13 April 2015

Why is There No Torontonian Food?

A question that’s been swirling around my mind for the past several years—a confluence of my obsession with Toronto, cultural endemism, and food—is why does Toronto have so few (if any) regional foods?

Upon visiting Buffalo a few years ago, I learned that this city of 250,000 people has a specifically Buffalonian sandwich, a beverage, and a hot dog (among, it seems, many others). Since my partner is from Halifax, she’s taught me about countless Nova Scotian (if not Haligonian) delicacies, including numerous savoury dishes, a sauce, and desserts, many of which are delicious and make me angry with civic jealousy (especially upon considering that Nova Scotia has a third of Toronto’s population). Thinking about other cities, Montreal has a glorious bagel that eclipses my attention whenever I’m there, there seems to at least be a famous kind of pizza from Chicago, there’s a New York bagel, as well as drinks and surely sundry other things…

Whereas in Toronto, the closest thing to a regional food is the peameal bacon sandwich. But is that even known to a majority of Torontonians, let alone eaten regularly by them, or known to people from other cities? I get the sense that it’s not even remotely as famous and well-regarded as either of the aforementioned species of bagel, for instance.

What happened in Toronto’s food history? Why did a relatively big city that’s about as cold as the aforementioned North American cities develop no endemic gastronomic culture? Did Torontonians historically just have no interest in food, and thus—in their extreme WASPiness—didn’t ever experiment with, enjoy, or discuss their food?

In my initial contemplation of this question, I thought that maybe it’s just a manifestation of the British historical disinterest in food whereby seeing epicureanism is eschewed as an indulgence. However, this theory quickly falls apart when one appreciates that all the aforementioned cities are similarly historically WASPy apart from Montreal.

Then I wondered, could it be a matter of proximity to food sources, like how Nova Scotia has such a history of seafood? But Buffalo, Chicago, and Montreal all seem to have similar access to fresh food, and they all managed to develop regional foods.

So why is it that a city of almost three million has *one* quasi-regional food? Is our civic culinary history one of austere gustatory indifference? Or, in the traditionally Torontonian way, did we perhaps just historically ignore (and thus ultimately forget) our culinary history?

I can’t imagine how this question will ever be answered, so I’ll just keep asking it (mostly to myself).

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