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May 26, 2008 09:00 AM

Toronto's Signature Dish?

This is a topic which has been bugging me for some time. While most big cities around the globe have a signature food or dish that is known to be "from that city". For example; London has Fish & Chips, Philadelphia has it's Cheese Steak. Chicago has Deep-Dish style pizza, and Montreal has smoked meat and bagels. I can go on for a while, and I'm sure you can think of many other city-signature foods. But what does Toronto have to offer? We have so many different cultures here that it's hard to pin one dish that could be called Toronto's own. There is lots of great food here, but we need that dish we can call our own. I think it's too far gone, and will never happen. I do find it a joke somewhat that even small cities in Canada have their own claim to fame like "Halifax style donair" or even Ottawa with their beaver tails but we still don't have one, what does that say about us? Thoughts?

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  1. Peameal bacon sandwiches, and it's time we had them on Toronto streetcorners, too! While it's a pork sandwich, it was important in our history, and many tourists talk about it after a delicious, inexpensive encounter at the St. Lawrence market.

    If the Toronto councillors ever get more variety into street food (next year, they say), the city could become known for a wide variety of ethnic foods from carts. But that is still in the future.

    27 Replies
    1. re: jayt90

      Man, I like that idea of the peameal bacon sandwich!

      1. re: Bobby Wham

        This was the first thing that came to my mind. Judging by what I read it's pretty uniquely TO and a damned fine sandwich at that.

        You do realize the food police won't allow uncooked meat in the cooler of a street vendor.
        Maybe they need to invent a solar powered cooler.


      2. re: jayt90

        Yes! Peameal bacon sandwich, the perfect Toronto food. Good answer, jayt90!

        1. re: jayt90

          I've lived in Toronto for almost forty years. In all that time, no prospective first time visitor ever mentioned their hankering for a peameal bacon sandwich as a reason to visit Toronto. Perhaps it wins by default, in that (once here) you might miss these sandwiches after moving away. Since I don't eat them, I can't comment on their deliciousness. But I don't see these as a genuine "signature dish".

          I really thought about this question, and it left me feeling gloomy. If I leave Toronto, there is no specifically local food that I will especially miss.

          Even in this Mickey D era, many communities have unique local foods that people make pilgrimages to eat. Think Montreal (smoked meat, bagels, and steamies), New York (pastrami, bagels, hot dogs, and pizza), Philadelphia (cheese steaks and pretzels), New Haven (pizza), Cincinnati (chili, Graeter's ice cream), Chicago (hot dogs, pizza, and Italian beef), Kansas City (BBQ, pan fried chicken). Even Buffalo (wings, hot dogs, beef on weck).

          I could go on and on. In the US and Canada, in big cities and rural hamlets, there are signature foods. Jane and Michael Stern ("Roadfood") have built a successful career writing about them.

          I've found many of these local specialties disappointing. Cincinnati chili was a letdown. I think steamies are yuk. But people travel to communities to try these foods.

          There are many delicious foods in Toronto, but I can't think of any Toronto signature dish.

          1. re: embee

            It's not the type of thing that TO would promote. Too home grown.


          2. re: jayt90

            I'ved lived in TO all my life and I've never heard of peameal bacon sandwiches....

            1. re: hippotatomus

              Take off, eh! Never heard of a back-bacon-on-a-bun? You hoser...
              Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo. Just kidding. Peameal bacon, back bacon--pretty much the same thing, eh?

              1. re: Yongeman

                Peameal bacon and back bacon are distinctly different. If they were not, then Irish bacon or Canadian bacon (U.S. style) would pass for peameal bacon. Those two products are smoked, drier, and cut from the smaller tenderloin of the hog.

                Our true peameal bacon is juicy, tender, and unsmoked, from the 'strip' loin of the hog. Each piece is larger in area than back bacon, and the taste is quite different if thick sliced and slowly grilled before joining a crusty roll, tomato, and all the trimmings.

                1. re: jayt90

                  Isn't Irish bacon brined or cured (i.e. not smoked)?

                  I thought peameal bacon was just "Canadian bacon" rolled in peameal. Whatever the case, it makes a good sandwich.

                  1. re: grandgourmand

                    Here is a description of two smoked back bacons, Irish and Canadian. The difference seems to be the part of the loin used.
                    Peameal bacon is a fresher, juicier version, but unsmoked, as in the Real Canadian Bacon product:

                    1. re: jayt90

                      Having lived in Toronto my whole life, I'd never heard of 'Canadian bacon' until travelling in the US. As far as I know, peameal bacon and back bacon are pretty well interchangeable here in 'the Great White North'. They're not smoked, but brined or pickled. Have a Labatt's Blue and chill.

