Sometime last century, Paddington Bear abandoned his London home for Toronto, and opened a restaurant specialising in bacon. At least, that's what is seems like in St Lawrence Market, where a diner named Paddington's has the bear peering down from every wall. The menu is filled with things like "Oink on a bun," or the "Lumberjack sandwich," which is peameal bacon, egg, cheese, and home fries on a fresh kaiser bun. How the bear connects with these culinary offerings is, to put it mildly, a little vague, but nobody appears to bothered. They're too busy eating.
I've come to Paddington's to meet Jason Kucherawy, an amiable Torontonian who offers a tour of the city called "When Pigs Fry".This tour spans several blocks of downtown Toronto and takes in bars, restaurants, and a butcher's shop. Unlike Paddington, the rationale for this tour makes perfect sense when you think about it: Toronto once bore the nickname "Hogtown" because of its thriving pig industry. When people talk about "Canadian bacon", they're talking about a product that originated in Toronto. Peameal bacon is taken from the animal's loin, rolled in corn to give it the yellow edge, and, unlike strip bacon, relatively lean. "Your doctor would approve," says Kucherawy.
Kucherawy founded his meat-focused tour when he noticed that people associated pork products mostly with plastic wrap; pigs had been erased from the picture entirely. "I want to bring us closer together," he tells me, as a waitress places a giant bacon burger on the table, sliced in half. This is a good time to ask: What is the purpose of a city tour? It seems to me a good city tour is about seeing the city as a local sees it. A city tour is the metropolis reduced to a human level – personalised, idiosyncratic. It works best if you get involved. "Cannibals once called humans 'long pigs'," I say.
"We are very similar," agrees Kucherawy. "Until recently, the US Army used pigs to train emergency medics. They don't do that any more," though now we use them for heart valves. "Some people are walking around with pork in them," he says.
From Paddington's we walk past an antiques market – or, as Kucherawy puts it, "dead people's stuff".
He tells me about Bacon Nation, a local restaurant selling the Pig Mac, with a ground bacon patty. On a Toronto streetcar we discuss Charlotte's Web, and Kucherawy wisely points out that stories about pigs are usually about "avoiding fate, changing our destiny, and becoming better". This is a tour with a moral.
Our second stop is The Healthy Butcher, where the meat display resembles a renaissance painting. A tattooed butcher fries up pieces of bacon while I admire a shirt that reads, "I like pig butts and I cannot lie". The Healthy Butcher sources all of its products locally, giving insight into the Ontario farm scene, and Kucherawy is like a geek at a comic book convention. "It's all about connecting consumers and animals," he tells me, thrilled, pointing out meat rubs.
From here we wander down alleys covered in graffiti, to a barbecue place with exposed concrete floors and wooden stalls. Kucherawy sets the record straight immediately: "When people say they're going to barbecue steak, they're probably grilling it." Barbecue means slow cooking and high smoke, he says. It comes from the Caribbean word "barbacoa".
That said, a small bowl appears full of fries and cheese curd and slithers of pulled pork.
"What is this?" I ask.
"It's my favorite poutine," Kucherawy declares, lifting his fork and stabbing the saucy mess. "I'm not a truffle oil guy. If I was going to start a food tour, I wanted to show people the food I love. Try it!"
Air Canada offers flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Toronto via Vancouver. See aircanada.com.
Jason Kucherawy's three-hour "When pigs fry" tour is offered through Toronto Urban Adventures, and costs $60 a person. It is not recommended for vegetarians. For more information, see urbanadventures.com/toronto-tour-when-pigs-fry.
Lance Richardson was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission.