I first heard about the Cuban Lunch chocolate bar on CBC Radio last year, then read about it again in Janis Thiessen’s Snacks, a definitive history of the early years of the Canadian snack food business. People seemed to rave about these bars, which went out of production in 1991 when Paulins, a longstanding Canadian confectionery company in Winnipeg, pulled the plug on the treat.
Absence made the hearts of Cuban Lunch fans grow fonder, with internet groups springing up to talk about the legendary Prairie chocolate bar with the mysteriously international name. Wistful snackers traded improvised recipes for their homespun version of the Cuban Lunch, though the recipes were wildly different. There was no clear consensus on ingredients and what a real Cuban Lunch tasted like, as all the original bars were gobbled up nearly three decades prior.
Hello, old friend
Then, out of the blue, someone stepped in, bought the rights to the name, and found a way to bring the Cuban Lunch back from its chocolatey grave.
Instead of retelling the fascinating story of the bar’s return on NEAROF, I’ll leave that to Canadian Press journalist Lauren Krugel, in a story posted to the CBC Edmonton website . Long story short, the relaunched bars have been a hit, and the maker is struggling to keep up with demand.
I found my Cuban Lunch bars at the cash register at my local Safeway, displayed not in the rack with the other bars, but near the bagging area, a shining beacon within easy reach of the debit machine. Of course I had to pick up a couple. How could I not?
The bar itself looks like it’s from another time. The logo is classic A-Team, and the plastic wrap is clear, not modern foil with fancy graphics. You can easily see the bar inside, which is a humble rectangle of chocolate, pockmarked with crushed peanut lumps, residing in a red paper cup/liner like the kind used for Reese Peanut Butter Cups. In short, it looks like it was made by actual people, not an army of robot extruders and precisely calibrated industrial whizbangery.
Taking a bite, the most obvious elements are the chocolate (both dark and milk, according to the label) and ample peanuts, which are crushed into large chunks and mixed throughout. It’s chocolatey like a rich chocolate cake, and deeply sweet, with a hint of salt that works to accentuate the chocolate and nuts. The chocolate itself tastes different than that used in a typical drugstore bar, with a fruity depth that surprised me. It reminds me of the semisweet chocolate chips I use for baking.
It’s a nice taste and texture experience – one made even better by knowing the backstory, and what it took to bring a chocolate bar back from the dead.
Price: $1.99 for a 65-gram bar at Safeway in Edmonton.
Value for Money: Not bad, but it depends on your point of comparison. Is it competing against regular chocolate bars or premium treats for your snacking dollars?
Availability: Limited, though they seem to be available at local Alberta Safeway and Sobeys locations.
Nutrition: 350 per 65 gram bar. That’s more than a lot of chocolate bars, which usually clock in around the 250-calorie range.
Verdict: Mmmm. Deceptively simple, yet satisfying. A nice occasional indulgence.