                      1. re: Yongeman

                        The odd thing is, Canadian bacon in the U.S. is smoked. It is quite well known that way at Peter Luger and Wolfgang's.

                        1. re: jayt90

                          Not the Canadian bacon I've ever had.


                2. re: Yongeman

                  Peameal bacon, back bacon. I've heard of it. but peameal bacon sandwiches being Toronto's signature dish?... I would hardly say so. If I think HARD and dig from distant memory because I don't pay much attention to peameal bacon/back bacon/ham etc etc... I myself have only see those at farmer's markets and such and maybe you can get peameal bacon at the grocery store.. but the places I go to.. there are never any huge honking signs screaming "Peameal Bacon Sandwiches".. this is about Toronto... not signature dishes of farmer's markets in Ontario.

                  1. re: hippotatomus

                    Do you get to St. Lawrence Market much? At Carousel bakery, they sell the peameal bacon sandwich. Love it or hate it (not sure how many haters out there), it's a classic Toronto sandwich. Hell, they even have a signed picture from Emeril and Catherine Zeta-Jones testifying to the goodness of the sandwich.

                    1. re: grandgourmand

                      Emeril and Catherine are living in Toronrto? I need a personal chef and a personal trainer. Got their numbers?

                      Seriously, the point is well made that one does not see "Peameal Sandwich Served Here!" plastered in a diner window every two blocks here as one is likely to see "Le Smoked Meat", "Hot Dog Stimmé" and "Poutine" advertised in Montreal, for example.

                      A local specialty should be up-front, not hidden in a basement.

                      1. re: mrbozo

                        By that rationale, street meat should be the Toronto dish.

                        1. re: mrbozo

                          Just for the sake of argument, though, many of these so-called "local specialties" are, in fact, rarely eaten by actual locals. Deep dish pizza comes to mind - many Chicago natives will tell you that it's just for tourists, and that their idea of Chicago-style pizza is actually very different. Peameal is at least something you don't generally see outside Ontario, and thus it makes it into guidebooks as something visitors should try when visiting Toronto. And, love it or hate it, they do, and leave our fair city thinking of it as something they would only get here.
                          It may not be advertised in the windows, but it is part of the classic diner lineup around here, and it IS in the grocery store - I always find it at NoFrills, right across the aisle from the refrigerated fresh noodles and dim sum buns. And I think THAT'S the true culinary signature of Toronto.
                          If we could just get portuguese har gow a la peameal grilled on the street to catch on, then maybe we could all agree...

                          1. re: Wahooty

                            portugues har gow a la peameal sounds good...but, should be stuffed into a roti and then grilled.

                            1. re: grandgourmand

                              gg, you make an excellent point. I stand corrected. ;)

                          2. re: mrbozo

                            But part of this problem is that WE are Toronto. We don't put up big fancy signs saying how great we are. We might offend someone.
                            Also, if PB on a B were to make it to street level, things would most certainly change.


                          3. re: grandgourmand

                            Actually I worked at Jarvis and King for four months and frequently went to the St. Lawrence Market for lunch. I knew there were sandwiches but I had no desire really to have them.

                          4. re: hippotatomus

                            Every year since I was a kid (and I am closer to being a senior now than a child) we would go to the CNE - and we would always have back bacon on a bun. No, I would not call it Toronto's signature dish - to do that would ignore all of the wonderful multiculture dishes our fair city has to offer. To ignore it though would be an sad oversight.

                      2. re: jayt90

                        We don't have Canadian bacon in Canada. We have peameal, frying pork and, er, bacon. Nothing against a nice smoked loin of pork mind you, but it ain't bacon.

                        1. re: mrbozo

                          That really sums it up succinctly!

                        2. re: jayt90

                          OH YEA! Where do I sign the petition to make this happen! The signature TO dish.

                        3. toronto style pad thai?


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: HarryLloyd

                            That was my immediate thought, too: ketchup pad thai.

                          2. It has been bugging me too. This is hogtown. I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice to suggest anything but pork. Peameal is high on my list too. There are a lot of talented chefs using a lot of local porkbelly. Anyone want to organize a "Porkfest" and invite local chefs out to give their best interpretation of piggy? Oink oink.

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                              1. An apple fritter and a double-double?