Sunday, April 6, 2008

Whatever Happened to Canadian Bacon?

I like to eat pizza. I travel a lot and, as a result, I get to sample a lot of pizza from pizza restaurants around the country. One thing that I have noticed over the last few months is that it is getting harder and harder to find Canadian bacon.

Gourmet pizzas featuring strange toppings are becoming more and more common. Margherita pizzas featuring Italian tomatoes are frequent finds on room service menus at many hotels. All sorts of things that shouldn't be on pizzas are showing up on pizzas around the country. Some pizzas look like the salad is being served on top of the pizza instead of beside it.

I am a pizza traditionalist. I am also a carnivore. My perfect pizza is a thin-crusted New York style topped with pepperoni and Canadian bacon. Garnish it with a little crushed red pepper, Parmesan cheese, and, if available, some garlic salt. Serve a nice, chilled Coke with it. It makes my mouth water just to think about it.

The problem is that more and more often, when I call to order my perfect pizza, they tell me that they don’t have Canadian bacon. Sometimes they offer ham instead of Canadian bacon. Other times, they commit the atrocity of substituting bacon bits for Canadian bacon. I can accept ham as suitable alternative, even if it is diced instead of sliced, as Canadian bacon should be. But bacon bits are a completely different taste. It isn’t even remotely the same thing.

Why do they call it Canadian bacon anyway? What do they call it in Canada? American bacon?

According to the bacon experts at Wikipedia, Canadian bacon is usually made from back bacon, bacon from the back of the pig, rolled in cornmeal. Ordinary bacon, called “streaky bacon,” is normally made from pork belly meat. In Canada, Canadian bacon is usually referred to as “peameal bacon.”

I conducted a brief survey of the menus of some of America’s largest pizza chains for bacon-related toppings. Pizza Hut lists ham as a topping, as do Papa John’s and Domino’s. The big surprise came from the upstart purveyor of untraditional pies, California Pizza Kitchen. CPK actually has honest-to-goodness authentic Canadian bacon. Of course, they have it on a very untraditional Hawaiian pizza, which also features pineapple. I guess they might be persuaded to add it to a pepperoni pizza if I asked nicely.

So why the change away from Canadian bacon in so many places? Maybe health concerns are causing people to stay away from pork. Maybe it’s an adverse reaction to the 1995 John Candy film in which the US President tries to start a cold war with Canada. Maybe it’s some sort of politically correct fear of ridiculing our neighbor to the north. Maybe it has just gotten lost in the shuffle with all the new gourmet toppings and combinations.

At any rate, I’ll continue to ask for Canadian bacon whenever I order a pizza. I like to try local pizzerias instead of the chains. Many of these smaller restaurants, especially the authentic Italian ones, still serve real Canadian bacon. If I can’t find Canadian bacon anywhere else, it is always available in the grocery store so I can make my own perfect pizza.

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