If life is like a box of chocolates, some Ukrainian confectioners are thinking well outside the box.
Salo restaurant, in Ukraine's western city of Lviv, has carved out a reputation for serving the eponymous Slavic food of cured pork fat with just about everything: The restaurant serves sushi rolls wrapped in strips of salo, and even an evil-sounding salo ice cream (that this correspondent didn't have the fortitude to try). But it's their boxes of chocolate salo that have proved a porky triumph for the business.
Olha Baban, the restaurant's art director, says on a good day they are now selling up to 300 boxes of the fat-filled chocolates. "Recently we had a group of tourists, I think from Lithuania, who bought 150 boxes in one go."
Salo is seen as iconic of Ukraine in the same way spaghetti is to Italy. Anecdotes about Ukrainians' fondness for the cold slabs of fat abound, one pithy example being the Ukrainian student writing home, "Send me salo, hello Mama!"
"Salo with chocolate" is a lightly trolling phrase making fun of this love many Ukrainians have for the cured fat, and the idea of uniting the two incongruous treats has a history. In the early 2000s, a Ukrainian confectionary company launched their own "fat in chocolate" on April Fools' Day. But that was reportedly a concoction of mostly caramel infused with some processed fat.
Baban says her restaurant's version is "all natural" and is "made, boxed, and sold here in the restaurant. There's nothing else like it in Ukraine."
After this correspondent plucked one of the chocolates from its box, it took a strong toothy squeeze to crack through the chocolate and reveal silky-white fat inside. But, expecting the sting of salt that normally comes with post-vodka salo, I chewed on, disappointed. The mashed fat tasted of nothing and was reminiscent of chewing a stick of lip balm.
But many reviewers praised the treat, with one happy customer writing, "We were satisfied, a super dish of lard chocolate. [We] dreamed of trying it for a long time, the dream came true."
"Excellent location, excellent fat," wrote another.
Baban can only speculate as to why salo has such a hold on Ukraine. "Maybe it's because it was eaten by our ancestors. And it's also healthy," she told RFE/RL, repeating a common though dubious claim, before adding, "in small amounts."