I love chocolate as much as the next gal. I say “gal” because many people believe women like chocolate more than men, or at least they crave it more. In spite of scientific studies attesting to this, the jury is still out on this all-important question. What is universally recognized, however, is that you can find chocolate around the world. In my travels, I’ve found chocolate in many shapes and forms. Here are examples of the more unusual.
Chocolate con queso in Ecuador – (to be read in Spanish.) Yes, Ecuadorians (and Colombians) drink their hot chocolate with cheese in it. Sound strange? It’s actually quite wonderful – rich and satisfying, and eaten with a spoon. Think thick sweet hot chocolate with melty strings of a slightly salty, mozzarella-like cheese. Luscious. And, one of my favorite parts of this custom is the retort you give to doubters: Chocolate sin queso es como amor sin beso. (If you don’t know Spanish, I’ll make it easy for you: chocolate without cheese is like love without a kiss.) We wouldn’t want to know what that’s like, right?
Chocolate egg creams in New York – in the era of soda fountains, the egg cream was one of the most popular drinks in New York. Invented by Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s, and typical of many things Jewish, its origin and its name are subject to dispute. While it contains neither eggs nor cream, the recipe is simple: chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. Whether to stir or not to stir; whether to add the syrup before the fizzy water or after; and whether vanilla (or other) flavored versions are allowed, are all hotly contested. No matter. The end result is sweet, bubbly, and simple. As I enjoy one, I am transported: I sit perched on a round metal stool at a soda counter on the Lower East Side, listening to snippets of Yiddish and to the shouts of pushcart vendors hawking dry goods in the narrow city streets…
Chocolate massages in Ecuador– when I visit my favorite cloud forest lodge in the Andes, I expect to go birdwatching, learn the uses of plants such as dragon’s blood and cat’s claw, and cool off in the icy waterfall. On my last visit, however, I found a new activity. Well, not so much an activity, but an experience: a chocolate massage. Cocoa butter mixed with cocoa powder lovingly rubbed all over your body. How decadent is that? The best part is the aroma of thick, rich hot chocolate that permeates the lodge. Or, maybe it’s fantasizing how you get all that creamy chocolate off your body once it’s all over….
Chocolate tea in Dominica – first, you should know that I’m talking about the island country in the Lesser Antilles, not the Dominican Republic (which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti). Cocoa tea, as opposed to hot chocolate, is a popular drink on “The Nature Island,” where cocoa trees proliferate. After enjoying it every morning at breakfast, I made the mistake of asking the chef at my ecolodge how it’s made. She proceeded to bring me two brown “sticks” which, in shape, color and size, looked exactly like what you find in the toilet after you’ve done your daily deed. Oh well… The recipe called for half a stick – made of cocoa beans that are roasted, pounded and grated and dried, and mixed with spices – and water, boiled and strained. Milk and sugar are optional, as is remembering the sight of intermediate stages of production.
Swiss chocolate – There are many reasons to go to Switzerland, including its fairy tale landscapes; skiing, hiking, biking; clean and efficient transportation; cheeses, cakes and kuchens, but chocolate is one of the main ones. It actually had a rocky start in the country that eventually perfected it. Introduced as a drink in the late 1600s, hot chocolate became popular amongst wealthy guild members in Zurich, but was banned in 1722 by the City Council who believed it was an aphrodisiac. A bit drastic, but actually I think the Council may have been correct. 288 years later, my wife and I got engaged in Switzerland, while gorging on rich and creamy, hazelnut-packed dark chocolate bars. When we learned that stockholders of Lindt & Sprungli, one of Switzerland’s premium chocolate companies, get a free box of chocolates each Christmas, Eileen was eager to buy her first stand-alone stock. Until she found out the price: around $28,000 per share… Needless to say, we bought our own chocolate.
Have you had unusual experiences with chocolate? If so, do tell! I’ll send a chocolate bar to the teller of the favorite story I receive. The winner will be decided at the end of May by a vote of blog readers.