August 24, 2012, by Recovering Chocoholic
Sweets and Memories from an International Childhood
Psychologists will tell you that smell can to bring back long-lost memories. For me, the memory of a taste is just as evocative. With a childhood divided between three continents, sometimes the strongest sentiments are triggered by memories of sweets I once ate.
Manjar Ice Cream (Chile)
I don’t know what Chilean plaza we stood in the first day I licked soft-serve manjar ice cream from a cone. But I know we were in Chile because the rest of Latin America calls this confection dulce de leche. I remember the Spanish-influenced cathedral at the top of the square and that the ice cream store was on the right. I remember the soft caramel taste of the ice cream and how it dripped just so down the edge of the cone.
Our maid taught my mother how to make manjar the easy way (boiling sweetened condensed milk in a bain-marie for hours). After we returned to the states my mom would occasionally make a couple of cans to keep in the cupboard. Manjar and dulce de leche are quite similar—both are thick, milk-based caramels and I was a teenager when I saw my first pint of Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream. It is a reasonable substitute, but nothing could equal that distant memory.
Someday I will return to Chile and find that ice cream shop. Until then, I’m eating cans of Nestlé’s La Lechera brand of dulce de leche with a spoon.
Vizzio Chocolates (Peru)
To the untrained eye, Vizzios are merely chocolate-covered almonds. Once you pop one in your mouth and let the chocolate soften and melt on your tongue, you’ll know that there is no substitute for a Vizzio. The chocolate is darker than a standard Hershey bar but not as dark as we’ve come to associate with gourmet chocolates. Vizzios don’t need to pretend to be gourmet, they are unpretentiously themselves.
These candies are so good that we once sent a white, pinstriped box home from Chile with a family friend. He was directed to hand carry the candies to his wife and share the deliciousness. But his plane got stuck on the tarmac for twelve hours, so she will never know how delicious the chocolates were.
I have tasted many chocolate-covered almonds in my search to find a replacement for Vizzios, but there is no equal. I’ve recently found a source on the internet. I’m kind of afraid the real thing won’t live up to the memory.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Marcin Floryan.
The night I arrived in Toruń, Poland (where I would spend my junior year of high school) I was dazed after twenty-six hours of travel. Awaiting me on the nightstand/desk/TV stand (in that tiny room with a fold-down bed) was a package of heart-shaped, chocolate-covered piernik (a soft form of gingerbread) with jelly filling.
I was starved and confused and I chewed through an entire package of the treats by Kopernik while trying to complete an international call with a calling card on a rotary phone.
Toruń has been making piernik since the 18th century. Sometimes the gingerbread hearts tasted like they had been around that long. But in a country where sugar had recently been scarce, each gift of piernik was like a gift of love.
Sometimes when I am homesick for Poland, I’ll buy a package of these sweets at the local Polish deli and take bites from the three-inch hearts. They are much staler in the US, but it’s the memory I’m trying to consume, not the flavor.
My true, sweet Polish love is for krówki. These individually wrapped candies are considered a fudge, but in my heart they will always be a caramel.
Something about the way krówki are made leaves their centers unpredictable, and biting them in half gives me great pleasure. Some are crystallized sugar all the way through (like a true fudge). A luckier bite will find a krówka (singular form—Polish is complex) with a nodular interior that reminds me of crazy cave formations. The very best bites are into krówki whose centers are still liquid.
My friends and I would buy different brands of krówki at the confectionary on the edge of the main square in Toruń—swearing that one brand was more liquid than another. I rarely find the liquid centers in krówki I buy nowadays at George’s Deli in Seattle. But something Pavlovian keeps me searching until the entire package has been eaten.
What sweet memories do you have to share?