"It's the simplicity that makes it," confided co-owner of Carousel Bakery & Sandwich Bar Robert Biancolin about Toronto's signature peameal bacon sandwich, noting how many visiting chefs make a point of seeking it out. "You don't need to pile up a sandwich to make it great."
The man has a good point. At first glance, there's not much to the peameal bacon sandwich. Whether brought to St. Lawrence's historic South Market to the colorful Carousel Bakery with its circus-like sign by a friend, or sent there by someone you'd trust for their culinary wisdom, it's difficult to view it with anything but suspicion. Sure, you know there's bacon on this sandwich, but it's not that everday diner bacon you know. The relatively flat sandwich wrapped in foil isn't visually striking and doesn't promise much in the way of toppings. Between the two halves of the sliced roll are thin yellowish-green and orange slices of what look like mini pork cutlets.
This is a sandwich of the ages? It is. And it's not just tourists, this is a real people, blue-collar sandwich. See the kinds of people eating this sandwich early in the morning? Note them and follow them to great food anywhere in the world.
What doesn't sparkle, shimmy, shine, run, or drip once unwrapped, proves when tasted, that you don't need complicated toppings, sauces, or layers to construct an epic sandwich.
What is peameal bacon, though? It's the tender eye of pork loin rolled in a fine yellow cornmeal crust that when cooked is said to help seal in moisture and provide some contrasting crunch. So if it's cornmeal crusted why is it called peameal? The reason for that, as Biancolin will happily relate to you, is that cornmeal replaced the original peameal method of curing after deliveries of green pork weren't received with much enthusiasm. A gentleman named William Davies emmigrated from England in 1854 and set up in the St. Lawrence Market, where he devised the peameal curing process in 1875. Coating the loin in peameal may have helped preserve it, but coating it in cornmeal made it a bit more likely to actually be eaten.
In these modern days of refrigeration, does the meat really need any coating anymore? Eh, probably not so much, but as with other such foods created out of necessity that we've become quite fond of and kept around, so too there are reasons to keep peameal bacon around — this sandwich being justification enough.
You bite down through the soft, airy Portuguese roll made with sourdough starter (though not enough to impart a sour taste) and into the 1/8th-inch slices of peameal bacon that have cooked on a griddle for a few minutes, enough to curl up along the edges just a little, and crisp on the sides, and drizzled with a touch of honey mustard, and realize what's going on. There's pleasure in the soft tear of the bread, how easily it gives, and the slight resistance of the meat beneath it, the salt of the chewy meat, the slight sweetness and zing of the honey mustard, there's balance and warmth, a back of the mouth chew, it's not wet, it's not dry, neither heavy, nor light, but satisfying, a breakfast sandwich that you can really start a day with, but one you could eat at any time.
There are cheese stands, mustard stands, fish 'n chips, and other notable food counters (120 of them) worth perusing and tasting at in the historic St. Lawrence Market (ranked by National Geographic as the world’s best food market since 2009), but the Carousel Bakery (cash-only) is the move. Sure, you can add the optional egg and conventional bacon, too, but you really don't need it. Trust me. Don't worry about how it looks. Just take a bite.
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