One of the things I love about food is how the fortunes of specific dishes rise and fall over time as fashions and trends come and go. Foods become popular, others are forgotten; one day peasants are eating pressed blocks of caviar for breakfast, a turn of tastes later golden caviar from albino sturgeon is being presented to the tsar on a golden tray. As a researcher, I find the historical trajectory of food fascinating; as a field researcher it means I need to explore all of Canadian cuisine, not just the fancy urban dishes. Over the next four years or so, if I am to successfully get an idea of what Canadian cuisine is, I have to be open to the everyday foods, the non-elite, corner store foods. And that is why I was so thrilled to stumble upon a genuine Cape Breton pizza burger.
The Cape Breton pizza burger is a hamburger bun with tomato sauce, cheese, processed sliced meat, and any other pizza style topping that might be handy, and was popularized by Paul’s Food Factory in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Paul’s sells their products through gas stations and corner stores, and the pizza burger is one of their top sellers. Of course Cape Bretoners also make their own pizza burgers, and they can be found very occasionally in cafes. I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a pizza burger, but in one of those fortunate moments in research, I stumbled upon a coffee shop that served them. I almost didn’t bother to go in this shop, but I was snackish, the motel didn’t have internet, and I wanted a little food before settling in for a nice sleep. We had come all the way from Port Aux Basques Newfoundland, where we had slept in a tent, and I was in a state of jangled fatigue. And there, waiting inside this little cafe, was a pizza burger.
The pizza burger tastes pretty much like one would imagine, and hits all of the high notes of cheese, tomato, and salty meat. I love that on a rocky remote island this food has become a “thing”, yet so unlike the sort of “thing” that happens in a city; I weary of cupcakes on every corner, pulled pork on every menu item, a TV adaptation of hard talking chefs inventing the new big thing. Cape Breton is a very unassuming place, and a very pleasant and friendly place, and the pizza burger was also pleasant, unassuming and friendly. I would get up the next morning, drive the Cabot Trail, and eat great quantities of Acadian food and other local delicacies. But if I’m honest with myself the pizza burger was my favourite food in the region, and I wish Paul’s Food Factory many a happy year lovingly popping out these tasty little treats, best washed down with beer from the can or a bag of juice (Bags of juice seem to be another of those strange East Coast phenomenon). One day someone might be serving pizza burgers on a gold tray, but for now, it’s enough to say this food felt very Canadian, in a way I find difficult to describe. And it does just fine without pulled pork.