The Carniceria Connoisseur in Canada

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ST. LAWRENCE MARKET, TORONTO -- “You must be from the States,” the butcher at the St. Lawrence Market said as I took his picture carrying a huge hindquarter of beef into his meat market. “You guys don’t get to see real meat anymore, hey?”

He was right. In Houston, meat comes in little plastic packages, even in the Mexican carnicerias. It was shocking to see big primal cuts of beef hanging in a meat locker.

Texas may be a cattle ranching state, but when was the last time you saw a side of beef? When was the last time you saw a real butcher shop?

All photos by Robb Walsh

At the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, there are a half a dozen upscale butchers operating side by side. And then there’s the seafood shops, cheese counters, bakeries and restaurants.

The big specialty here is bacon. There’s awesome-looking sliced bacon, hot ready-to-eat Canadian bacon, English bacon and the local specialty--peameal bacon.

Peameal bacon is made from the same pork loin used to make Canadian bacon, but whereas Canadian bacon is cured and smoked, peameal bacon is cured and pickled. It used to be rolled in crushed dried peas, hence the name. But these days it’s rolled in cornmeal.

I had fried eggs and peameal bacon for breakfast at a little pub in the market building called Paddington’s Pump. And then, after a few hours of exploring the 200 year-old market, I had a peameal bacon sandwich for lunch at the famous Carousel Bakery.

The walls outside the bakery are covered with articles from food magazines like Saveur, local and regional newspapers and testimony from such luminaries as Emeril Lagasse, all singing the praises of this sandwich.

To make it, a soft Kaiser roll is split in half and a large pile of fried peameal bacon is placed in the middle. That’s about it. No lettuce, tomato, cheese or any other dressing. There are a lot of mustards to choose from. I slathered my sandwich with the hottest looking one I could find.

There are tables set up alongside some of the meat markets, so you can sit down and eat a bacon sandwich. There was also a Brazilian churrasco restaurant where everybody understood my bad Spanish. The lively market scene and tables set up outside the butcher shop reminded me a lot of the Mexican carnicerias I saw serving cabrito in the mercado de campesinos in Monterrey. – Robb Walsh

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