Exploring Hogtown – pork, history, architecture and graffiti with Urban Adventures
Hogtown, the Big Smoke, Toronto the Good, T.O., T-Dot and The 6 are just some of the nicknames that Toronto goes by.
In a bid to learn more about the city behind these names, we embarked on Urban Adventures’ When Pigs Fry tour, lead by the excellent guide Mike, which focuses on the first of those nicknames – pigs!
So, what’s the deal behind the Hogtown moniker? Back in 1854, a man by the name of William Davies left Wiltshire, England and emigrated to Toronto. He got by by selling meats at a Toronto institution – the St Lawrence Market. One day he sent some of his pork back home to his brother in England, convinced that it was something special. Well, he was on to something, as that pork went down a storm in Britain.
To cater for the demand in this delicious pork from across the Pond, William Davies established the largest pork packing plant in the British Empire.
Meanwhile, down at Toronto’s Distillery District, once the world’s largest distillery, pigs were partial to munching on the leftovers from the brewing process.
Soon enough, Toronto became awash with our porcine friends. Welcome to Hogtown.
So here we were, standing outside St Lawrence Market in Hogtown, and not one pig in sight. But we had already covered some of the themes of our tour – the history of Toronto; the architecture of downtown Toronto from the Gooderham ‘flatiron’ Building to the architects of the modern skyscrapers; and of course pigs (the clue is in the tour name after all).
For those with a conscience, this tour is not all about gluttony and stuffing your face with pork without any thought behind where it comes from or if it is ethically sourced. Across from St Lawrence Market is its modern counterpart – a supermarket! In we went, where we stood around by the meats section discussing the modern world’s disconnect with its food sources.
But what about the actual food, for that is what we’re all really interested in? Our first stop was at Betty’s. I’ll be honest. We’d probably never venture into somewhere like this normally, but this is where a tour like this is great as it takes you places you normally wouldn’t go.
Here we got a peameal bacon BLT, and it was great! Much like we were wondering at the time, you probably also want to know what peameal bacon is. This is as close you’ll get to a Torontonian dish, as it is here that this pork was perfected. The local pork was rolled in crushed yellow peas, something which became the ‘trademark’ that the consumer would look for. Post-WW2, and the yellow peas were swapped for yellow meal – hence peameal bacon.
Hopping on a 504 streetcar (love them or loathe them, but apparently they hold twice as many people as a bus) we headed down to the other end of King Street where we found Lou Dawgs. Here we sampled some pulled pork poutine.
Oh. My. God. This is the best poutine that we’ve ever had. We will definitely be taking relatives here for poutine when they visit!
Often the problem with food tours is that you go from one place to the next, and soon that flat, toned stomach that you’ve spent hours perfecting at the gym starts to resemble that of a pregnant woman. But this is where Urban Adventures wisely gave our stomachs a break, and introduced the day’s 4th theme – graffiti.
Walking along Graffiti Alley, running parallel to Queen Street West, we learnt about the three different types of graffiti:
- Tags (the ones that look crap)
- Throws (the amateur ones)
- Murals (the ones that actually look good and are there legally)
Graffiti might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that the murals look great, particularly when in the right setting.
Now on Queen Street West we came to The Healthy Butcher, which fits in nicely with the indie and hipster feel that prevails here (West Queen West was named the world’s 2nd coolest neighbourhood by Vogue after all).
These guys are the meat experts – useful when you run a butchers – and source both local and organic meats, that have been raised ethically. We sampled some delicious and freshly cooked bacon – one set cooked in the oven, and the other pan fried. Both were excellent – loads of flavour – but the oven cooked bacon was the winner as it had the better flavour and texture.
We trekked back to King Street, ensuring that we had nicely burnt off some of our earlier indulgences, and made our fourth and final stop, at Wvrst. This is a German beer hall themed restaurant, that specialises in sausages.
Our sausage was a kranjska, of Slovenian origin, and similar to what is known as a ‘Polish sausage’ in North America. This came with a ketchup, Worcestshire Sauce and curry powder dip (and a slice of toast!).
Just like everywhere else, this food was great too. The sausage had a nice amount of spice to it, and the dip complimented it perfectly. To top it off, we even heard at this point how one of our fellow tour members established a rock, paper, scissors championship in Toronto. He’s refereed matches on three continents and has even been interviewed on TV. Little did we know that all this time we’d been in the presence of the world’s most famous rock, paper, scissors referee.
This was a great story to round off a fantastic tour, where we learnt lots about our new city whilst also having a good time.
Big Thanks to Mike and Jason from Urban Adventures for having us and putting on an excellent show. I’m sure that we’ll be back, as their tours are a great of getting to know different sides of Toronto for both locals and tourists.
Toronto’s other nicknames explained:
- TO or T.O. – comes from Toronto, Ontario, or just the first two letters of Toronto.
- T-dot – derived from ‘T.O.’
- Toronto the Good – everything used to close down in Toronto on Sundays. Even window shopping was frowned upon, with curtains erected to stop people looking in.
- The Big Smoke – a term ‘stolen’ from the original ‘Big Smoke’, London, and refers to the effects of industry in Toronto.
- The 6 – the newest of Toronto’s nicknames, and coined by Drake, the second most famous Torontonian after crack cocaine-smoking former mayor, Rob Ford. No one apart from Drake himself is really sure what it definitely means, but the thinking is because two of Toronto’s area codes (416 and 697), share the number 6!