Peameal Bacon: “Meh” to Toronto’s Signature Dish

pea bacon sandwichOne of my pastimes when traveling is tracking down foods unique to the area in which I’m staying—foods that I’m unlikely to find anywhere else. Hawaii has its poi, Nebraska its runzas, the upper Midwest its pasties, and Wisconsin has booyah.

You’ve never heard of, let alone tasted, these local delicacies? In this age of global cuisine and instant communication, there is a reason why they haven’t escaped the confines of local food traditions—they’re not very good. You would find them appealing only if you grew up with them—the taste of home always tastes good. I realize I just made myself a boatload of enemies but truth be told these dishes weren’t worth the effort to track them down.

carousel bakeryBut nevertheless I persist. We were in Toronto last week, a great food town which I’ll post more on later. Toronto’s signature dish is the peameal bacon sandwich and so that was #1 on the list of dishes I had to have. The version at Carousel Bakery, housed inside a bustling downtown market, even had Anthony Bourdain’s imprimatur, and it appears in the book 1001 Foods You Must Eat Before You Die. I was sure this one would beat the odds and would be worth an Uber fare to track it down.

So what is peameal bacon? It’s unsmoked pork loin, cured in a brine of salt and sugar, trimmed of fat, and rolled in cornmeal to create a thin crust. Then it’s fried on the griddle, slapped on a soft bun and served with a variety of condiments. Carousel’s version had three generous slabs on each sandwich. It’s meaty and very tender but fans of what’s called bacon in the U.S. will find it bland. It lacks the crave-able smoky, fatty, salty, caramelized intensity of it’s cousin taken from the belly. It’s just very “porky”. The version at Carousel also had very little cornmeal on it. A crunchy crust would have vastly improved the sandwich. (Peameal bacon by the way is not Canadian bacon, which is smoked and not really Canadian at all. The name “peameal” comes from the ground yellow peas that were ground into a meal and used as a coating on the meat to preserve it in the 19th Century.)

So this goes on my list of regional foods that aren’t quite worthy of their hype although I must say it beats poi, runzas, pasties or booyah by a considerable distance. I might order it again but wouldn’t spend $25 on an Uber ride to find it.

3 comments

  1. Toronto is my home town. As a long time reader (and fan) of yours, I won’t take offence to your put-down of peameal bacon (it’s not my favourite thing either). I will offer two thoughts:

    The first is that I had no idea peamel bacon was TO’s signature dish. How can a town as ethnically diverse as Toronto even have a signature dish? When I was growing up (a looong time ago) we had the largest Italian diaspora community in the world and all of the fantastic food that went with that. And a large Greek community (aka. The Danforth). China town – check. A thriving Jamaican community – roti anyone?. I grew up with gyros, spanakopita, thin crust pizza before it was a thing, dim sum, patties, curried goat. Anyway, I imagine there is always contention over identifying an area’s signature dish. And no doubt living in a community can blind us to certain things. But pealmeal bacon? Who knew?

    My second though is this: while I’m not sure peameal bacon is TO’s dish, it is absolutely the dish of rural fairs all through Southern Ontario. Visit any county fair through the fair season and there will be several church or community organizations all serving peameal bacon on a too-soft bun. Because I now live in an area originally settled by German immigrants, peameal bacon around here is server with sauerkraut. This improves it for me.

    I’m delighted to know you were in my neck of the woods and look forward to your review of some of our Niagara wineries.

    1. Hi Greg,
      I had the same thought as you. With all the food choices available in Toronto, why is this dish singled out? When I was doing research for my stay in Toronto I came across several references to peameal bacon as Toronto’s signature dish on websites devoted to Toronto’s food scene. It wouldn’t surprise me that it is not widely accepted as such and may be some kind of marketing gimmick. But it is traditional and unique to the area so it checks those boxes. Some good sauerkraut would definitely improve it.
      We loved Toronto–one of the most vibrant food scenes I’ve come across because of the ethnic diversity. A nice art museum and we even cheered on the Blue Jays against the Yankees. I’m enjoy the wines from Southern Ontario as well. I’ll be posting about all of it shortly. Thanks for commenting!

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