, whose dairy farms produce an abundant supply of fresh cheese curds -- the key, according to connoisseurs, to a great poutine.

Have you tried poutine? Love it or hate it? Tell us in the comments below!

Although it's made of simple ingredients, the diversity of recipes and quality of ingredients can make for a fantastic culinary experience, says Rutledge. Variations range from Italian poutine (swap the gravy for marinara sauce) to a barbeque version.

Chefs across Canada have gone a step further in reinterpreting the dish, putting a haute spin on the concept. Toronto restaurant Bymark's version consists of lobster over fries with béarnaise sauce, while Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal serves a foie gras poutine.

Poutine in the classic sense isn't particularly interesting, celebrity chef Mark McEwan, who owns Bymark, told CNN. But "it's fun to take street food and give it a sophisticated spin."

The lobster poutine has been one of Bymark's most popular dishes ever since he introduced it on the menu six years ago, he said.

Food nerds have also embraced poutine, helping to raise its profile. In addition to countless blogs and websites like Montreal Poutine devoted to the dish, a festival is held annually in Drummondville in Quebec in poutine's honor.

On online food discussion website Chowhound, a search for "poutine" returns more than 650 results, mostly requests from people seeking out places that serve poutine in their city.

Although it still tends to be more popular in the eastern part of the country, poutine is a dish that Canadians across the country claim as their own.

Earlier this year, the topic of Toronto's Leacock Debate, a popular event held annually in the city, was whether poutine should be declared the national dish of Canada.

What's so Canadian about the dish? For one, the fact that it isn't recognizable as being British or American, says Victoria Westcott, a native of Ottawa who now lives in the western province of British Columbia.

"We don't have a lot of food that is easily recognizable as Canadian. But this is something that we take pride in," said Westcott, owner of a teacher recruitment company.

Westcott, who spent four years living in London between 2003 and 2007, said when she was an expatriate, she would seek out poutine because "it felt like home." Although, she wouldn't go as far as calling poutine a dish -- "It's not something you would serve at dinner," she insists.

If there's one food that is eaten and made everywhere in Canada it is poutine, according to Rutledge, who -- when he's not sampling poutine -- researches neutron stars as an astrophysicist at McGill University.

"All that separates it from being national food is some sort of parliamentary declaration," he said. "But the people have already declared it a national food."