St. Lawrence Market is one of the greatest food halls in North America, perhaps in the entire world. Every corner of the multi-level culinary circus contains temptation. The place to start is the Carousel Bakery, home of the peameal bacon sandwich. No matter what else you get here, the sandwich will be good because the bread is great. It’s not fancy, but it’s soft and slightly salty: a perfect sandwich roll.
Peameal bacon is distinct from back (Canadian) bacon. While it’s made from the same cut of pork, it’s only cured, not smoked. The name comes from an outdated practice of rolling the meat in crushed dried peas to help preserve it. Peameal bacon today is basically a wet-brined pork loin. The sandwich was invented back when Elso Biancolin’s bakery partnered with a butcher stall to sell sandwiches made from the popular cut. The meat was thinly sliced and griddled until golden brown and slightly rendered. The sandwich soon became an icon of the market, and it remains so under the ownership of Elso’s sons.
When peameal bacon is cooked on a griddle, it gets slightly crisp but retains the tenderness that distinguishes it from streaky bacon. The meat is layered onto a soft kaiser roll and served without any dressings. You can order an egg on it if you’d like, but we prefer just adding a small measure of Dijon mustard from the condiment station.
While the peameal bacon sandwich is an unmissable experience, it’s not the only thing worth ordering. In fact, two of the other most famous dishes in Southern Ontario are also served: veal sandwiches and Portuguese egg tarts.
Toronto has a peculiar affinity for veal sandwiches. You find them at pizza places, gas stations, and any sort of odd place that feels like making them. This is a thin veal cutlet, served alla parmigiana, with marinara sauce and (usually) mozzarella cheese and sweet or hot peppers. Be careful, though: hot peppers in in Toronto are jalapeño-level blazzing. While the tender veal sandwich here isn’t as famous as it is at Italian places in town, we find that the excellent bread and perfectly stretchy cheese makes it a special lunch for us.
Then there are egg tarts. Bite-sized egg (or custard) tarts have seeped their way into culinary tradition wherever the Portuguese have set sail, from Macao to Rhode Island. They are especially popular in Ontario where convergences of Chinese and custard-loving British communities find them a taste of home. The flaky crust on the bottom and vanilla-scented custard make Carousel Bakery’s tarts irresistible. Make sure to pick up a few extra for the road.
For those wanting to have a one-stop taste tour of Toronto’s local specialties, we can’t imagine a better stop than Carousel Bakery. If only every city made tasting its greatest hits so effortless.