When Pigs Fry, Toronto, Canada: The ultimate tour for bacon lovers

"What's Canadian cuisine?" asks stand-up comedian, cultural anthropologist, and tour guide, Jason Kucherawy, as we tuck into a currywurst in one of Toronto's hottest new restaurants. 

"We're a large country with lots of regional variations. Toronto is a multi-cultural city. What we do is fusion. What we are eating now is typical of Toronto cuisine - Polish pork sausage cooked in a style invented in Germany after World War II, using a sauce that mixes American, Indian and British influences."

We're sitting at a large communal table at WVURST on King Street West, the final stop on one of North America's most bizarrely entertaining walking tours ("I've saved the wurst for last," Jason announces when we arrive - boom, boom).

For three hours we've strolled around Toronto's city centre learning about the city's enduring passion for all things porcine, tasting dishes which all have pork or bacon as their key ingredient. 

The comic in Jason can't go past a bad pun - hence the tour's title: When Pigs Fry. Fortunately the cultural anthropologist in Jason packs the tour full of city heritage, local insight - and bloody good tucker (as long as you're not a vegetarian).

Actually Jason used to be a vegetarian. Now he's "an ethical eater", so his tour begins with a visit to a supermarket near the city's historic St Laurence Market. 

Canadian pigs used to be reared in the open air, building up a layer of fat to survive the harsh winters, he explains. But that was in the days when Toronto was known as "Hog Town", when the sound of squealing pigs was part of the distinctive city symphony and it was one of North America's most important meat packing centres.

Today, he continues, supermarket pork comes from animals reared in atrocious conditions, fed poorly, and pumped with additives. 

His tour is an antidote packed with anecdotes. Not just a homage to the old ways of rearing healthy pigs but also an introduction to the special twist modern Torontonians are finding to reinvent classic dishes.


First stop is a taste of the city's signature contribution to world cuisine: the peameal bacon sandwich.

Paddington's Pump ("Home of the Oink") in St Laurence Market serves a strip of boneless pork loin, cured in brine, rolled in cornmeal and served in a Kaiser bun. Delicious.

The tradition started with William Davies, an English grocer who arrived in Toronto in 1854 and was the first to declare that Canadian pigs were so much tastier than their British or American cousins.

He began exporting Canadian pork in the 1860s, rolling the cured and trimmed pork loins in yellow ground peameal, part of the pigs' diet, to preserve it on the journey across the Atlantic.

Davies made a fortune. In its heyday around 1900, the William Davies Company exported the equivalent of half a million newly-slaughtered pigs, earning Toronto its nickname. Davies would have enjoyed the modern equivalent of the peameal bacon sandwich, now usually rolled in cornmeal rather than peameal, and often glazed in maple syrup or roasted with pineapple and chives.

Now we take a streetcar to the city's fashion district to taste another of Canada's crossover dishes, poutine. The word, Jason explains, is a French-Canadian term for "mess", and that's what it usually looks like - a bowl of French fries topped with a thick gravy mixed with cheese curds. 

Various restaurant owners in Quebec claim to have invented it in the 1950s. Jason prefers a more romantic version, back-dating it 100 years to when the Quebecois were so appalled by what their English-speaking cousins served as "pudding" they used their mispronounced new word to describe any hastily concocted leftover dish.

Today, poutine is a national quirk, a pub food staple, the Canadian equivalent of a chico roll or dagwood dog.

But of course it has been reinvented again, which is why Jason has brought us to Lou Dawg's Southern Barbecue in King Street West to taste its poutine topped with pulled pork.

"No food tour of Toronto could be complete without tasting poutine," he says. "Here they make the gravy from the bones of whole chickens they smoke in-house, their BBQ sauce is homemade and their pulled pork is the best in town." Surprisingly good.

Fortunately, we only have to walk 150 metres to our next venue, The Healthy Butcher, in Queen Street West. We arrive at the original store, owned by former lawyer Tara Longo and her husband Mario Fiorucci, for a bacon tasting. "They know exactly where their pigs have come from," Jason explains. "The pig farmer's name is Fred. His animals aren't kept in indoor pens and he rears them on alfalfa, corn and soy, finished with walnuts. The abattoir he uses is half an hour away so the pigs don't get stressed."

Sure. But what does the bacon taste like? We're served two versions, one pan-seared, the other oven-roasted.

"I only oven-roast bacon now," Jason, the former vegetarian, confesses. "It renders less of the fat away, preserving the flavour. Don't eat bacon if you want a diet-friendly food. That's a bit like going skydiving and saying you don't want to fall too fast."




GETTING THERE: Qantas flies to Toronto with its oneworld partner American Airlines. See qantas.com.au.

STAYING THERE: Intercontinental Toronto Centre, near the CN Tower, is within easy distance of the three walking tours offered by Toronto Urban Adventures. The When Pigs Fry tour costs $58 each person including food.

The writer was a guest of Peregrine Adventures.