Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market: A Feast for Foodies and Historians
Leah Walker September 15, 2013

A trip to Toronto would be incomplete without at stop at St. Lawrence Market. Dating back to 1803, this historical place was named the best food market in the world by National Geographic. Talk about a ringing endorsement.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

I met Bruce Bell, local celebrity, historian, and tour guide extraordinaire, at the entrance of the market. Knowledgeable and entertaining, Bruce was named the official historian of the St. Lawrence Market and Hall by the city of Toronto. Obviously, I was in the best of hands.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market Bruce Bell

Always used as a place for the people of Toronto to buy food, St. Lawrence Market has also housed the city council on the second floor and served as a jail in the basement. Destroyed by the great fire in 1849, the market was rebuilt in the style of the great markets of Europe. One look at the soaring ceiling, rafters, and windows and you’ll see the resemblance.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

At 10:00 on a Thursday morning, the market was a bit quiet. Bruce explained that Saturday mornings are the busiest, as locals buy their groceries for the week, while visitors are on the tourist trail. Frankly, I enjoyed having the market basically to myself. There were no crowds to push through or lines to wait in, but it wouldn’t be that way for long.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

A walk through the ground floor of the market demonstrates the diversity of Toronto. Fruits and vegetables that I’d only seen in Asia, exotic meats, and obscure {at least to me} fish varieties fill the cases of the stalls. Whitehouse Meats offers its customers things like camel sliders and buffalo short ribs, while Domenic’s Fish Market has some of the best-looking seafood around.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

As a visitor to Toronto, St. Lawrence Market is the perfect place to grab lunch, but make sure to get there before or after noon. People working in the area clamor to eat at the various cooked food stalls, and the lines can get quite long. Buster’s Sea Cove is one such place. Grilled or fried, Buster’s serves up some delicious-looking seafood. Make sure you bring cash, because they don’t accept credit cards.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

Perhaps the most famous stop in the market is Carousel Bakery for its legendary peameal bacon sandwich. Better known in the US as Canadian bacon, this sandwich has attracted chefs Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay and garnered mentions in Food and Wine, Saveur, USA Today, The New York Times, and countless others.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market Carousel Bakery

Slices of Canadian bacon are grilled and piled high on a country bun. Locals know to add honey mustard, which is lovely, but I like my food with a little spice. A couple of dashes of the Tabasco sauce I carry in my purse put the sandwich over the top. The salty bacon, combined with the sweetness of the mustard and the spice of the Tabasco, made for the perfect sandwich. It’s easy to see why Carousel Bakery has been in the same location for over 30 years.

Carousel Bakery Toronto

Carousel Bakery Toronto

When visiting St. Lawrence Market, don’t forget to check out the lower level. It’s filled with a world of options. Additional vendors offer everything from crepes {Crepe It Up Cafe} to Chinese {Yip’s Kitchen} to Greek {Yianni’s Kitchen} to Ukrainian {European Delight}. You could eat lunch here for weeks without duplication. Plus, if you’re with Bruce, he’ll show you were the jail once stood.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

When in Toronto a trip to the St. Lawrence Market is a must. You can certainly let your nose lead the way around the building, but experiencing it with Bruce Bell makes the history of the place come alive. For 90 minutes, I learned not just about the market, but also more Toronto and Canadian history that I ever knew. It was definitely time well spent.

Toronto St. Lawrence Market

 

I was a guest of Tourism Toronto. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the sub-90s August weather, my interesting conversations with cab drivers, or the friendly exchange rate. As always, opinions are mine. For more information on travel to Toronto, visit http://www.seetorontonow.com/.

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

26 Comments

  1. I love it. And when I was in Toronto in April 2012 on my RTW, I was told to head over to Paddington’s Pump in the St. Lawrence Market. While we’d be forgiven if we simply spent an entire Toronto trip in the markets, I needed to be reintroduced to the Canadian style bacon. I was not disappointed. I should have had more. Thanks (again) for making me hungry, Leah!

    1. I agree, Ana. You learn so much about the culture of a place through the markets. It’s such a window into the pulse of a community.

  2. That place would be nothing but trouble for me! All that yummy bacon I would put on more than a few pounds easily. I enjoy markets but have never been to or heard of this one. Nice that you had a guide to show you around.

  3. Really interesting, I love this market even if it is quite expensive…
    However, I really don’t understand how the National Geographic can name it “best food market in the world” ! Those guys need to travel. I expected something really extraordinary when I first visited it, and of course, I was a little disappointed.
    But it is definitely a nice spot and a place to see in Toronto !

    1. From what I understand National Geographic visited on a busy Saturday with the farmers’ market in the St. Lawrence Hall going full force. When I was there it was very quiet, but I can imagine it looking much different on the weekend.

  4. I love food markets. They can be fun and often provide a great meal. I drove by this market when in Toronto, but didn’t get a chance to stop in. It’s a really beautiful building.

    1. I’d love to go back on a Saturday morning. I understand it has a totally different vibe than my Thursday morning visit. Plus, I may or may not want another peameal bacon sandwich.

  5. I somehow missed this little gem while in Toronto. I actually have a long list of gems I missed while in Toronto. Fortunately it is only a 9 hour drive away. I will gave to go back sans #RWTBEX and experience more of this interesting city.

    1. I missed most of Toronto during TBEX, so I’m so very happy I got a chance to wander the city a bit. I’m a huge fan of Tornoto.

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