There are many things you might find yourself doing on a Saturday morning – being a guest, this past Saturday, of broadcasting legend Dave Fanning on his weekend radio show on RTE’s 2FM was one of the less usual (and, as it turns out, more enjoyable) of those things. I was on the show to talk about these lads:
It was a topic prompted by this recent article in the Irish Independent (where I also managed to get my spake in) and, in turn, by no less than the recently held World Chip Championships in Limerick. Though it’s unlike me to miss such a momentous spud event, I did get to meet chip enthusiast Lema Murphy – declared winner of the Champion-Chips with her triple cooked beauties, served with baked bean and bacon sauce and deep fried egg yolk – and who was also a guest on Dave’s show. You can listen back to our chip chat on the RTE radio player, from about 1h 18m 30 in.
And if you were wondering how I could manage to miss such a thing as the World Chip Championships, it was owing to the fact that I was out of the country conducting some international chip investigations of my own…
It would be a slight exaggeration to say that I went all the way to Toronto just to have chips.
In fact (get me!) I travelled to Canada, through the good offices of the Canadian Tourism Commission, principally to visit Prince Edward Island, where they do a very good line in all things spud (and of which you’ll hear more over the coming weeks). However, having taken the opportunity to visit Canada’s biggest city – and ever keen to broaden my spud horizons – I did make a point of having chips (or fries, to use the local lingo) when I got there. Not just any old fries, though, but that particularly Canadian creation, poutine.
Poutine originated in Quebec somewhere around the late 1950’s – if you’re keen to explore the disputed origins of same, you can check out the dogged investigation by Canadian Food Sleuth Marion Kane here – and the name may derive from the word pudding or (says Wikipedia) it may be related to older French words meaning, among other things, hodgepodge or mixture of things. Whatever its origins, there’s no doubting the fact that poutine has spread far beyond its Quebecois home – it’ll be the hearty comfort food that will warm you up after a session on the Canadian ski slopes, while all around me in Toronto, there was no shortage of the stuff to be found.
Perhaps it’s part of a general gentrifying of the chip, but poutine can also be found in various gourmet guises featuring pulled pork, lobster or even foie gras (which you’ll find on the menu in Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal). But I suspect that, ultimately, such versions aren’t the real stick-to-your-ribs deal – seems to me that poutine, by its very nature, is unfancy food – stick a high falutin’ label on it and it’s the equivalent of tarting up curry chips. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it becomes a different thing eaten under very different circumstances.
Of course, I would be doing a disservice to Toronto if all I told you about was the poutine. The city’s mélange of nationalities contributes to a vibrant restaurant scene, and I did treat myself to some toothsome upmarket gnocchi with nettle pesto – fancy spuds, like – at the much recommended Buca (which, given that I also saw pigs ears and lambs brains on the menu, was far from your average Italian joint). And there was time to take in a visit to the city’s extensive St. Lawrence Market, the Haight-Ashbury-esque environs of Kensington Market and the city’s nearby and rather well-known water feature, Niagara Falls, before my Canadian adventure took me east to the Atlantic coast and to Prince Edward Island – a little island with a lot of spuds – of which there will be very much more anon.