Some things remind you of good times. Some foods take you back in time. Carambars remind me of school trips to France.
Our school organized school trips to Auvergne and Provence, where we would do stuff like climb the Puy de Dome and storm Alesia in copy of Julius Caesar. That is what you get for going to grammar school. These visits to nature and Roman ruins were the official goal of the trips. For us pupils, the best times were not spent ruminating Roman inscriptions. The best times were spent in the hypermarché. For Americans and people used to Tesco these might seem nothing out of the ordinary, but for Dutch schoolkids the huge supermarkets in France were very exciting. So much candy! So that's where I got to know Carambars, they were the favourites.
I always thought they are a typically French candy, I've never seen them anywhere else. From their website it seems that they are sold elsewhere as well, in Morocco and Switzerland and Belgium... French speaking countries, at least. A Carambar is a stick of toffee, made with caramel and cocoa. It's 8 centimeters long and about three quarters of a centimeter thick, and very hard so you can't bend it. That is to say, they won't fit into your mouth at first, unless you put the ends into your cheeks (they made every kid on the bus look like a hamster that just swallowed a stick). After a while the Carambar will soften and you will be tempted to chew - which is when you will find out about their other typical attribute: their supreme effectiveness at sticking your jaws together. But boy do they taste good!
The other nice thing about Carambars is their packaging: inside each yellow-and-red wrapper you find jokes, riddles and silly stories. In French, of course.
The Carambar was first made in France in 1954, in Marc-en-Baroeul. The shape is the result of a machine that had the wrong settings and made a bar shape instead of a toffee. Over the years it has changed in size, growing to 10 centimeters and then returning to the original 8. The recipe is still the same however. Other flavours were added in 1973: lemon, orange and strawberry. Today fifteen different flavours exist. The texts on the inside exist since 1969. They were the result of a competition where children could send in their favourite jokes and stories and win their own weight in Carambars. Since then, there have been other competitions to get a fresh collection of "blagues".
So if you're ever in France... go find them.
See also www.carambar.fr