...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Spud Sunday: Toronto & Chips

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:


Chips, and just why we love ’em so

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…

Canadian flag

Yo, Canada!

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: fries served with cheese curds and a thin meaty gravy.
Almost by definition, it is not the prettiest of dishes, but if the fries are crisp, the curds fresh and the just-poured gravy tasty, it shouldn’t last long enough for the appearance to matter.

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.

Poutine a la Toronto

The poutine scene on the streets of Toronto:
sure even Don Juan is at it, it seems

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.

CN Tower through branches

The CN Tower – which was the world’s tallest free-standing structure at the time it was completed in 1976. Now (almost as) equally noted for being the location of my first poutine encounter.

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.

St. Lawrence Market

Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market – think Cork’s English Market, but multiplied by about three – which National Geographic reckoned was the best food market in the world. Given that I found no shortage of spuds, not to mention some Cashel Blue cheese, I reckoned it was pretty good too.

Kensington Market

Kensington Market, alongside Toronto’s Chinatown – especially worth visiting on pedestrian Sundays, which happen once a month during the summer, when all human life wanders the streets, perusing or performing, and munching on fish tacos or grilled corn from the many food stalls.

Niagara Falls

Within two hours of Toronto, those bracing Niagara Falls, whose majesty contrasts sharply with the tackiness of the surrounding tourist town. Beyond that, the wider Niagara region is awash with orchards and vineyards and plenty of opportunities to sample the local speciality of ice wine.


  1. Nim Singh

    Oh that Poutine gets everywhere! Had fun reading this this morning even if it did make me feel hungry!

  2. Daily Spud

    It certainly seems to get everywhere in Canada, that’s for sure Nim! Now wondering how poutine would go down in Ireland…

  3. Brian@irelandfavorites

    Hi Spud, Prince Edward Island potatoes are the best for making the northern hemispheres best potato salad, and as for poutine, I think your curried chips comparison is spot on just a much different sauce. There are times when the temptation demons have one jonesing for both, the spud is one tough addiction. Here’s hoping your jaunt through the provinces was a pleasant one, ay.

  4. Nick @ Bakingbeardy

    Those wily Canadians! Who knew they had their own chips? Not into cheese fries or gravy, but I want to have sampled an authentic Canadian delicacy!

  5. Lily Ramirez-Foran

    I love poutine, I had it once only, but thought it was pretty delicious! :) can’t wait to read all about Prince Edward Island!!

  6. Ann

    I can’t get enough of this stuff!

  7. Janice

    Good to find out a bit more about Poutine, I saw it advertised around Halifax too. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts and hope the kitchen is finished!

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