#957: Kinder Bueno on the Edge of the World

July 23rd, 2018

We sat on a rough cement ledge in the parking lot, slowly chewing candy.

Geographically, the lot looked more like it belonged to the walk-in clinic than the bakery. A large sign made of the corrugated plastic used on the yard signs of the candidates rich enough to win declared though that this was in fact for bakery.

Geographically, we looked in the wrong place too. Montclare is Chicago, but looks suburban — strip malls and multi-lane divided highways no kid could wander across without getting a faceful of semi-trailer. Just across the street and down a block, a liquor store awning trumpeted the wares inside as the first stop free of City of Chicago taxes. We were on the border of the rest of the world, thoughtfully munching Kinder Bueno.

Kinder Bueno is a hazelnut chocolate bar made by the Italian confectioner Ferrero, but popular across Europe. This particular bar came from Poland, as evidenced by the mishmash of high-scoring Scrabble consonants and extraneous letter-lines you have to pull from the special Symbol menu to type.

“WYGRAJ, SPEŁNIJ MARZENIE,” a cartoon font below a 50th birthday ad for the Kinder line declares.

“WIN, FULFILL THE DREAM,” Google Translate later explains.

I also know it’s Polish because of where we got it.

Kolatek Bakery and Deli a foot on the Chicago side of the Elmwood Park border is like a dozen, hundred little bakeries scattered throughout the Chicagoish chunk of Northern Illinois. It’s a place for Poles and other Eastern European immigrants and descendants to grab some bread, a few groceries and a taste of familiarity.

It’s a place to get some rye that tastes like what rye’s supposed to taste like, to grab some mustard that actually has some kick, to load up the fridge with sausage meat and pierogi and to pick up a new jar of Czeko dżem Łowicz because you might want toast tomorrow and butter ain’t cutting it.

It’s a place to buy the candy bars of youth because it’s a mass-produced wad of sugar, chocolate, lecithin and ammonium bicarbonate, but it’s your wad.

Years ago, I tried to surprise a woman I was dating with the foods of her country. Neither toast nor bacon were thick enough, the beans were barbecue-intended Bush’s not breakfast-made Heinz, the tomatoes were of a quality befitting my income level at 23. In short, it was a soggy American mess, a slipshod replica that made her ache with a homesickness she hadn’t felt before I tried. The flavors simply have to be right.

Here, the flavors were right, but for someone else. It was an adventure for my wife and me, not a grocery run. A brief experiment that left us laden with a freezer of pierogi, a breadbox of homebaked rye and a fridge of spicy mustard and Czeko dżem Łowicz (it’s like Nutella but with Belgian cherries mixed in — very good).

Kinder — specifically Maxi, not Bueno — reminds my wife of a backpacking trip with a friend, spending their few spare coins on a too-rare treat as they explored the world around them. Kinder reminds me of her telling me that story. We couldn’t wait to get to the car, just found a rough cement ledge and looked out at the strip malls and divided highways on the other side of the Chicago border.

So we sat at the edge of the world, munching someone else’s familiarity, watching a liquor store awning declare it’s glad it wasn’t us.

Read a story from the city’s southern border

Read about a Chicago museum of Lithuanian culture

A poem about pączki

She was a good girl

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