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St Lawrence Market

We’re in Toronto, and on our first morning we went to the centre of town to visit the St Lawrence Market. This old-fashioned covered market and local landmark is not only a mecca for food-lovers of Toronto but has been hailed by National Geographic as the top food market in the world. Not in North America. The world. (Borough Market, by the way, came tenth.)

Located in the part of town known as Old York (York having been the name of the settlement established here by Governor Simcoe in the 1790s; it was renamed Toronto in 1834), the market has been running for over 200 years.

The items on offer on the lower level are a fair reflection of modern Toronto’s diversity; as well as coffee from just about anywhere in the world (they’ll even grind it for you should you so wish) and many varieties of rice, you can get perogies, crêpes, souvlaki, spices, meat pies, Chinese food, more preserves than you’d care to name and all sorts of other tasty treats here. Up on the main level butchers, bakers, fishmongers and cheesemongers (who do a good line in cheeses imported from places like England, France and Italy as well as Canadian cheeses) co-exist side by side in St Lawrence, where the only problems appear to be people who suddenly stop to look at things, as well as the perennial dilemma of what to buy, and who to buy it from.

We found a wine merchant who seemed very happy to talk about the various Ontario wines he had on offer; a few samples later and we were walking away with a bottle of ’13 Riesling (Ontario Riesling being somewhat less sickly-sweet than its German counterpart) and a ’12 Trius Red (a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot; it’s superb, and surprisingly mature-tasting for a two year-old wine).

For lunch, the crowds seem to know that the Carousel Bakery is the stall to head to; this is the one that is best-known for serving up the Torontonian take on the bacon roll that is the peameal bacon bun (“Experience this Toronto tradition, eh!”). Cut much thicker than a regular rasher of bacon, peameal bacon is made from boneless pork loins rolled in ground yellow cornmeal (originally, ground yellow peas were used, hence the name), and it is a Toronto speciality which harks back to the time when the city was nicknamed ‘Hogtown’ due to the large number of pork processing facilities that existed here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It’s delicious and filling, but don’t just take my word for it; when Anthony Bourdain came here for The Layover, it’s what he had for breakfast.

The wares on the various seafood stalls looked fantastic –live lobsters, sushi-quality tuna steaks, wild salmon from British Columbia, scallops, oysters … we went for the mussels (from Prince Edward Island) which were on display in a large tank of water, from which our order was scooped out.

The butchers are masters of their trade who are happy to guide customers in the ways of all the different cuts and varieties that can be had. Should you want some mustard to go with your newly-purchased meat, there’s a stall for that where you can sample dozens of different types; I even found a couple that I rather liked (and I speak as someone who, as a rule, doesn’t particularly like mustard).

Elsewhere, two fruit-and-veg stalls compete for trade side by side, under a sign reminding customers that “We’re two separate stores”. One can only imagine the arguments that occurred before that went up! We purchased a few items from one of these places which, later that day, joined the mussels in a delicious moules marinieres.

St Lawrence Market: Gourmet’s paradise. A Toronto must-visit.

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