A New Sweet (to me, at least)

Nanaimo BarsTonight I made anoth­er small step toward assim­i­la­tion into Cana­di­an cul­ture. Well, Cana­di­an child­hood cul­ture, at least.

Short­ly after we arrived here, I saw in the cof­fee shops and the occa­sion­al restau­rant a dessert called a Nanaimo Bar. This piqued my curios­i­ty, since I knew of the port of Nanaimo, a city on Van­cou­ver Island, as well as the name of a Street and Sta­tion I often see on the local busses and hear in a some­what taunt­ing tone on the Skytrain’s auto­mat­ed announce­ment sys­tem.

Dur­ing the show­ing of “A Sou­venir of Cana­da”, a movie based on the book by Dou­glas Cou­p­land dur­ing the Van­cou­ver Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, the image of this box flashed on the screen, and sev­er­al in the audi­ence gave gasps of recog­ni­tion and laughed. Here’s the cur­rent def­i­n­i­tion of Nanaimo bar I got from the Wikipedia:

The Nanaimo bar is a Cana­di­an dessert. A type of choco­late cake, it receives its name from the city of Nanaimo, British Colum­bia, where it first became known in the 1930s. It con­sists of a crumb-based lay­er, topped by a light cus­tard which is cov­ered in soft choco­late. Many vari­eties are pos­si­ble by using dif­fer­ent types of crumb, flavours of cus­tard, and types of choco­late.
Accord­ing to his­tor­i­cal leg­end, a group of friends in Nanaimo, who would lat­er found the Hare­wood Ladies’ Aux­il­iary, found the recipe in the Van­cou­ver Sun under the name “choco­late fridge cake,” and pop­u­lar­ized it under the name Nanaimo bar. How­ev­er, a search through the newspaper’s archives failed to turn up the recipe, so its ulti­mate ori­gin is unknown.
Recipes for sim­i­lar desserts are found in var­i­ous places and under var­i­ous names in North Amer­i­ca and Europe, but only in Cana­da is it so wide­ly known, and it is known to Cana­di­ans only as the Nanaimo bar.
The City of Nanaimo takes its Nanaimo bars very seri­ous­ly; the city’s mas­cot is known as Nanaimo Bar­ney and has the shape of a giant Nanaimo bar. The city also has an offi­cial recipe for the bar. In 1985, May­or Graeme Roberts start­ed a con­test to find the ulti­mate Nanaimo bar recipe; the unan­i­mous win­ner, sub­mit­ted by local res­i­dent Joyce Hard­cas­tle, was declared the offi­cial recipe and is avail­able as a hand­out from the City.

I’ve tried them in some places since then. They have dif­fered slight­ly, but in gen­er­al they are all sweet, have dif­fer­ent ratios of fill­ing to top­ping and crumb bot­tom lay­er, and some have more coconut in that lay­er than oth­ers. The choco­late also varies from recipe to recipe. It’s been fun to try dif­fer­ent ver­sions to com­pare them, even though it’s kind of like an adult order­ing a twinkies or marsh­mal­low treats. When I saw the box at the IGA, I decid­ed it was time that I tried mak­ing them first as the aver­age Cana­di­an has prob­a­bly tast­ed them. Then, I’ll try the orig­i­nal recipe.
The instruc­tions (in Eng­lish and French, of course), essen­tial­ly call for the con­tents of bags A, B, and C cor­re­spond­ing to the base, fill­ing and top­ping respec­tive­ly, mixed with but­ter in dif­fer­ent amounts. No bak­ing is involved, as the box says.

The results were aching­ly sweet and the fill­ing had an unpleas­ant grainy tex­ture. You wouldn’t want to read the ingre­di­ents on the side of the box, and it’s like­ly more than one case of type 2 dia­betes result­ed from ingest­ing too many of these, but I guess that a rite of pas­sage of sorts has been achieved, albeit about 30-odd years too late. I’ll nev­er be a native Cana­di­an, nor will I have had a child­hood with these in it, but they are a fun new dis­cov­ery.