Spice City Toronto: The Master of Barbecued Pigs




Spice City Toronto: The Master of Barbecued Pigs

A Filipino grocery makes roast pork to order.

Bernard of Bernard's Pilipino Specialities.

There’s a guy in Parkdale that you’ve got to meet. His name is Bernard and he’s 80 years old. He runs a Filipino specialty shop, Bernard’s Pilipino Specialties, at 1534 Queen Street West, just west of Jameson.

Bernard is a charming former health-care worker who hails originally from Ilo Ilo in the Central Philippines. He’s been running this small Filipino specialty store with his wife Cecilia since 1984, at the same location.

They sell sauce mixes and canned goods from the Philippines. Many of the products are so old that the labels are falling off and their colour has faded. The shop also sells fresh baked goods, like hopia baboy cookies, made with onion and a bright purple yam called ube. If you like natural beauty products, you can’t get more earthy than gogo, a bark used in the Philippines instead of shampoo.

Bernard used to specialize in longaniza (sweet Filipino sausages), but now his claim to fame is barbecued pigs made to order. Filipinos call this type of pork lechon; it has origins in the country’s Spanish colonial period. Bernard cooks the pigs in a giant, ancient-looking gas oven in the back of the shop. Be careful if he takes you back there—there is grease all over the floor and in buckets on the ground.

Bernard's lechon.

Members of the local Filipino community order barbecued pigs for family events and special occasions. On Christmas Eve, for example, Bernard cooked a whopping 60 pigs. “When I moved to Canada in 1970, there were around five thousand Filipinos in Toronto,” he says. “Now there are almost 250,000.” He uses a traditional recipe from his home island, stuffing the pig with lemon grass and garlic.

Bernard also makes chicharron, or pork rinds—one of the most extreme junk foods ever created. The skin of the pig is cut into squares and boiled. Spices and salt are added and the skins are deep-fried. The finished product packs a salt-and-fat punch guaranteed to take a few months off your life.

A whole pig costs $100 to $160. If that’s too large a commitment, just come by on Saturday or Sunday and ask for some pork to go. They’ll chop you up some meat for $5.50 a pound. It comes with Bernard’s excellent lechon sauce, made with sugar, vinegar, black pepper and a bit of liver.

Bernard hopes to retire to the Philippines one day, but for now he keeps running the shop to earn money for charity projects back home. If you’re going to visit him, make sure you do it soon. None of his five kids have chosen to follow in their father’s footsteps, so the master of barbecued pigs won’t last another generation in Parkdale.

Bernard’s Pilipino Specialities is located at 1534 Queen Street West, just west of Jameson. Tel: 416 534 3640.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.

Photos by Sarah Efron.