How the humble chips and gravy got swept up in the Russia-Ukraine war

poutine

The poutine from Oh Boy! It's a Food Truck in Melbourne, in all its glory. Source: Instagram/Oh Boy! It’s a Food Truck.

It’s a classic French-Canadian dish — hot chips laden with lots of gravy and topped with melted cheese curds — but its name, poutine, has spurred outrage amid Russian President Vladamir Putin’s deadly invasion of Ukraine.

The only problem? Putin and poutine are not related. That hasn’t stopped a restaurant in France called La Maison de la Poutine from receiving hoards of angry and even threatening calls complaining about their name, however.

It could be because “poutine” is the French spelling of the Russian president’s surname — quite literally “Vladimir Poutine” — due to a different translation from the 32-letter modern Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia.

The restaurant cleared the air on Twitter last week, writing “For the past few days, the Russian dictator, Vladimir Poutine, has been at the centre of chilling news”.

“It therefore seems necessary to us to remind [people] that the House of Poutine is not linked to the Russian regime and its leader.”

Another restaurant, located in Quebec, Canada and thought to be the birthplace of the dish, went so far as to pause their “poutine” trademark in solidarity with Ukraine — but deleted the post shortly after announcing it when Russian activists threatened the founder.

“Dear clients, tonight the Jucep team decided to temporarily retire the word P**tine from its trademark in order to express, in its own way, its profound dismay over the situation in Ukraine,” it recently wrote on Facebook, before pulling the post.

The blowback hasn’t quite reached Australian shores quite, according to Mounir “Mo” Mahfouz — he’s the founder of Oh Boy! It’s a Food Truck in Melbourne which reportedly serves up Australia’s best poutine.

“People are not always sure how to pronounce it because they know it’s a French word, and they are a bit shy,” Mo, who is French, tells SmartCompany.

Mo says it used to be commonplace to offer “Putin” as a phonetically similar word, to help out customers struggling to pronounce the French dish.

“We would say that’s the way of saying it, but of course now we are rethinking that.”

Mo says they’ve also been giving some thought to adding a Ukrainian flag alongside the item on the menu, describing his worry for Ukraine — but so far, he hasn’t received any angry customers objecting to the name.

“But, in saying that, poutine is not very well known in Australia as a dish,” he qualifies.

So what makes Mo’s poutine the greatest (that’s according to Mip’s Chips, a food blogger who has been reviewing Melbourne chip to find the best one)?

Mo says he actually imports the cheese curds all the way from North America, rather than using regular cheese, to give customers the squeaky, salty topping the dish is famous for.

“We trying to be as close to the authentic dish as possible,” he says.

“I never ever expected the dish would come to be referenced in this way.”

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