Vegetarians and Muslims need not apply. What?! Has Toronto suddenly become intolerant? Well, no. It’s just that most of the time on my latest excursion with Toronto Urban Adventures was spent eating pork, pork, and more pork on their When Pigs Fry walking tour.

On an incredibly beautiful spring afternoon, I joined popular guide Jason Kucherawy and a visiting couple from South Africa for a romp (not to be confused with a “rump” — sorry couldn’t resist) across downtown Toronto in search of the best porcine morsels.

This was my second tour with Jason, after doing Kensington Market & Chinatown last year. Jason is one of the best guides you can find in Toronto: affable, knowledgeable, and passionate about the city.

From our meeting point in front of the Hockey Hall of Fame, we walked to the nearby Metro grocery store for a little introduction to Canadian pork farming and a look at some types of Canadian bacon. Since this also happens to be my grocery store, I felt a bit weird taking photos, but oh well.

Getting the lowdown on Canadian bacon inside a Toronto grocery store

Getting the lowdown on Canadian bacon inside a Toronto grocery store

Jason gave the best explanation I’ve ever heard about why antibiotics and hormones end up in our meat. Canadian pork, by the way, does not contain hormones anymore (unlike in the USA) and you can now buy antibiotic-free pork as well. Can you guess what meat is the most eaten around the world? That’s right: pork. In Canada, it comes third, after chicken and beef.

Our second stop was the St-Lawrence Market where you can find a typically Ontarian pork product called “peameal bacon”. I’ve always thought of it more as “ham” than bacon because it has virtually no fat. A lean boneless pork loin cured in brine is rolled in peameal (dried and ground yellow peas) which extends its shelf life. The peameal was replaced by cornmeal after World War II, but both have a yellow colour which makes the peameal bacon instantly recognizable. This might also have been an early marketing ploy to attract buyers to the “good stuff”.

Peameal bacon is a true Ontario product that was developed by William Davies right here in Toronto in the second half of the 19th century. Mr. Davies went on to fame and fortune with his pork business, at some point processing 3000 pigs a day to feed the Canadian and British armies during World War I. And this is how Toronto acquired the nickname of Hogtown. Mystery solved.

Peameal bacon and the sandwich at St-Lawrence Market (Toronto)

Peameal bacon and “the sandwich” at St-Lawrence Market

We settled in at Paddington’s Pump restaurant inside the Market building for peameal bacon sandwiches. It’s a good thing we shared them, because these things are huge, and piled high with thin slices of meat. Yummy and filling. No wonder they’re one of the food items visitors come seeking in Toronto! Fortunately we had some time to digest on the streetcar ride that took us to the other end of downtown where the tour continued.

The third stop was a bar and restaurant called Lou Dawg’s. It looked a bit grungy and dark at first (and eerily empty at 3:45 PM). I have to admit that I wouldn’t have thought of walking in there on my own. But the pulled pork, oh my god! Before this experience I thought of pulled pork as some kind of shredded meat in a sauce. What a plebeian I was. Pulled pork actually comes from the southern United States where barbecuing is used to soften the tough pork shoulder.

Enjoying pulled pork at Lou Dawg's (Toronto)

Enjoying pulled pork on poutine at Lou Dawg’s

Did you know that true barbecuing is not the same as grilling on the apparatus we commonly call a BBQ? It involves slow cooking the meat over low heat along with smoking.

Our pulled pork sample came served atop poutine, another food associated with Canada (basically fries, cheese curds and gravy). But the pork was really the star of the show. So delicious. After gulping it down, I spent 10 minutes digging through the poutine looking for any leftover shreds.

Back into the sunlight, we walked through small alleys decorated with murals and graffitis (another of Jason’s interests) en route to our next food stop. Among the art, was a gigantic mural of sea life occupying the entire back wall of a three-story building. OK, I have lived in Toronto for 27 years but I had never heard of, or seen this.

More seafood than pork, but interesting nevertheless (mural, Toronto)

More seafood than pork, but interesting nevertheless

Our next stop was The Healthy Butcher, a butcher shop and gourmet food store opened by Mario Fiorucci and Tara Longo, formerly a lawyer and an investment banker. The shop was born out of their frustration at the difficulty of finding good quality fresh organic meat in Toronto. Their meat is sourced from Ontario farmers they know, who have pasture-raised their animals. Some of the products are also certified 100% organic (meaning the animals ate only organic food). And of course it’s all antibiotic-free. Here we each got to sample a perfectly cooked strip of Canadian bacon.

Hmmm, bacon! (The Healthy Butcher, Toronto)

Hmmm, bacon!

We ended the tour at Wvrst, five minutes walk away, whose cool name hints at its modern beer hall decor, with long Oktoberfest-type wooden tables, a metallic bar, and strings of lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. True to its name (wurst means sausage in German), Wvrst specializes in artisan sausages and craft beer.

We shared food samples that consisted of a honey/garlic sausage in a bun, a kranjska sausage in curry wurst sauce (so delicious) and a caramelized onion “jam”. We washed it down with a German beer on tap called Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier for the connoisseurs among you. (Note: the beer was at our own expense since this was a pork tour, but if you’re into beer, Toronto Urban Adventures also offers a beer tour.)

Inside Wvrst (Toronto)

Inside Wvrst

After the tour was over, I walked the 45 minutes back home trying to shed some of the thousands of calories I had probably absorbed. Then there was only one thing left to do: have a nap and skip dinner.

If you want to go…

The When Pigs Fry tour lasts three hours and costs $59 CAD including all the food samples. It’s offered on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. You can sign up and pay online through the previous link.

Could you save the money and tour by yourself? Well, not really. With the information in this post you could probably retrace the itinerary, and try most of the same food (minus the piece of hot bacon at The Healthy Butcher) but frankly you would be missing out on all the fun and informative commentary, and would still have to pay for the food out of pocket. By the way, there is enough food on this tour to replace at least a meal and a half. Have a very light lunch beforehand (if any) and please, don’t make any big dinner plans! 🙂

(Jason himself leads this tour only about once a week to avoid dying of a pork overdose. The rest of the time you’ll probably hang out with his colleague Mike.)

Note: I was a guest of Toronto Urban Adventures on this walking tour called “When Pigs Fry”. As usual, all opinions are my own.

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