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The province of Quebec, unique in North America for its predominantly French flavour, is a distinct entity for reasons beyond language and politics. Forgotten by the mother country some 200 years ago, the descendants of Voltaire and Moliere have carved out a thriving cultural identity all their own. Combine the French passion for food and drink with the hyperreality of twentieth-century Americana, and what you get is a bizarre (and oftentimes surreal) mix: the junk food of Quebec. On a plate, or better yet, in a styrofoam bowl and wax paper wrapping, these culinary treats are caloric enough to clog your arteries at thirty feet and delicious enough to be a sinful habit. All you need is five bucks, a healthy amount of intestinal fortitude, and a few linguistic tips and you too can be a connoisseur of Québécois junk food. Of course, a trip to Montreal is in order, for Montreal is to Quebec what Paris is to France—an island of urbane snobbery and attitude surrounded by rustic charm and provincial cheese makers.

What follow are the key words you need to know, complete with translations, phonetic keys to pronunciation and definitions. So drop your salad fork, open your mind and come to "La belle province," where you get cole slaw on your cheeseburger and mayonnaise on your fries; where ventricles may be closing but the bars never do; where health is just an abstract concept and non-smoking sections nothing but hollow gestures.

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Pronunciation   (kray-taw)

Translation   Potted mince of pork.

This charming side order usually comes with your standard greasy breakfast, i.e. two eggs over easy, bacon, homefries, and creton. It is similar to a coarse pork pate, except that it is made from the refuse part of the pig and is about 90% fat. It smells, tastes and looks a little like canned dog food (yes, I have) and is thus best left to the adventurous. Also found in sandwich form. Yikes!

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Pronunciation   (le ot dog mishigan)

Translation   Figure it out!

junkfoodhotdog.gifThis is your standard weiner in a bun construction but with the distinction of being completely smothered in steaming spaghetti meat sauce. (Sometimes a stray piece of pasta will even poke out.) When I inquired about the Michigan moniker at Frites Dorees, the waiter pointed at his co-worker and curtly replied, "It's like why he's called George. It's just a name." My curiosity was satisfied. Try this one with triangular slabs of processed cheese for a change of pace. (Michigan avec fromage).

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Pronunciation   (flauterrr)

Translation   Floater.

A layer of ground beef on a hot dog bun smothered with same spaghetti meat sauce, this time interlaced with cheese curds that melt within it. I can only speculate as to the significance of the name. It's personal. I leave it to your imaginations.

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Pronunciation   (poo-teen)

Translation   Originally from the English "pudding," the word came to mean "a mess" in French slang.

Poutine is the "piece de resistance" of all Québécois junk food. (In the equation "as American as apple pie" swap "poutine" for "pie" and "Québécois" for "American.") Poutine is a mound of french fries interlaced with cheese curds, then covered in boiling hot beef gravy. Make sure it is made with curds or it is not genuine (some despicable posers out there use grated cheese and attempt to pass the result off as poutine). The gravy melts the cheese just enough to make it stringy, and you are left with a succulent mess of savory taste sensation. If made right this dish can be a culinary orgasm. The trick is to eat it promptly while it's still hot, for if it is left to cool it can coagulate into a nightmarish mass which will have the same effect on your stomach as would swallowing unhardened cement mix. It must be noted that it can have this effect on some at any temperature.

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Many variations on the theme of poutine exist: the "full meal" poutine boasts the addition of a grilled hamburger and peas, while Raspoutine, a now-defunct dive with pretensions to haute cuisine, dropped baby shrimp and bechemal sauce on top of the usual mess. The standard variation, available just about everywhere, is Poutine Italienne (Italian Poutine). This is quite simply poutine with a steaming injection of (you guessed it) spaghetti sauce. The freakish obsession with slapping spaghetti sauce on everything is a bizarre cultural enigma. Oh those wacky French!

Poutine is a lot like life—part starch, part hot and greasy, and part cheese. Poutine is you. Poutine is me. Poutine is bigger than all of us.

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Pronunciation   (bwasson gazeus)

Translation   Gaseous drink.

This is not what you might think. It's not a combination of Rolaids and other assorted antacids designed to keep your gastro-intestinal tract from exploding upon ingestion of some of these dishes. No it's just the way you say "soda" in French. If you want, say, a medium soft drink, you ask for une boisson gazeuse format moyen, which translates to "a gaseous drink of the size medium". Of course, you'd do just as well to call out for "Un pepsi" since it's the boisson gazeuse of choice for most Quebeckers.

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Pronunciation   (cass crewt)

Translation   Broken crust or break the bread.

Caisse Croute are the outlets which specialize in serving this kind of food. You know, snack bars. The finest ones are distinguished by their gaudy orange and white striped walls and their orange plastic counters and seats. Without orange plastic a Caisse Croute dining experience just isn't the same. Of course, in a province that is predominately Catholic, the eucharistic implications of the name cannot be ignored. When the messiah does return to this earth, I am convinced he will descend onto the top of Mount Royal, smack dab in the middle of downtown Montreal. He will offer salvation and a new transubstantiation to the faithful: "this Poutine is my Body, This Boison Gazeuse is my blood. Drink and eat of Me and you shall be free." Vive Quebec libre!

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Jonathon Cliff points cameras and pens at anything inane or ludicrous. He lives in Montreal.



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