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Finally, Canada, Poutine and ouch

By Jason Offutt

Author’s note: This is the last of four parts about what I did on my summer research trip to Canada.

Canada is beautiful. All the trees, lakes and smiling people; it’s like northern California without all the hippies. There might be hippies somewhere in Canada, but not in Ontario.
If you’ve been following the past four weeks, I’ve left out most of the 679.17 miles of scenery, history and experiences, but I didn’t embark on this journey to talk a lot about American Indian Petroglyphs, boyhood homes of famous people, or (insert name here) Capital of the World – this journey has always been about one thing.
Food.
I pulled into the gravel parking lot of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Fort Frances, Ontario, and realized for the first time – and I mean deep down realized – that I was a stranger in a strange land and here to eat these strangers’ food.
Walking through the front door of the restaurant, I was as nervous as a first date. This was, after all, a place of strange languages and customs. For example, in Canada, “toque” means “stocking cap.” Craziness. Just craziness.
I didn’t know what to expect standing at the counter of this foreign restaurant, staring at prices that seemed stupidly expensive. But there currency was not my currency. There’s bound to be a bit of misinterpretation.
Wow. Misinterpretation. Some of these people speak French, or Finnish, and vote for political parties I have never heard of. How many ways might I offend these notoriously friendly Canadians? By smiling the wrong way? Or handing them American money?
“Good day, eh? What can I get you for?” the young woman at the counter didn’t ask. Nope. She didn’t ask that at all.
She did say “Good afternoon,” in a pleasant, lightly accented voice that would have been at home in Minnesota. “What can I get for you?”
“Do you have Poutine?” I asked. Months and many, many miles ago, my Canadian friend Dave told me I had to “snag” some Poutine. I just hoped he knew what he was doing.
She grinned.
“Poutine? Sure, we have Poutine,” she said, pointing at a menu board behind her head. Poutine cost $5.19. Seriously? Well, I can’t turn back now.
“I’d like some Poutine,” I said.
She scribbled on a piece of paper. “What else can I get you?”
Anticipating an epic stomach ache I wondered, do I need more?
“Uh, a hamburger (which is the only other thing they sold, except for suspect-looking chicken). Your smallest hamburger. To go.”
“Okay, that’ll be $9.35.”
OK, that seems reasonable.
I paid for lunch and left, driving to the riverfront to eat this truly Canadian dish in full view of the beauty of this country’s nature.
Poutine – a mixture of French fries and cheese curds smothered in beef gravy – is delicious and disgusting at the same time. As I stuffed forkfuls into my mouth, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t stop eating it. My stomach asked me that for the next two days.
That’s it. My journey of foreign discovery was complete. Now all I had to do was drive home.

Jason’s latest book, “Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters,” is available at amazon.com.

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