#YEG: The Link To Quality

A taste of Europe, right here in Edmonton.

Illustration Lee Nielsen

One day this winter, I drove to K&K Foodliner intending to buy smoked pork chops, and arrived to find the meat counter closed. A sign said all the staff were busy elsewhere; it was a sausage-making day.

The disappointment lasted only a second or two. Better to have a store that makes its own first-rate product than one always stocked but with second-rate imitations. Quality takes time.

No visit to K&K goes unfulfilled, sausage-making day or not. Each shelf offers earthy treasures: German and Polish sauerkraut; spaetzle; Danish-style liver pat; pickled Baltic herring; baked crisps from Finland; marzipan; and, oh, the bulk bins of sweet and salty Dutch licorice. The appetite quivers. There’s a collection of specialty baking pans, too.

But the appeal goes far beyond mere food. This outpost of middle Europe in a strip mall on Whyte Avenue is heavily freighted with imagination and memory. Meanings are anchored deep.

The store was founded by three German brothers in 1956 and moved to its current location in 1961. The spirit of that mid-century high point persists. The old checkout counters and the unabashedly kitschy displays of beer steins and napkins speak to enduring solidity, an increasingly rare one.

The store belongs to an era of independent businesses whose ghosts have come to fill the city, more with each passing year – Loveseth’s Auto & Tire Centre, Java Jive, Bee Bell Bakery, and all the way back to W.W. Arcade. The K&K feels like a survival of a certain real Edmonton. It feels real in all ways, a safe harbour in a time of simulation and insincerity.

Staff and customers often speak German. Labels sport German, Polish, Danish, Swedish and Finnish. The attitude about what is important and what makes good quality is a link to old languages and old culture. The K&K provides a familiar and reassuring continuity in what is still, in many ways, a constantly changing frontier city.

Edmonton is big enough now for other survivals from a different wave of immigration. About 50 blocks south, in a little strip mall full of Asian businesses on 34th Avenue, an independent owner operates Satguru Spice Bazaar, full of the flavours and language of India. It is different, yet somehow familiar.

Mark Lisac worked as a journalist in Alberta and Saskatchewan, beginning in the 1970s, before turning to fiction. His new novel, Where the Bodies Lie, was published in April by NeWest Press.


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