Philippe Boulanger vividly remembers his first time. He was 3 years old, visiting his Canadian parents' home province of Quebec. That weekend, he discovered skiing - and poutine.

"When you're 3, it's like mind-blowingly awesome. Like, holy crap, what is this?"

Poutine is chips and gravy and cheddar cheese curd. So ubiquitous in Canada that it's sold in McDonalds, it didn't have a huge presence in New Zealand until Al Brown put it on the menu at The Fed Deli.

Other Auckland restaurateurs followed. Back in January, 25-year-old Boulanger chucked in a desk job for a food truck, and become a mobile purveyor of poutine.


The key, he says, is using the right chunks of curd. Beware neatly cut cubes or - the horror - grated regular cheese. He gets his via Sabato's Curd Nerd (who, after some arm twisting, reveals his source as Dunedin's Evansdale Cheese).

"You're looking for the firmness and squeakiness of halloumi, but the stringiness of mozzarella," says Boulanger. It has to taste like cheddar, "but the texture is more playful".

In poutine's Quebecois homeland (where one story says it was literally named after a slang word for "mess") you can buy a packet mix of the gravy, but Boulanger ladles a miso, gluten-free roux and vegetable stock concoction on his fries.

Why have Kiwis embraced Canada's holy trinity of heart attack foods?

Boulanger reckons it's because when we eat chips and gravy and cheese, we're referencing memories of roast dinners (with cheese on the brocolli).

"They're all flavours we've experienced together before. This is just having them in a different way."