Who says Denmark, Poland, or Germany cook up the best pork? That’s hogwash! Have you ever been to Hogtown? It’s a city that used to be a sty for millions of these cute little guys who roamed around free. It used to be home to one of the world’s largest pork production plants. Sure, it’s not the most flattering of nicknames but we think it adds character in a city like Toronto. Much to one’s surprise, our pork and bacon earned us a reputation for being some of the best out there and I was about to embark on a three-hour food tour of the best tasting hog in T-Oh. (If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to skip this post or opt for one of my pig-free articles like this one or this one).
On my tour I caught up with Jason from Urban Adventures. They just launched their brand new food adventure When Pigs Fry, but before the official roll-out a little taste-testing was in order and I was invited to be their guinea pig!
Our meeting point was at the Flatiron building in Old Town. That’s also where I met Amanda who blogs over at A Dangerous Business (and is a J-school grad too!)
This ‘hood is where Toronto’s pig farming industry originated. A guy named William Davies opened up the largest pork processing plant in the 1860s and sold his tasty cured hams and bacon at the nearby market. When he started shipping our free range pig to his native UK, eaters around the globe began wondering what the stink was all about?! Now, pork is the most consumed meat in the world (nope, not chicken or beef). Today, some of the best pork, meat and fresh foods can still be bought from local vendors at the St. Lawrence Market.
But markets like these are few and far between in a big city with more and more people opting for the cheaper chain grocery stores. Living in the city we become disconnected from the source of where our food comes from, from its original homegrown land and from our local farmers. The closest we get to the source is at the supermarket. Jason led us into the big-box-shop Metro to remind us food doesn’t originate from the supermarket and that just 200 years ago we would have played a role in bringing home that pig roast. We would have probably taken part in feeding that pig and even raising it, but not today. Knowing this helped me appreciate the dishes we were about to explore.
Oink on a Kaiser
Nearby, we made our first foodie stop at Paddington’s Pump for a Toronto-original – the peameal bacon sandwich. Unlike its American counterpart, this Canadian bacon is slow cured (not fried), semi-sweet, traditionally rolled in crushed yellow peas, slightly thicker, low in fat (it’s cut from the loin or sides of the pork’s lower ribs and back), and sliced in oval shapes instead of bacon strips. The peameal bacon sandwich is a signature food at the St. Lawrence Market where Davies began producing and selling it more than 150 years ago in his small food stall. It was neat to be eating an original national food in the neighbourhood where it was actually born!
Ham on a Tram
In search of more Canadian ham, we hopped on the world famous 504 electric streetcar (which were pulled by horses back in Davies’ day). On our streetcar ride Jason entertained us with a tasty game of pig trivia! We reminisced about famous pigs in pop culture (remember Miss Piggy, Porky, and Piglet?) and got treated with maple-bacon candy!
Pulled Pork Poutine
The Healthy Butcher
On this tour we didn’t just eat. We also learned about the importance of sustainable farming practices and the growing organic food movement in Toronto. The Healthy Butcher on Queen West is a couple’s answer to a commercially-produced and hormonally-processed food industry. The owners (ex-vegetarians), Mario and Tara, quit their six-figure jobs as a lawyer and investment banker. They wanted more sustainable options so they decided to start a one-of-a-kind shop that offers fresh organic, free-range meat from their own local farmers. That means they’re not stuffed with antibiotics or growth hormones, raised in climate-controlled barns, cut from an assembly line, or pre-packaged.
We met Will, a Healthy Butcher himself, who also believes consumers should know where their food comes from. The butchers visit each farmer they buy their meat from and they pride themselves on knowing every detail of the animal such as who cared for it, how was it raised, and what was it fed. Will tells us, as consumers, we need to return back to the time when we knew our local farmers by name, let our animals roam free, and committed to a much slower food production.
We certainly tasted the difference. We sampled organic pan-fried and oven-roasted bacon strips (usually cut from the side or back of the pork) with Jason – who never used to eat meat! I was a little shocked to learn that our pork expert used to be a vegetarian (and now he’s devouring bacon each week!) but he realized he didn’t have to shun meat to be ethical or sustainable.
Of course, organic pork is much pricier than your average store-bought kind. I saw this sign hanging in the shop next to a black t-shirt that read “eat better meat”.
A German beer hall in Toronto? That’s right! After all, Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world so it’s not rare to find many of our signature dishes getting an international twist. WVRST was my favourite stop on our tour because it made me feel like I was back in Europe. The community-style tables and rows of beer on tap reminded me of Germany and when Jason hinted that we were about to have currywurst, I’m sure I left a puddle of drool at the front door.
Currywurst is the most common street food in Germany. In fact, the reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War was fuelled by currywurst when a woman cooked up pieces of saucy sausage to feed the construction workers on the streets. It was heart-warming knowing how significant this dish was to rebuilding a country. So I grabbed my pork and knife, and dug into chunks of pork sausage marinated in ketchup, curry powder, and worcestershire sauce which was as delicious as the bavarian foods I discovered in Germany. Guten Appetit to us!
Just make sure you follow the rules at Wvrst!
9 Pig Facts You Didn’t Know
1. A bylaw in T.O once imposed a 10-cent fine on anyone allowing pigs to run in the streets.
2. William Davies was a pork producer but died from being butted by a goat.
3. Canada is one of the world’s largest pork producers.
4. There are 2 billion pigs in the world – that’s one pig for every person in Toronto.
5. Pigs don’t sweat.
6. The Three Little Pigs won an Oscar in 1934.
7. Piggy banks get their name from a clay called pygg from which jars were made for saving money.
8. Pigs may oink in English but in French they go “groin, groin”, in Polish they go “chrum, chrum”, and in Mandarin Chinese, they go “Hu-lu, hu-lu”.
9. Pigs actually can’t fly.
Thank you Jason and Urban Adventures for the pork overload I got on your new tour and showing me the different sides of this tasty animal. Next time you’re in Toronto, book the When Pigs Fry Tour or try their other delicious food tours around the world. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.